East Fife supporters will tell you that their club was founded in 1903. What is not so well documented, however, is how the game of football developed in and around Methil prior to East Fife's formation. For the first mention of football in the Levenmouth area we must go back to the year 1879, when Cameron Bridge Football Club came into existence. The club was formed by a group of local ‘football enthusiasts’ in March of that year, who organised matches amongst their own members in the grounds of Cameron House. The formation of this club did not, however, initiate the immediate formation of other football clubs in the area. Most of the inhabitants of the towns and villages in the eastern part of the county were content to play cricket on summer Saturdays and amuse themselves with indoor pastimes throughout the winter months.
|A Fife footballer in typical outfit worn during the late 1800's|
The first senior football club to be formed in the area was the short lived Leven F.C. who were admitted to the Fifeshire Football Association in 1889. The new side soon built up a reputation, but unfortunately not a good one! After a match at Crail, where Leven had beaten Crail Union 3-1, the local newspaper commented: "This was not football but rough play. The Union on different occasions were about to leave the field through the Leven lads using filthy language towards not only the players but the spectators. The Union are not likely to bring back this team to Crail in a hurry for the sake of their own good name as well as the game of football".
After Leven lost their first round Fife Cup fixture against Burntisland Thistle just a few weeks later, the club was disbanded. After the demise of the Leven club, however, other local sides began to flourish. Over the decade which followed, three highly respected football clubs were formed in the Levenmouth area; namely Methil Rovers, Buckhaven United and Leven Thistle.
|The intriguingly named Cellardyke Bluejackets, an early football club who hailed from the East Neuk of Fife. Note the hand-knitted jerseys!|
Methil Rovers were formed in 1893. Their colours were red and white and their first home was School Park in Lower Methil, which had a bad slope running from goal to goal. Rovers later played at Braehead Park, adjacent to Methil Brae.
Leven Thistle, whose colours were red and black, were founded in the late 1880's and in season 1896/97 were crowned 'Fife County Champion Juniors'. They led a fairly nomadic existence, playing at several venues throughout the local area including Leven Links, Haughhouse (near Mountfleurie) and Cottage Park (adjacent to Swiss Cottage on the banks of the River Leven). When Methil Rovers folded in 1901, Thistle re-located to their ground at Braehead, although the team retained its original name. This was to be the club's home for only half a season, as they were soon on the move again - this time to Town Hall Park, Methil, for the start of season 1902/03.
Buckhaven United, whose colours were black and white, played at Toll Park. The first club of that name was founded around 1890 and lasted only a season, but United were reborn in 1897 and played their first match in September of that year. In 1902, United considered the possibility of becoming a senior professional club representing the local area, which prompted the local press to comment: "Some people talk of running a senior team in Buckhaven, but older heads view this as beyond the resources of the town itself; they hold, and rightly we think, that such a team could only be done by amalgamation with Wemyss or Leven".
By early 1903, local opinion that the Levenmouth area could support a senior side was growing almost daily. This enthusiasm resulted in a public meeting being held in Methil in January 1903 "to discuss the formation of a senior club for the East of Fife" - and East Fife Football Club was born.
Leven Thistle’s Town Hall Park was taken over by the newly formed East Fife and renamed Bayview Park. Having lost their home ground and having to face up to the likelihood that their regular patrons would turn their attentions to the new senior club, Thistle decided to call it a day.
Unlike Leven Thistle, however, Buckhaven United did not fold following East Fife’s formation. They stayed in existence until 1912 and actually played East Fife three times, once at Toll Park and twice at Bayview, and won all three games!
|The earliest known picture of East Fife Football Club, taken at half-time during their match against Falkirk in October 1903|
The formation of East Fife in 1903 brought the total number of senior clubs in Fife to six, the others being Raith Rovers, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline Athletic, Lochgelly United and Hearts of Beath. The new club, whose colours were to be green and white, successfully applied for membership of the Scottish Football Association in April of that year. Their application to join the Northern League was rejected, however, and for the first year of East Fife’s existence they would have to be content with playing in the newly formed Fife League, the Wemyss Cup and the Scottish Qualifying Cup, as well as organising challenge matches against other senior clubs of similar standing.
With the basic essentials in place, the East Fife Committee set about the task of raising a team in preparation for their first match against Heart of Midlothian, who agreed to send a side to Methil on 15th August 1903 in return for the princely sum of £15. On a dull and wet afternoon, the Fifers shared the honours with Hearts in a 2-2 draw, both home goals coming from Nangle. Delighted with what he had witnessed during the inaugural match, the reporter from the Leven Advertiser commented:"The result was full value for the play. Considering everything, the new team did splendidly. Take any eleven players, total strangers, and dump them down on a field at the start of a season and they would do no better. Given another match together and we will be prepared to see East Fife meet the County cracks and beat them".
