Can’t really blog about anybody else this week as The Blue Brazil are very much in the news. Having been part of the Scottish League system since 1905, they have finished this season as the dreaded Club 42 and face a two-legged playoff against East Kilbride to avoid dropping into the Lowland League. Worse still, this would represent a 3rd consecutive relegation.
The club’s foundation is disputed (either 1881 or 1882) but they have played at Central Park since 1917. Usually dismissed as a dump by those philistines whose IQ is about the same as their age, the grand old stadium did see a crowd of 25586 when Rangers visited in 1949, in the second leg of a League Cup Quarter Final. Cowden had won 3-2 at Ibrox hence the large crowd, but lost out overall. These days the capacity is pegged at 4309, which, with home attendances averaging 3-400, is rarely tested. The floodlights date back to 1968 and a match against Celtic. They did once beat Johnstone 12-0 but that was in 1928. As recently as 2015 they lost a record-equalling 10-0 to Hearts in the Championship.
I’m old enough to remember season 1970-71, which was Cowden’s only season in the top flight since the war. Andy Matthew was in charge for 6 years back in those relatively stable times for football managers, and the previous two, Harry Colville and Archie Robertson, got 4 years each.
Due to the Ibrox Disaster on 2/1/71, Cowden’s match at home to Rangers on the 9th was postponed. As a young lad I had a ticket for this which I carried around in my wallet until the game was eventually played on 14th April. Back then if a game was all ticket, boys just had to pay the adult price, which in those days was 5 shillings (or 25p as decimalisation came in before the game was eventually played). A couple of years ago I was having a clear out and I sold the ticket on eBay for £24 as it had a few autographs on the back, including Willie Waddell, Derek Johnstone and Colin Jackson, the Rangers centre half who was known as The Caramel Wafer because he was ‘Gray and Dunn’. On the night Rangers won 3-1 with goals from Jardine, Greig and Stein after Kennedy had given Cowden the lead. The crowd was given as 6000 which was obviously well down as it was a meaningless midweek fixture. The teams were:
Cowdenbeath: McArthur, McLaughlan, Bostock, Taylor, Kinnell, Moore, Harper, Dickson, Laing, Kennedy, Thomson.
Rangers: McCloy, Alexander, Mathieson, Jardine (Penman), McKinnon, Jackson, Henderson, MacDonald, Stein, Greig, Johnston.
Sandy Jardine broke his leg that night. He was in great form and would surely have started against England at Wembley a month later.
Being of school age we had very little chance of getting from Midlothian over to Fife in midweek to use our long-cherished match tickets but we managed to persuade a friend, Ian Stenhouse, to drive and we piled into his Reliant Robin. For younger readers, think ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Stenny’s Robin was a 3 wheeler car with a fibreglass body. I think it was classed as a motorbike for tax and insurance purposes.
No photos from that visit but I found an even older one on the internet:
At the time of my first visit there was a roof over the Chapel Street end (left in this photo) but this blew away in 1983.
The ground was also used for greyhounds and speedway, but in 1970 the stock cars moved in and remain to this day. I actually knew Gordon McDougall, who became Cowdenbeath owner, back in the day, as he had a small garage in Leith.
The image below is from a match in September 1993 when the visitors, Albion Rovers, won 1-0. I think John Reilly was manager at the time. You can see that work is underway on the new Alex Menzies stand, which opened in 1995, after half the old stand was destroyed in 2 separate fires. One other thing I noticed, standing on the main terracing, was that the natives were revolting. The team and manager were getting abuse before the game had even started. The following season the SFL went to 4 leagues of 10 and ICT were admitted along with Ross County.
ICT crossed swords with Cowden for 3 seasons before being promoted as champions in 1997. In October of that season ICT scored twice in abundant stoppage time, in front of 330, to win 4-3 leaving the home support disgusted with referee Ian Elmslie. However, the following April, 282 turned up to witness Cowden beating ICT 2-1 at Central Park to end a fine 22 game unbeaten run.
Compare the shot above from 1993 with the one below, 20 years later:
Following ICT’s ascent to the big time, it was to be 16 years before I set foot inside CP again. My fitba daft mate Jamie McQueen suggested going over in the train for a pre-season game in July 2013 and we enjoyed a few pints. New Sheffield Utd boss Davie Weir brought his side north for a friendly in the sunshine which ended 1-1. A decent travelling support came to witness a fresh dawn under Weir, but he was gone by October.
In March of this year, on a free Saturday due to postponements in the Lowland League, I ventured over to see whether Cowden, under ex-ICT man Liam Fox, were really as bad as everybody said, and whether they could overcome Stirling Albion. I used my Jamie McQueen card to ingratiate myself with programme editor Andy Mullen and we had a good blether about the LL and League 2 matters. I sat in the New Stand first half then joined the Binos fans in the gloom of the Old Stand for a second half in which they showed what a lively bunch they were, in a crowd of 381.
As for the game itself, Cowden started brightly before Dale Carrick missed an early penalty and the Binos went on to prevail 2-0, including an impressive strike from Sean Dickson. It was uncannily similar to watching Richie Foran’s ICT side, totally fragile and lacking in confidence, right down to the missed chances, loss of the first goal and the heads going down.
Soon afterwards, Fox was dismissed and man of many clubs Gary Locke took his place and has steadied the ship, but has not been able to avoid the dreaded bottom place finish. Showing my age once again, I played in the same school team as Gary’s dad Danny.
The rest is (fairly recent) history and so the 2-legged showdown looms. EK beat Highland League champions Buckie Thistle in a fairly towsy couple of matches and this Saturday Cowden will visit K Park for the first time in front of an all-ticket gathering of 660 before hosting the Lowland League champions on the 20th at Central Park.
Let battle commence.