Bayview Park, Methil. The spiritual home of East Fife Football Club since its formation in 1903 and a ground greatly missed by those fans who grew up watching the black and gold play there for over 95 years.
Bayview Park was originally called Town Hall Park and was a very open piece of land, devoid of surrounding buildings and affording a towering view across Methil, Largo Bay and the surrounding towns. It had acted as the home to Leven Thistle before East Fife secured the lease of the ground and changed its name to something very apt.
It was a ground exposed to the elements and described in match reports as “that windswept plain above Methil”, as Jim Corstorphine notes in his excellent book on East Fife’s history of the same name.
Despite this desolate feel at times, Bayview Park was described by the Leven Advertiser as having “the largest and finest enclosure in Fifeshire” and boasted a pitch with a playing surface of 126 yards by 84 yards.
To try and get away from this desolate feel and to ready the ground for the Club to apply for full Scottish League membership, Bayview Park was fully enclosed by a wooden fence in the summer of 1906. A new 400 capacity grandstand was also built at the north side of the ground, right in the middle of the touchline and was built in around a month, being finished mid July. The pavilion enclosure was also refurbished and a room for referees added. There were no washroom facilities, however, and players had to wash outwith the pavilion itself.
By two years later, in 1908, the surrounding area of the ground had a completely different look, with property developers building housing all around Bayview. It was felt that the club would have to move but they held firm.
As the club looked to start their Central League spell, more renovations were carried out to Bayview in the summer of 1909. The pavilion had a windbreaker partition erected and toilets and a bath added to the back of it for the players. An additional covered enclosure was built for the club officials adjacent to the exiting pavilion. Wire was also added to the fence around the park to make it more robust in keeping fans off the pitch. Over the years, staining was also sometimes added to the fence as an extra precaution for keeping the fans out unless they wanted to go home with ruined clothing!
During the summer of 1910, plans were drawn up for a new combined primary and secondary school behind Bayview. Concerns about how this might intrude onto the football ground led to the whole pitch being moved several yards to the west for the start of the 1910/11 season. This gave the ground a whole new look and one which lasted for decades to come, as it meant that the stand which had been built in the north of the ground now became situated in the north east of it and the north west corner of the park was now situated on the half way line.
Aberhill school was built and eventually finished in 1912, giving Bayview Park it’s “school end” that it had for the rest of its days.
The pitch markings changed from season to season which meant that the grandstand and the wooden changing pavilion would be situated at various intervals up the touchline depending on how far the pitch was moved in an east-west direction.
With wartime coming and going, East Fife put good use to an old army hut in 1920 by erecting it and converting it into a pavilion at the south west corner of the ground. The pavilion housed the Board room, changing and toilet facilities for both teams, and a referees room. The structure was to stand at Bayview for the next fifty years.
The success that came with winning the Scottish Qualifying Cup in the 1920/21 season meant that East Fife qualified for the Scottish Cup proper and resulted in a third round meeting with Celtic. Bayview Park was in no fit state to hold the crowds expected so a huge embankment was built on the north side of the ground, adjacent to the main grandstand, and a record 11,000 crowd accommodated.
The pavilion also got a bit of an upgrading with a veranda added.
With East Fife finally gaining League membership for the 1921/22 season, the club announced plans to increase Bayview’s capacity to 35,000, which was to include a new 3,000 seater stand. The season came and went with no new stand but work did commence the following close season and a new and smaller stand was finally built and opened in October 1922. The stand was situated on the south side of the ground, opposite the stadium’s first ever stand on the north side, and was the stand that we all came to know as Bayview’s main (and only) stand until it’s final days. The stand had a capacity of 1,300 and cost the Club around £1,300.
The close season of 1923 saw more ground improvement work carried out, with the banking around the ground becoming terraced.
Drawing Rangers in the Scottish Cup in 1925 was to signal the next change to Bayview, with the standing capacity increased and four additional turnstiles being added to the main entrance.