In June 1904, East Fife were rejected by the Northern League for a second time and decided to call a meeting of clubs they thought would be interested in forming a new league for Fife and the Lothians. The clubs who were represented at the meeting; East Fife, Hearts of Beath, Edinburgh Adventurers, Bathgate, Bo’ness, Broxburn, Broxburn Shamrock, Dykehead and West Calder, were all in favour of the new combination and the Eastern League was born.
In May 1905 the Fifers proposed to disband the Eastern League and form a new competition called the Central Football League, which would take its member clubs from the counties of Fife, Clackmannan and the Lothians.
The Northern League, alarmed at the prospect of having to start the new season with only nine clubs after losing certain key members to the new competition, decided to offer membership to East Fife in the hope that their defecting clubs would have a change of heart. The outcome was that East Fife were unanimously elected to the Northern League and, in season 1905/06, would welcome Aberdeen Reserves, Arbroath, Dundee Reserves, Dundee Wanderers, Dunfermline Athletic, Forfar Athletic, Kirkcaldy United, Lochee United, Lochgelly United, Montrose and St. Johnstone to Methil.
At the end of the 1905/06 season, Bayview Park was completely enclosed with a wooden fence and a 400 seat grandstand was built on the north side of the ground. The Fifers now considered themselves worthy of Scottish League membership and duly applied in the summer of 1906, but their application was turned down as bottom clubs Vale of Leven and East Stirlingshire were both re-elected. Just days after the initial rejection, the decision was taken to increase the size of the Scottish League by two clubs and East Fife submitted a second application, but this time Ayr Parkhouse and Dumbarton were successful.
Attendances at Bayview increased during the following season, which prompted a third application for admission to the Scottish League in 1907 season along with Dunfermline Athletic, but the club was yet again unsuccessful.
In April 1908, East Fife won their first ever trophy, the Fife Cup, with a 4-2 victory against Lochgelly United at the neutral venue of North End Park, Cowdenbeath. Although nowadays the Fife Cup is considered to be a minor tournament, back in 1908 it was considered to be a major prize. After being presented with the trophy, team Captain Tommy Fitzpatrick was carried shoulder high by a euphoric band of East Fife supporters, around 500 having made the journey to Cowdenbeath by special train.
|Tommy Fitzpatrick, Captain of East Fife when they won their first-ever trophy, the Fife Cup, in April 1908|
As the Fifers were making a name for themselves on the field of play, however, matters off the park were causing concern as the club’s landlord sold off the land around Bayview Park to housing developers. By March 1908 the builders had almost encroached on the football park and, although it was anticipated that the pitch might be saved for one more season, it was widely expected that East Fife would eventually have to re-locate.
Towards the end of season 1908/09, developments elsewhere in the Scottish game signalled the end of the Fifers’ involvement with the Northern League. In March 1909 the Scottish Football Association announced that it was prepared to sanction the formation of a ‘Second XI League’ for the benefit of the Scottish League clubs. As this new league would inevitably mean the withdrawal of Dundee and Aberdeen reserves from the Northern League, the decision was taken by some of its member clubs to form a new competition covering a wider geographical area.
At a meeting held in Dunfermline during March 1909, a new twelve team competition was inaugurated consisting of West Lothian clubs Bathgate, Broxburn Athletic and Bo’ness; Alloa Athletic and King’s Park from the Stirling area and Northern League clubs St. Johnstone, Arbroath, Dunfermline Athletic, Lochgelly United, Kirkcaldy United and East Fife with the twelfth place taken by Cowdenbeath reserves. The Central League, which was destined to have a huge impact on the Scottish game, had been born!
The Fifers, after having discarded their green and white jerseys in favour of navy blue, played their first ever Central League match against St Johnstone at Bayview on 21st August 1909. The first win in the new competition, however, was not recorded until 25 September 1909, when Broxburn Athletic were beaten 4-1 in Methil. What is also significant about this match is that Wilkie’s three goals for the Fifers that day was the first ever hat-trick scored at Bayview Park! Later that same month, the Fifers won the right to play in the Scottish Cup for the first time in their history by beating Aberdeen Harp 3-0 in the third round of the Qualifying Cup.
