By Vince Cooper
At the arrival of the 19th century there were three good-class football teams competing in the Levenmouth area in Fife on the East coast of Scotland; Leven Thistle, Methil Rovers and Buckhaven United.
Methil Rovers folded in 1902 and Leven Thistle moved into Methil’s ground before relocating to Town Hall Park, situated on high ground overlooking the town of Methil. Buckhaven United harboured plans of becoming a senior club but local opinion was that this was beyond the resources of the town although the area could perhaps support a team
A public meeting took place in January 1903 to ‘discuss the formation of a senior club of the East of Fife’. Thus East Fife F.C. were born.
The new club took over Town Hall Park ground and renamed it Bayview Park. The move caused Leven Thistle to fold but Buckhaven United soldiered on until 1912 and, in fact, played the new East Fife team three times, beating them on each occasion.
East Fife were accepted into the Scottish Football Association but their application to join the Northern League was rejected in the first year and their matches were in the Scottish Qualifying Cup, the Wemyss Cup and the Fife League.
Heart of Midlothian, for a payment of £15, agreed to send a team to play them in their first match and this was set for 15 August 1903. The new team put in a fine performance, drawing 2-2 with both goals coming from J Nangle (it seems nobody knows what the ‘J’ stood for) and East Fife were in their way.
The following season, the club’s application to join the Northern League was again rejected. They met with other clubs from Fife and the Lothians and the Eastern League came into existence.
In 1905 East Fife put forward a proposal to expand the Eastern League. The Northern League, fearful of losing a number of clubs, extended an invitation to them to join.
After a single season in the new league the club enclosed Bayview Park with a wooden fence and built a 400-seat grandstand at the north end of the ground. The new construction encouraged the go-ahead club to apply for membership of the Scottish League but their application was rejected after the bottom two clubs, Vale of Leven and East Stirlingshire successfully applied for re-election. A decision was then taken to increase the league by two teams but Ayr Parkhouse and Dumbarton were the pair chosen to fill the new places.
With increasing attendances at Bayview Park the club were confident that they would be admitted for the 1907 season but they were again denied the chance. In April 1908 the team won their first-ever trophy, beating Lochgelly United 4-2 in the final of the Fife Cup.
For a while it looked like the ‘Fifers’ might have to relocate as large areas around the ground were sold off for redevelopment. But they held firm.
In 1909 the Northern League was disbanded after a number of the reserve teams that had been competing in it moved into the new ‘Second XI League’. In its place, the Central League was formed featuring clubs from West Lothian and the Sterling area as well as those moving from the Northern League.
Before their first game in the new league East Fife changed their colours ditching the green and white they had been wearing for navy blue. The first Central League game was against St Johnstone at Bayview on 21 August 1909 but they had to wait until the end of September for their first win when they overcame Broxburn Athletic 4-1. It was in this season that they qualified for the Scottish Cup for the first time, after seeing off Aberdeen Harp 3-0 in the final qualifying round.
So the first-ever Scottish Cup tie was played at Bayview on 15 January 1910 and it resulted in a comfortable 4-1 win over Hurlford which put the team in the last 16. There they came up against Queen’s Park, again at home, and put up a brave display before exiting the competition with a 3-2 defeat.
In 1910 it was necessary to move the pitch by several yards to facilitate the building of a new school. This resulted in the grandstand now being placed at the North West corner of the pitch whilst the pavilion which had been between the grandstand and the north-west corner was now located, conveniently, almost exactly on the halfway line.
To stave off financial worries the club incorporated East Fife Football Club Limited in May 1911. This brought about a cash injection as fans snapped up the new shares and the money was used to pep up the team. It was also during the summer of 1911 that the club decided on another colour change, switching to the black and gold that remains their first choice kit to this day.
In 1914 the club again applied to join the Scottish League as it expanded. They were again overlooked with Lochgelly United and Clydebank given the new spots. It actually made little difference as shortly after came the outbreak of the Great War. There were some doubts about the club carrying on but they eventually joined the Eastern League before moving back to the Central when it resumed in 1919.
