In football, there’s always someone worse off than you. Although, for Cowdenbeath’s long-suffering fans, it might be hard to see exactly who that is.
The Blue Brazil always had an element of irony behind their aspirational nickname, but even if they rarely hit the heights in the Scottish League, they delivered the kind of gritty competitiveness you’d expect from a Fife mining town. Not this season, though. Bottom of Scottish League Two, with just five points. Cup defeats against non-league opposition, and a manager who left admitting that he ‘just wasn’t enjoying being at the sharp end any more’. The local paper reported that the board was hopeful of having a new man in place ahead of Saturday’s game at home to Elgin; the club website on the day of the game was soliciting interested applicants to send in CVs.
So who bothers? Crowds hover just above the 300 mark – you suspect the stock racing at Central Park gets more through the gates – and like every town in Scotland, local interest tends to drift towards Glasgow. Wee Jimmie’s Bar, a post-match haunt for hangdog Cowden fans, bars Old Firm colours at weekends, but the derelict Clansman Hotel had a range of stickers from the Cowdenbeath Celtic fan club. Local dreams feel a bit remote, the programme’s reminiscence of days in the top flight and crowds of 7,000 turning up felt like ancient history. Saturday’s crowd got a ground hopping boost: the tannoy announced a couple of passing Sheffield United fans, and another pair from Leicester who had seen Real Madrid in their last game. Cristiano Ronaldo was otherwise engaged.
That programme, though, was one of the best things about the day. Not just the usual fodder, but a bunch of intriguing historical snapshots. Taking a cue from Remembrance Weekend, we had biographies of the ex-players killed in conflict, while a separate section ignored football altogether to ponder abandoned proposals for a ‘Cowdengelly’ new town (shelved in favour of Glenrothes) and the battle to retain the historic Kingdom of Fife as a government entity. Some of that community pride lives on: Cowdenbeath High Street may have seen better days, but ‘What’s Your Beath?’, a drop-in centre, showed ambitious plans for a refurb and the local paper was eager to put the case for the preservation of the old Town Hall and the long-awaited restoration of yet another derelict pub. For now, though, locals will have to do with a mural marking the town’s mining heritage.
The locals who made it to Central Park for the visit of Elgin conformed to a different stereotype – the angry, foul-mouthed characters of an Irving Welsh short story that improbably combined Subbuteo, posh totty and a (fictional) league administrator with a bizarre fetish. That’s not intended as a slight: Welsh captured the local voice admirably, and the inventive invective flung at both teams and especially the referee enlivened the afternoon on the terrace. It just wasn’t for the faint-hearted, and neither was much of the football. The Blue Brazil, short of goals, short of confidence, gave away a soft penalty early on. The crowd turned its focus on the ref, with a side order of abuse for the ‘Diver’, Elgin’s Thomas Reilly, who was close to the incident but not directly involved. No prizes for guessing which player went on to score the goal of the game, spotting the keeper off his line and curling one in from the corner of the box in the one moment of true quality that afternoon. The celebration, unsurprisingly, gave it the big ‘un: ears cupped towards the terrace, diving gestures with the hands. ‘I hope yer proud of yersel, number eight, ya cheat!’ came the response, delivered in tones that suggest the Fife coast will never be short of foghorns.
By then, Cowdenbeath had seen two players sent off. One decision was a mystery – a straight red for a clean tackle that took the ball out for a throw; the other was inevitable – a second yellow for a late lunge. The ‘Bad Lads’ mural by the tunnel was about motorsport, but it was in danger of describing the game as matters threatened to get out of hand. Following that early penalty, and a home booking after an awkward 50-50 clash, the foghorn chorus was in full voice. ‘Yer a disaster, referee!’. Worst ever, apparently, and even worse than last time he was here.
The home team, outnumbered, managed a late consolation after a defensive mix-up presented Cameron Muirhead with a simple chance. The terrace had drifted behind the goal by that stage, the better for a quick getaway to Wee Jimmie’s, and gave ‘Fatso’ in the visiting net the benefit of their opinions. The goalie, typically, shrugged it off those broad shoulders, waiting until the final whistle to taunt the locals with a triumphant bellow and slow hand claps.
Nov. 11, 2017
Central Park, Cowdenbeath, Scotland
Scottish League 2
Cowdenbeath 1 (Muirhead) Elgin City 3 (Cameron 2, Reilly)