The stadium was spruced up visually for the start of the 1929/30 campaign with the grandstand and dressing rooms receiving new paint jobs. The fresh paint obviously did the trick, spurring the club to the runners up spot and promotion!
It was East Fife’s continued increased successes which was forcing the ground improvements onto the club and promotion to the First Division for the 1930/31 season brought with it more enforced changes during the summer leading up to it. More turnstiles were added, this time at the west entrance, and a press box was installed in front of the main grandstand, with telephones also added for the reporters use.
The Second World War then put further ground improvements on hold for a few years.
With World War Two over, football got back to some sort of normality and it ushered in the most successful period in East Fife’s history. And with success comes bigger crowds and the need for even more ground improvements.
The first post-war improvement to Bayview Park was introduced for the New Year’s Day derby match against Raith Rovers in 1946 when the first tannoy system at the ground was unveiled.
The phenomenal success of the 1947/48 season which saw League Cup, Supplementary Cup and B Division triumphs, meant that East Fife were going to be joining the big boys in the A Division. With larger crowds now imminent the club acted swiftly and the improvements were all done in time for the 1948/49 season.
These improvements included upgrading the grandstand, concreting the stand enclosure terracing, extending the east terrace more into the Aberhill school playground and reconstructing and expanding the main terracing with land purchased from the Wemyss Estate. The pitch was also widened. All of the improvements took Bayview’s capacity to over 20,000.
Another 3,000 was added to the capacity in the summer of 1949 when a charismatic ground improvement took place at Bayview Park. The improvement itself is nothing special. It’s just the addition of concrete blocks to Bayview’s west end terracing to heighten and strengthen the terracing and provide perimeter walls (see above photo). What was so charming about these blocks though was that they were anti tank concrete blocks which had been placed on Leven beach during World War Two. Many of the blocks had carvings, drawings and messages on them from the soldiers stationed at Leven at the time and served as a special snapshot of history from wartime and from those involved. You can see pictures of some of the blocks HERE.
The blocks proved to be ideal underlay for the ash and roadway sleeper terracing and work was actually directed by manager Scot Symon himself, who was an architect to trade.
The official record attendance was set on January 2nd 1950, when 22,515 people came along to Bayview to watch the Fife beat Raith Rovers 3-0 in a Division One match.
East Fife’s growing success led the club to thinking that Bayview Park was soon going to outgrow their needs so plans were undertaken to build a new stadium in the Kirkland area. Work began and a huge embankment was built around the proposed playing surface towards the end of the decade. But no further work transpired and the plan eventually fell away around ten years later after East Fife’s fortunes took a downturn.
Telecommunication improvements took place for the 1954/55 season allowing live commentary of East Fife games to be broadcast to patients at the Wemyss Memorial Hospital.
The same season saw the addition to the ground of the latest craze sweeping the nation – floodlights! Bayview’s first floodlights were erected on wooden poles and officially opened at a special game against Leeds United on 7th March 1955.
With the Club’s fortunes on the pitch taking a turn for the worse, money problems off the pitch kept any stadium updates on hold. The summer of 1962 saw work on the terracing and the stand repainted but that was about the only things of note.
The summer of 1964 saw concrete dugouts built in front of the main stand and a concrete path built to the rear of the stand.
The covered enclosure was completed in September 1967 at a cost of £5,000. A snip when you think of the memories it has given so many of us over the years.
In November of that same year, the large pie stall under the main stand was opened.
In the summer of 69 the old wooden dressing rooms were demolished and replaced with a new pavilion. So momentous that Canadian musician Bryan Adams wrote a song about it!
The following year a possible move to Glenrothes was mooted, but talks were put on hold and of course the club stayed in the Levenmouth area.
The summer of 1971 saw the building of an iconic part of the stadium, the stand alone Directors Box.