The 1919-20 season brought the first major cup to Bayview when the club took home the Scottish Qualifying Cup after a 3-1 final win over Bo’ness at Central Park, Cowdenbeath in front of a crowd of 18,603. They also gained entry, through their efforts in the Qualifying Cup, into the Scottish Cup for the fourth time. After receiving a first round bye they overcame Stevenston United 2-1 in a replay at Bayview after drawing the first game 0-0.
The win set up a 3rd round tie against the mighty Celtic and major improvements were carried out at the ground prior to the match with workmen and volunteers creating banking on the north side of the ground. On the day, 11,000 showed up and the Fifers fought bravely before going down to a 3-1 defeat.
By the time of the 1920-21 season the Central League was actually proving more popular than the Scottish League and some of its best players were being lured away by the new-found wealth of the clubs, many of whom were from thriving mining communities. The Scottish League therefore extended invitations to all Central League clubs to join. Finally, East Fife were in!
More improvements were carried out, both to the ground and the pitch and on 20 August 1921 East Fife played the first-ever Scottish League match at Bayview Park, suffering a 2-1 defeat to Bathgate. They lost their next match too, a reverse on the road to Stenhousemuir but the third match, and second at Bayview, brought the first win, a single goal success over local rivals Lochgelly United.
East Fife finished their first season comfortably ensconced in the middle of the Second Division and in the summer of 1922 work began on a new grandstand on the south side of Bayview Park. That work was finished in October of that year and more improvements were made the following summer raising capacity to 20,000.
The mid-1920s were noticeable for little at Bayview as the Fifers made a habit of finishing in mid-table. 1925 did see the first visit of Rangers, in a Scottish Cup tie, and like their city rivals five years before they returned to Glasgow having secured a 3-1 win.
Aside from this, things were fairly nondescript until the 1926-27 season when the team made serious inroads in the Scottish Cup.
East Fife v Aberdeen 1927
The opening round brought an 8-1 romp over Thornhill and the draw for round two set East Fife up for a first-ever clash with Aberdeen. After drawing 1-1 in the first encounter the team travelled to Pittodrie four days later for the replay. There, they confounded the experts who had predicted an easy success for the first division team with a 2-1 win.
Ten days later they toppled Dunfermline 2-0 at Bayview setting up a last eight clash with Arthurlie at Dunferlie Park. In almost waterlogged conditions the Fifers won 3-0 to make it to the last four.
The semi-final, against Partick Thistle, was played at Tynecastle in front of 40,000 fans. With the teams locked at 1-1, Fifers skipper Jock Wood grabbed the winner and the team were on their way to Hampden.
Awaiting East Fife, the first Second Division Team to reach the final for 30 years, were Celtic. Over 80,000 fans were at Hampden and most were shocked when Wood gave the underdogs a seventh minute lead. Sadly, the Glasgow giants equalised soon after when Robertson scored an own-goal and would go on to prevail 3-1 and deny their opponents a shock victory.
The following season East Fife came close to promotion to the top flight, missing out by just two points. Then in 1929-30, whilst they lost out to Leith Athletic on goal difference for the Second Division title, second place clinched promotion to the First Division for the first time.
But top flight football at Bayview was short-lived as they finished rock bottom the following season and found themselves back in the second tier where they would remain until after WWII.
But prior to the outbreak of war the Fifers were back on the cup trail.
The 1937-38 cup campaign began with a 2-1 win at Airdrieonians in the 1st Round. The 2nd Round brought Dundee United to Bayview Park and they were sent home with their tails between their legs after a 5-0 thumping.
The 3rd round of 1937-38 bore an uncanny resemblance to the 2nd of 11 years before. After a home draw with Aberdeen they travelled to Pittodrie and recorded a 2-1 win to make it through to the last eight.
Fans at East Fife v Kilmarnock
There, they were drawn to play Raith Rovers at home. The Fifers continued to do things the hard way, drawing at home 2-2 before travelling to Kirkcaldy and grabbing a 3-2 win at Stark’s Park and set up a semi-final clash with St Bernard’s.
East Fife and St Bernard’s met three times with the clashes watched by a total of close to 100,000 spectators. After a pair of 1-1 draws the second replay, played at Tynecastle in front of 32,564 fans resulted in a 2-1 win for the men in black and gold and progress to their second cup final.
The opposition this time was Kilmarnock and, in front of 80,091 fans East Fife took the lead after 17 minutes through Eddie McLeod. However, Killie equalised to force a draw and send the Fifers to yet another replay.