The club’s first ever Scottish Cup tie was played against Hurlford at Bayview on 15 January 1910, where the Fifers won a place in the last sixteen of the competition with a convincing 4-1 win. The following round saw the Fifers drawn at home against Queen’s Park, who at the time fielded a host of well known players including the famous Scottish internationalist R.S. McColl. Despite a brave performance from the Methil men, the Spiders ended the Fifers interest in the competition with a 3-2 win.
During the summer of 1910 East Fife became increasingly concerned about the uncertainty surrounding Bayview Park as plans for the new school at Aberhill were drawn up. Initially, it was hoped that the only change to the football ground would be a further reduction in the dimensions of the playing surface, but when spectators arrived at Bayview for the first match of the 1910/11 season, they found that the whole playing surface had been moved several yards to the west. This meant that the grandstand, which had been situated in the middle of the north touchline, was now at the north-east corner of the ground. The pavilion, which had occupied a position between the grandstand and the north-west corner of the park, now found itself situated almost exactly on the half-way line!
Early in 1911 it became apparent that all was not well behind the scenes at Bayview Park when it was announced that the club was in a bad way financially, largely due to poor gates during the first half of the season. The club struggled on, but after two blank Saturdays in March when the financial situation forced the cancellation of two fixtures, doubt was expressed as to whether the Fifers could stay afloat. Faced with the possibility that their beloved football club was about to cease operations, club officials, local businessmen and supporters rallied round and decided on a course of action. Eventually, the decision was taken to float the club as a Limited Liability Company and, by April 1911, the flotation was reported to be ‘proceeding merrily’. On 29th May 1911, East Fife Football Club Limited was incorporated as a Company under the Companies (Consolidation) Act 1908. The Fifers had been saved!
Everyone associated with East Fife looked forward to the 1911/12 season with fresh enthusiasm. Never before in the history of the club had the outlook been so promising. The Fifers’ re-birth as a Limited Company with the associated cash injection from the sale of shares meant that the ‘old wood’ could be cleared away and some fresh talent brought to Bayview. The opportunity was also taken to change the team colours to black and gold, a choice that the club has retained to this day.
In the summer of 1914, East Fife applied for Scottish League membership yet again when the size of the Second Division was increased to sixteen, but were rejected in favour of Lochgelly United and Clydebank. Had their application been successful, however, the Fifers’ league membership would have been short lived due to the outbreak of the Great War just weeks later. After war broke out, Central League fixtures became few and far between for obvious reasons and, in August 1915, a meeting was held by club officials to decide if it was worthwhile keeping the club going. Fortunately the Fifers decided to carry on and joined the Eastern League, which was created as a result of the Scottish League’s decision to disband the Second Division for the remainder of the war.
Peace was eventually declared in November 1918 and East Fife joined the Central League once again when it was re-started in August 1919. The following season, East Fife won their first major trophy, the Scottish Qualifying Cup, by beating Bo’ness at Central Park, Cowdenbeath, in front of a record crowd of 18,603. Huge crowds gathered at Methil station to welcome the team home, where some players were lifted shoulder high and carried along Methil High Street with the cup held aloft. It was, at the time, the greatest achievement in the Fifers’ history.
Reaching the latter stages of the qualifying competition won entry to the Scottish Cup for the fourth time and, after defeating Stevenston United, the Fifers met Celtic for the first time in their history. With a huge crowd expected, major improvements were carried out at Bayview Park and squads of workmen were employed raising an embankment on the north side of the ground, adjacent to the grandstand. The match attracted a new ground record of 11,000, who saw the Glasgow side progress with a 3-1 victory.
By 1920, the Central League had become a very successful competition and, as the league was made up mainly by clubs from the prosperous mining communities of Fife and the Lothians, healthy crowds meant that member clubs could pay their players good wages. Eventually it became apparent that the Scottish League clubs were in grave danger of losing most of their better players to the Central League, attracted by the healthy wages on offer. In order to prevent this scenario, the Scottish League decided to offer membership to the sixteen Central League clubs, along with Vale of Leven, Johnstone, Forfar Athletic and Arbroath, at the start of season 1921/22.
After so many failed attempts, East Fife had finally managed to attain Scottish League status!
In anticipation of their entry into the Scottish League in 1921, East Fife proposed further improvements to Bayview Park, including the erection of a new 3,000 seat grandstand and an increase in the size of the banking to bring the total capacity up to 35,000. Of course, the actual improvements carried out fell far short of these ambitious proposals, but dramatic improvements were made to the playing surface. By the time Cowdenbeath visited Methil for a pre-season friendly the pitch was in magnificent order and general opinion was that very few Scottish League clubs had turf of a similar quality.
