It was quite a sight. Every Monday morning the black and gold strips – along with 11 sets of baggy pants – were hung out on the line in Forth Street, one of the miners’ rows in old Denbeath.
There were no squad numbers in those days, back in the 1940s and 50s. We knew the woman who did the washing. My pals and I used to stop on our way to school and speculate over which of our local heroes wore which jersey.
From memory, my first boy’s season ticket into Bayview cost 7 shillings and 6 pence (about 35 pence in today’s coinage). To give you an idea of values, the same sum could pay for 15 separate admissions into the local cinemas. I guarded that ticket with my life.
A crowd of us, all at the original High School in College Street, Buckhaven, would turn out to play rugby for the school in the forenoon – then head for Bayview in the afternoon. We stood behind the Aberhill end goal. The crowds were huge. I remember swaying on the terracing when a record 24,000 crowded in for a local derby against Raith Rovers.
Grown ups paid one shilling and sixpence admission. I remember my late father protesting when it went up to two shillings (10 pence in today’s terms). He vowed that he would not pay that type of money to see a fitba match. He did not keep his vow very long.
East Fife, in those days, had a great tradition and a great team. They had won the Scottish Cup in 1937-38, of course, and every pub had a picture of the victorious team on its wall. Practically every adult could rattle off the names of the cup winning side – and talk about it for hours.
To us, as boys, it all seemed in the long lost past. We were more interested in the team of the present. And what a team it was. No fancy formation, no fancy tactics, no managers jumping about on the touchline like maniacs.
In their heyday, around the early 1950s, the team that sticks in my memory was (2-3-5):- Niven; Laird and Stewart; Philp, Findlay and Aitken; Adams, D. Davidson, Morris, J. Davidson and Duncan. For some reason, in those days, the line up seldom changed. Players did not seem to pick up injuries like today’s stars. No one talked about metatarsals!
My hero was the centre forward Henry Morris. He had agreed to sign from the junior side Dundee Violet – but only on condition that East Fife also signed his pals and teammates the Davidson brothers. They had played together for years and had an uncanny understanding.
Henry Morris was unfortunate as he played for the Fifers at a time when Scotland enjoyed a glut of tremendous centre forwards. He eventually received a long deserved international recognition (against Ireland in October 1949) and scored a hat trick on his debut in a Scottish strip, only never to be capped again. An episode that still turns up in pub quizzes! Scotland won that match 8-2 incidentally.
Morris was not tall but he could head the old heavy leather ball with great power. He was not fast but he could hunch himself over the ball, and dribble, in an old fashioned way, past defenders. He looked overweight and lethargic but made up for it by possessing control skills that made him near impossible to dislodge off the ball.
In fact, I remember watching him in a derby at Starks Park where he beat his marker, headed towards goal, and sidestepped a second defender. By this time, the centre half had recovered and sprinted back to block Henry’s path. But our man simply wrongfooted him a second time, looked up from about the penalty spot, and fired the ball past the keeper. You don’t see that technique demonstrated too often in the modern game.
That team was full of characters. Sammy Stewart who had perfected the art of the sliding tackle to skin wingers; George Aitken who grafted non-stop through a game and eventually was to go to Sunderland for a then record transfer fee; right winger Tommy Adams, the wee bandy legged man who could put over delicately placed crosses; and on the left flank Davie “Dally” Duncan who took all the penalties with his lethal left foot.
Duncan’s penalty technique was a simple one. He belted the ball low and very hard aiming at the keeper’s feet. The ball was normally over the goal line before the keeper could blink.
In that era, there were numerous other stars that proudly wore the black and gold. Most were recruited from the surrounding area, like Charles “Cannonball” Fleming, a lanky youth who could fire the fiercest shots on the volley that I’ve ever seen.
Nothing, of course, stays the same. Nothing lasts for ever. Within a few years, the game was beginning to change and so was the local working class community.
European football was born and began to evolve into what was to become today’s multi-million pound bonanza. And with that trend came the gradual growth of commercialism sprouting within the boardrooms of Britain’s bigger clubs.
In the cities of Britain, the accountants and money men began to play a key role in the football industry. In the backwaters of the country, like our little corner of Fife, the pits began to be run down and disappear, to be replaced with rising unemployment and diminishing dreams.
Harsh reality replaced old fashioned hopes. The good times had gone – for our own East Fife and for a lot of other small clubs as well. The glory days at old Bayview were over.