In the second meeting Danny McKerrell gave East Fife a 17th minute lead before goals from Thomson and McGrogan turned things around. McLeod struck again to level the score and the match went into extra time. With just 10 minutes of the extra period remaining and many of the 92,716 present fully expecting a second replay the Fifers took the lead again, this time through Larry Miller. McKerrell quickly got his own second, and his team’s fourth so the Cup was on its way to Bayview with the players given gold pocket watches to commemorate the win.
McLeod was undoubtedly one of the stars of the side. A Glaswegian, he had been at Shawfield Juniors and Portsmouth before joining the Fife. Not long after the Final success he left for Manchester City having scored 76 goals in 102 games for the club. World War Two hampered his chances in England and he later played for Shrewsbury Town before emigrating to Australia.
Scottish Cup winners
The last season before the 2nd World War brought an end to Scottish League play saw East Fife go close to promotion losing out on second place on goal average to Alloa Athletic.
The war years would see the departure of manager David McLean who had led the club for most of the previous 30 years. McLean was first appointed as player-manager in 1911. A local man, he had played for Buckhaven United, Cambuslang Rangers, Celtic. Ayr United and Cowdenbeath before joining the Fifers. He spent the 1929-30 season managing Bristol Rovers but returned to Bayview Park in 1931 and, of course, was at the helm for the Scottish Cup success. After the war he was appointed manager by Heart of Midlothian and was in charge at Tynecastle until his death in 1951.
When league football resumed after the war John McArthur was at the helm and he led the side to another third-place finish in the second tier and a cup quarter-final run, this time in the Scottish League Cup’s debut season where they were ousted by Hearts 5-3 on aggregate.
The 1947-48 season saw a new man at the helm. John McArthur moved into the Chairman’s seat and in his place the club picked a winner. James Scotland (Scot) Symon enjoyed a fine playing career with Dundee United, Portsmouth and Rangers, representing his country once whilst also playing for Scotland at cricket. On retiring he was offered the East Fife job and in his first season the team won promotion to the top flight after winning Division Two (or B as it was known) by a mammoth 11 points, losing only two matches all season. In the League Cup the Fifers again won their group, got revenge on Hearts at the quarter-final stage and then recorded a 1-0 win over Aberdeen in the semi-final.
So, to another final. This time Falkirk were the opponents and the two teams fought out a goalless draw in front of 53,785 fans at Hampden Park.
Scottish League Cup winners 1947
In the replay Davie Duncan was the hero, grabbing a hat-trick in a 4-1 win (Tommy Adams scored the other goal) in front of a crowd of 31,000.
Duncan also became only the second East Fife player (after Dan Liddle) to be capped for his country. Appearing in three matches against Belgium, Switzerland and France in 1948. The following season George Aitken followed him into the national team.
Half-back Aitken, who joined the club from Lochgelly St Andrew’s in 1944, was a key member of the most successful East Fife team and won a total of five Scotland caps while at Bayview. Scotland won every game he won a cap in, including a 3-1 victory over an England team containing Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney at Wembley.
For the 8-2 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast, teammate Henry Morris joined him in the starting line-up and bagged a hat-trick in what proved to be his only game for his country. Morris scored exactly 100 goals in 121 games for the club.
Unfortunately Aitken’s time at Bayview would come to an unhappy end when he fell into a dispute with the club over a proposed transfer. He eventually moved to Third Lanark and then to Sunderland.
The Switzerland game proved to be the second time two East Fife players played for their country as Aitken was joined in the starting line-up by Allan Brown.
Allan Brown in Blackpool colours
Brown joined East Fife from local club Kennoway in 1944. After debuting at 17 he would go on to make 62 starts for the club soon proving himself one of the best to have donned the black and gold kit. The inside-forward had already made three appearances for his country when the club accepted an offer of £26,500 (at the time, the largest fee paid to a Scottish club) and he left for Blackpool.
Brown went on to have a long and successful career both as a player and a manager and would eventually total 14 cps for his country.