On Saturday 20th August 1921, East Fife played their first ever Scottish League match against Bathgate at Bayview Park, where Neish scored the Fifers’ first league goal from the penalty spot as the visitors won a disappointing match 2-1. Defeat at Stenhousemuir followed a week later, but on Saturday 3rd September the first ever Scottish League win was recorded; a single goal triumph over near-neighbours Lochgelly United at Bayview. The Fifers finished their Scottish League season in mid-table.
The summer of 1922 was dominated by the construction of the new grandstand on the south side of Bayview Park, opposite the wooden structure erected in 1906. The grandstand, which could only hold around a third of the originally proposed capacity, was opened at the beginning of October. Further ground improvements were carried out by a volunteer work force during the summer of 1923 when the banking around the ground was terraced in order to allow 20,000 spectators to be accommodated ‘in comfort’.
The Fifers’ league form didn’t exactly set the heather alight during the early 1920’s, with the club occupying a mid-table position in the Second Division for much of this time. The only time the club came anywhere near promotion was in season 1925/26 when they finished fourth; four points adrift of second placed Clyde and ten points behind Champions Dunfermline Athletic. On the other hand, the club never looked like candidates for relegation to the short-lived Third Division, which was in existence for three seasons from 1923 to 1926.
During the mid 1920’s, East Fife played Rangers for the first time when the two clubs were drawn to face each other in the Scottish Cup on 24th January 1925. Once again, the facilities at Bayview were improved with the addition of four turnstiles at the main entrance and two pay boxes in School Street, with the standing capacity of the ground also added to. Unfortunately, like their rivals Celtic four years earlier, the Glasgow giants returned west with a 3-1 victory.
A successful run in the Scottish Cup didn’t elude the club for much longer, however, and in January 1927 the Methil men embarked on what was to become a truly remarkable Scottish Cup run. Victory over Thornhill in the first round was rewarded with a home tie against Aberdeen. On 5th February, the ‘Dons’ visited Methil for the first time, where an early Jock Wood goal was countered by a Cheyne equaliser to take the tie to a replay at Pittodrie. The following Wednesday evening, the Fifers became ‘giant killers’ by knocking their First Division opponents out of the cup with a shock 2-1 victory. Two weeks later, a new ground record crowd of 12,000 paid to see East Fife take on Fife rivals Dunfermline Athletic in the third round of the competition at Bayview, where the home side claimed another First Division ‘scalp’ with a 2-0 victory.
The Quarter-Final paired the Fifers with fellow Second Division side Arthurlie at Dunterlie Park, Barrhead, where East Fife adapted best to the ‘quagmire’ conditions and comfortably saw off their counterparts with three goals without reply.
Only Partick Thistle now stood between East Fife and the final of the country’s top football tournament. On 26 March, a crowd of 38,000 packed the neutral terraces of Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh for the semi-final against the more fancied Glasgow side. With the score standing at 1-1, East Fife captain Jock Wood netted what proved to be the winning goal and, when the final whistle sounded, scores of East Fife supporters dodged the lines of police, invaded the pitch and hugged their heroes. Just six years after becoming Scottish League members, East Fife met Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park on 16 April 1927, the first Cup final to be broadcast live on the radio.
Few who listened to the broadcast were prepared for the great start to the match when, after only two minutes, the Fifers took a shock lead through a header from Jock Wood. Unfortunately, the joy was short lived. Only a minute later the match was squared, just before half time Celtic took the lead, then just after the break the Glasgow scored again to make the final score 3-1.
With confidence no doubt boosted by the successful cup run, East Fife came agonisingly close to winning promotion the following season, but lost out by just two points to second placed Third Lanark. The club didn’t have long to wait for a crack at First Division football, however.
Promotion was finally achieved in season 1929/30 following an exciting season-long battle for the Second Division Championship with Leith Athletic, who eventually landed the title on goal average. With Raith Rovers’ relegation to the Second Division coming at the same time, East Fife had never had a better chance to establish themselves as the district’s top football club!
In preparation for the club’s first season in the top flight, several further improvements were carried out at Bayview Park during the summer of 1930. A press box added to the front of the grandstand and telephones were installed at the east end of the pavilion to allow match reports to be relayed swiftly to the media. Additional turnstiles were also installed at the west end of the ground.