With East Fife now being a First Division side, the directors decided to make full use of the space above the dressing rooms by building the box in order to provide “first class amenities for visiting directors”. This they did. The stairs from the new director’s box led to the inner workings of East Fife’s hospitality and day to day running, incorporating the boardroom, guest room, kitchen and toilets.
It was a strange structure that stood out from the rest of the ground and kind of gave a “them and us” message to the support. Having sat in it once, it did create a really strange atmosphere for watching a game, both visually and acoustically. That might explain why Gavin Murray kept his job for so long – maybe it didn’t all seem so bad watching it all from in there!
A reason for this weird perspective I feel being the fact that it was covered by yellow sheet plastic instead of glass initially. It was later replaced by clear plastic and possibly later by glass itself, maybe it was just Plexiglas. You can find more pictures and information about the directors’ box HERE
It was to be a busy summer for the old ground as it prepared itself for the club’s return to the top flight.
A lot of work went into improving the safety of the terracing to cope with the larger crowds expected, but the other main addition to the stadium’s history in 1971 was the construction of another iconic structure – the East Fife Social Club.
The fans had long wanted a social club to relax in near the stadium for a long time and now they had it. There was the Bayview Bar, but this was something to call their own. The building of the club had meant that two turnstiles had to be taken away to allow for the necessary space but no one would argue that maybe having to queue up that little bit longer was worth it.
The EFSC itself was completed and ready for use come September and featured a small dance floor in the main club room area as well as the main bar and additional snug bar for the quieter ones. You can see more pictures of it HERE. The Social Club was officially opened by Jock Stein.
The Social Club didn’t change much over the years. It was always packed on matchdays and holds so many memories for the Fife fans that enjoyed a pre and post match pint in there over the years or function at night. Any new social club or bar in any new stadium will never feel the same.
East Fife installed their new set of floodlights towards the end of that year and the official opening was on 14th December 1971 in a glamour game against Preston North End.
With East Fife’s position as a First Division side being maintained, Chairman Jim Baxter announced ambitious plans in November 1973 to bring facilities into the “big league”. The plan was to build a new 2,000 capacity grandstand incorporating new dressing rooms, a medical treatment room, an admin area and a restaurant. In addition, the plan was to build covered enclosures at both ends of the ground. The cost was to be over £100,000 but the plans, like so many before them, came to nothing and the club soon fell out of the top flight putting a stop to any more grand plans for development.
The next main changes to the ground, general housekeeping aside, came in the close season of 1976. A boundary wall was erected at the northwest end of the ground and the ‘schoolend’ wall at the northeast side of the ground heightened. The corrugated fence behind the enclosure was replaced by a double brick wall with barbed wire on top! I don’t think it was to stop people getting out, but we can’t be sure! The offices and dressing rooms were all repainted that summer as well.
The club replaced the old railway sleepers on the north and east terraces with concrete in the summer of 1981. Not before time as a lot of the terracing was crumbling (as you can see above) and close to becoming dangerous to stand on when in big crowds, which admittedly the club weren’t really getting any more anyway! It made standing at Bayview a very different experience to the old days.
A new tannoy system was put into the ground and became fully functioning in October 1981, allowing everyone to hear Charlie Cumming more clearly.
A wind up clock was also erected at some point of the early 1980’s at the school end. It replaced the old half time scoreboard but only lasted a few seasons. It complimented the wind up manager we got later that decade.
The floodlights of the early 70’s were failing now and weren’t being deemed suitable for use, leading to some early kick off times. East Fife replaced them for the 1986/87 season, installing four new pylons along each side at a cost of £50,000. This third set of lights saw us through the remaining days of the ground.
Another major new stand announcement was made by Jim Baxter towards the end of this season, which again came to nothing.
Other additions in the 1980’s included the segregation fence and CCTV cameras.
September 1987 can probably be marked down as the time when Bayview Park’s demise begun. Following the Bradford Fire and Heysel Disasters, safety at football grounds was becoming a prime concern. A safety report on Bayview Park by Fife Council was damning.