In the 1948-49 season East Fife not only competed in the country’s top division, they thrived. Symon’ s team finished 4th in the top flight and also reached the Scottish Cup semi-final where they were ousted by all-conquering Rangers. At the same time further improvements were made to Bayview and it was during this period that attendances reached their peak. In 1950 a local derby against Raith Rovers attracted a record 22,515 spectators.
The 1949-50 season brought more triumph to Bayview, though this time it was tinged with tragedy. A second consecutive 4th-place league finish was topped by a fantastic run to another League Cup Final and another win.
The team again romped through their group recording five wins in six matches. They then brushed Forfar aside in the quarter-finals winning 8-2 on aggregate to set up a last four clash at Hampden Park with Rangers, undoubtedly the best team in Scotland at the time.
East Fife had never beaten Rangers in a competitive match and it was the dream of Chairman McCarthur to witness such an occurrence. The match was tight and tense and went into extra-time with the teams locked at 1-1. Then star inside-forward Charlie Fleming scored what was described as ‘one of the finest goals Hampden has seen’ to give the underdogs victory.
McCarthur had suffered a heart attack the year before and had been warned by doctors to stay away from Hampden. But the man who had made East Fife his life felt he had to be there and when leaping up to acclaim Fleming’s winner he collapsed into the arms of a fellow director with his wife and daughter close by. As the exhausted players left the pitch and returned to the dressing room triumphant they found the man who had made it all possible laying there, close to death.
The East Fife chairman died at 5:21 with his place of death recorded as ‘Hampden Park Pavilion’.
The team went on to capture the trophy again, beating Dunfermline Athletic 3-0 in the final with goals from Duncan, Fleming and Morris. In fact they went close to completing a memorable double, reaching the Scottish Cup final later in the season where Rangers took their revenge with a 3-0 win in front of 118,262 fans.
The following season was something of a let-down with a mid-table finish and no cup finals as the club started to cash in on some of their best players but in 1951-52 they recorded a 3rd place finish in the top flight, their joint highest-ever placing to date
Symon left for Preston in the summer of 1953 (he would eventually spend 14 years in charge of Rangers) but he left East Fife in good shape, the club matching the third-place finish in 1952-53.
Former Rangers goalkeeper Jerry Dawson took Symons’ place as manager and he had immediate success as the club triumphed in the League Cup for the third time in seven years. This time the beaten finalists were Partick Thistle who succumbed 3-2 with the goals coming from Frank Christie, Fleming and Ian Gardiner.
Charlie Fleming: During his time with Sunderland.
Fleming, who had joined the club from Blairhall Colliery in 1947, made a solitary international appearance, scoring twice in the 3-1 win over Northern Ireland in Belfast in 1953. He made 173 starts for East Fife, scoring 117 goals before being sold to Sunderland in 1955 and adding £20,000 to the coffers.
The 1954-55 season saw the inauguration of the ground’s floodlights with Leeds United the visitors for the first match under lights. But with many of the stars either sold or reaching the close of their careers the season saw the club drop to a mid-table position and, although they managed to hold on to top-flight status for another three years, relegation in 1957-58 came as no real surprise and led to the departure of Dawson.
The 1960s and 70s brought little to the Bayview faithful. A succession of managers failed to inspire the players. The longest serving of these was Jimmy Bonthrone who was at the helm for seven seasons but failed to lift them out of the second tier and it was the arrival of Pat Quinn in 1970-71 that brought about the return to the top flight. Three years later they were relegated again and Quinn left.
In 1977-78 East Fife were relegated again, dropping into the third tier. Dave Clarke, the club’s record appearance-maker, was appointed as the new boss and he managed to get them back to Division One (by now the ‘second tier’) in 1984-85 but they were relegated again in 1987-88.
During this time the area around Bayview had developed significantly and it’s central location, along with extensive work needed if they wished to upgrade a dilapidated stadium which needed a lot to work to bring it up to scratch, made a move inevitable. In 1995 the club agreed to sell the site and move to a new purpose-built all-seater stadium which would be constructed on derelict land near Methil Docks.
The club played their last game at ‘Old’ Bayview Stadium , a League Two match against Livingston, at the end of the 1997-98 season and started the following season at New Bayview.
The new premises have yet to experience the glory days of ‘Old’ Bayview but, given that cup-fighting tradition it is not too far-fetched to imagine more exciting cup days with come to Methil for The Fifers and their fans in the future.