East Fife’s first venture into the First Division, however, was largely disappointing. A poor start to the season saw heavy defeats inflicted from Motherwell, Hearts, Celtic, Partick Thistle and Airdrieonians, before the first victory arrived on the last Saturday in September when Ayr United were beaten 4-1 at Bayview. Following further heavy defeats over the course of the season, the Fifers finished at the foot of the table and returned to the Second Division after only one season in the top league.
Shortly after the season ended, however, the club received the honour of having a player selected to represent Scotland for the first time when Dan Liddle was picked to play for his country against Austria in Vienna on 16th May 1931. Although he failed to find the net as the Scots went down 5-0, Liddle kept his place in the side to face Italy four days later, but again tasted defeat as Scotland lost 3-0. The Scots eventually tasted victory in the final match of the tour against Switzerland in Geneva, but again ‘Dangerous Dan’ failed to find the net and never again pulled on the dark blue jersey of his country.
Most of the 1930’s saw East Fife finish their league campaign in mid-table, with little to boast about in the cup competitions. In season 1937/38, however, the Fifers enjoyed a reasonably successful league campaign, and on 11th December 1937, recorded their biggest ever competitive win by beating Edinburgh City 13-2 at Bayview in a Division Two match. As well as being a club record, this score also stands as the biggest Second Division score-line of the Twentieth Century!
This feat paled, however, during the Scottish Cup run that was to last for the rest of the season, when East Fife became the only Second Division side to win Scottish football’s greatest prize.
The story began at Broomfield Park, Airdrie, on 22nd January, where the home side entertained East Fife in what was considered to be one of the less attractive fixtures of the first round. Nevertheless, several hundred Fifers considered the tie alluring enough to travel through by special train and a crowd of 5,000 saw the visitors progress with a 2-1 win. Another fellow Second Division team, Dundee United, were trounced 5-0 at Bayview in round two, which set the Fifers up nicely for a home tie against Aberdeen in the third round. Few expected the home side to repeat their feat of eleven years earlier, but that is exactly what happened, with the tie won at Pittodrie following stalemate in Methil!
Following a ‘heroes welcome’ on their return to Fife, ‘cup fever’ gripped the east of the county when the Quarter-Final draw set up a local derby against Raith Rovers.
A new ground record of 18,642 packed the Bayview terraces on 19th March 1938 for the big game; a keenly fought tussle which finished 2-2. An even larger crowd of 25,500, again a record attendance, packed into Stark’s Park four days later for the replay, where the men in black and gold won the right to face St Bernard’s in the Semi-Final with a 4-2 victory. The tie against the Edinburgh side took three games, all played at Tynecastle, to settle. Following two 1-1 draws, the Semi-Final was finally settled on Wednesday 13th April with a 2-1 win and East Fife’s dreams of appearing in a second Scottish Cup Final became reality.
Cup fever gripped Methil and the east of Fife as the Cup Final against Kilmarnock approached, and no fewer than six special trains were scheduled to depart from Methil and Leven stations.
A crowd of 79,000 lined the Hampden terraces on Saturday 23rd April, where the Fifers took the lead through Eddie McLeod, only for Kilmarnock to equalise eight minutes later. In an action packed second half, there were goalmouth incidents aplenty, but neither side managed to find the net and the match finished all square at 1-1.
A crowd of 91,710 turned out for the replay on Wednesday 27th April. After the Fifers had managed to hold out during an early Killie onslaught, McKerrell unleashed a fierce shot at the other end of the park to put the ‘underdogs’ ahead. Within six minutes, however, the First Division club had turned the match around and went in at half-time 2-1 ahead. Despite further pressure from Kilmarnock early in the second half, East Fife managed to square the match once again just before the hour-mark, when McLeod scored with an overhead kick. When the final whistle sounded, the score was still level at two goals apiece and the match went into extra time. As the additional 30 minutes progressed, East Fife slowly gained the upper hand using the wings to great advantage and soon had the Kilmarnock goal under severe pressure. Sensing that the underdogs were about to have their day, the crowd roared encouragement and, with ten minutes remaining, Miller scored to send the black and gold bunnets high in the air. With the Fifers in total control as the light began to fade, McKerrell scored a fourth to put the result beyond doubt and the Scottish Cup was on its way to Methil!
The exertions of the cup run, however, took its toll on the push for promotion and the Fifers finished the season in fifth place. The following season, 1938/39, the Fifers were again pipped for a place in the First Division, but only on goal average from Alloa Athletic. In any case, promotion to the top flight would have lasted only a few games as just a few months later the outbreak of the Second World War saw the Scottish League go into abeyance for the six year duration of the hostilities, during which the Fifers competed in the regional war-time competitions.