The stand was deemed to be “in a dangerous condition, particularly the roof, which is a threat not only to those in the stand but other spectators at the ground”. The west boundary wall was thought to be “in danger of collapsing” due to movement and cracks had appeared in two areas of the east boundary wall. The perimeter fence and west terrace crush barriers did not meet requirements and general housekeeping around the ground was declared “very poor”.
As a result of the findings, the capacity was cut to 5,950 (5,350 on the terracing and 600 in the stand). Two years later and it was cut further to 5,147. Not a huge concern with the club drawing three figure crowds, but it would impact any bigger cup ties that the Fife may get.
There were still some developments being undertaken at Bayview though and in 1991 the ambulance and physio accommodation was completed to the left of the main stand towards the Aberhill entrance. Interior changes under the stand created additional office space and a hospitality suite.
With Bayview crumbling, new stadium options were being looked at. The announcement in the summer of 1991 of a possible groundsharing deal in a new 10,000 capacity stadium at Chapel Level in Kirkcaldy with Raith Rovers was met by shock and anger by supporters of both Clubs and these plans were soon shelved only to be replaced by a similar move to Glenrothes before Raith thankfully pulled out of the whole plan altogether.
Whatever was to happen, the writing certainly seemed to be on the wall for the old stadium. Chairman Jim Baxter ruled out a move to Methil Docks on grounds that the club wouldn’t be able to fund the move and still favoured moving to Glenrothes, with a new 10,000 capacity £4.5 million stadium opposite the Fife Institute being the new target.
Fans were up at arms at the prospect of the club leaving their traditional area and after heated meetings between fans and the Board, plans to move to Glenrothes were shelved once and for all and the hunt began for a site for a new stadium in the Levenmouth area.
February 1995 saw the announcement that the club planned to move to a new 3,000 capacity stadium in the Ashgrove area of Methilhill over one down at Methil Docks. Ideal for travel links and in their traditional heartland, the plan looked like a winner but local residents complained of the disruption and their strong objections forced this plan to also be scrapped.
In all this time of wranglings Bayview Park continued to crumble. Terracing was cordoned off with tape and there were real concerns for the sloping wall at the Kirkland Road end terracing.
The final nail in the coffin for Bayview Park came on Monday 18th December 1995 when East Fife and Morrison Construction announced plans to build a new two stand 3,000 capacity stadium down at Methil Docks. Whether this is the site East Fife wanted all along, and were playing tactically to get, is open to debate, but this new stadium was to be a definite goer and so it proved to be, albeit with a smaller 2,000 one stand capacity instead, as we all know. All that was needed was Fife Council planning permission and this was given before the season was out.
Although some problems delayed the project for two years, worked finally began on what was to become East Fife’s new home in April 1998. With work on the new stadium underway, Bayview Park’s days were numbered.
And so it came to pass that on Saturday 31st October 1998, after 95 glorious years, Bayview Park hosted it’s final ever Scottish League game. East Fife lost 3-2 against Livingston, a town that didn’t even exist when the stadium was built and for the majority of its existence, and East Fife fans bid a fond farewell to a place of happy memories.
What was particularly sad about the day was that only 760 people bothered to turn out to witness the death throws, a far cry from the record 22,515 crowd.
Fans were allowed in on November 15th to watch a youth match between a victorious Bayview Youth Club and Comrie, the last game ever to be played on the pitch, and afterwards souvenirs were allowed to be taken. I personally got some of the pitch and some seats from the stand, sadly neither of which have survived to still be with me, but the home and away dressing room signs and a no smoking sign from the stand have done and have pride and place in my East Fife collection.
It was a place of happy memories, heartache, friendship and fun. It will always be missed by those who knew it.
RIP Bayview Park 1903 – 1998.
[*** Thanks must go to the various issues of the East Fife Mail and East Fife programme and to Jim Corstorphine’s excellent “On That Windswept Plain” book for help in putting this article together, along with the many happy memories ***]