Celebrating 75 years of an ice rink in Kirkcaldy

Fife Ice Arena in 2013

Fife Ice Arena in 2013

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The dark clouds of war hung heavily over Kirkcaldy in 1938 when the art-deco doors of the ice rink first opened to the public.

Fear dominated discussions and public debate as trenches were dug in public parks, gas masks were delivered to town, and khaki-clad young men reported for duty in Hunter Street.

Appeals were made for volunteers to join the ARP as war moved ever closer - 250 fit men were needed almost overnight to bolster local ranks.

The war theme even cropped up in a front-page Press advert for Spears Carpets which carried the improbable - and slightly dubious - slogan ‘‘Whatever you think of Hitler, you can’t deny he’s tough ... and so are our carpets!’’

Against that backdrop came a new sports venue at the top of the Gallatown - a 4,500 seat ice rink which has played such an important part in the sporting and social fabric of our town.

It opened at the same time as the Burma Ballroom - indeed that gala launch marked the debut of the first ever Fife Flyers’ players who, along with Sir Robert Lockhart, chairman of Kirkcaldy Ice Rink, were among the special guests.

As a week of ‘‘grave uncertainty and anxiety’’ abated, locals flocked to the opening night of the rink on October 1,

Cars tailed back two-miles, and every seat was filled throughout the day a the new venue hosted a bonspiel, skating demonstration and then the debut of Fife Flyers in an exhibition game against Dundee Rockets.

Lord Elgin performed the opening honours, welcoming a new era for fans of winter sports.

‘‘Only a few years ago,’’ he said, ‘‘if we wanted to indulge in curling or skating we had to wait on the elements. Now the elements can go to blazes.’’

Nine and a half miles of pipes below the newly frozen ice pad brought the skaters, curlers, and then ice hockey players indoors under one giant roof.

It’s impossible to gauge the numbers which have poured through the front doors over the past 75 years. The figure must run well into a million plus. No turnstile clicker could possibly keep
pace.

Kirkcaldy is a hockey town, and has been since those fledging Flyers, led by Les Lovell Snr, first skated 75 years ago.

Generations have flocked to match nights - entire families have become hooked on the fastest team game in the world.

The opposition may have changed - from Dunfermline Vikings in the 1940s to Durham Wasps in the 80s to Dundee Stars in 2013 - but the rink remains a unique theatre of sport.

It’s a building soaked in history and tradition, one which buzzes with activity almost 24/7 but really comes alive on match nights.

Ask any player and they will tell you it’s the most intimidating venue in the UK - but one they relish visiting.

An old-time hockey rink where crowds sit claustrophobically close and dissect every pass, every hit, every shot, and vent their wrath on those who transgress or fail to peform. That includes their own team!

‘‘You can’t kid a Fife crowd - they know their hockey,’’ former import Kel Land once said. He was spot on.

While many of the sport’s traditional industrial and mining heartlands have faded into the history pages, Kirkcaldy has endured.

The team, and the rink are part of the town’s DNA, the rink an important piece of our community.

Much of that was due to the decision not to requisition the building during the war.

As a result it was a thriving dance hall as well as a skating rink and ocasional hockey venue.

The arrival of the biggest dance bands of the era brought thousands through its doors, and many folk met their future partners at the rink.

In the 1950s it hosted stars such ass Gene Vincent - he was bood off stage - while the rink’s adaptability saw everyone and everything from motor shows to the Harlem Globetrotters to showjumpers all make use of the concrete pad. Rock band Thin Lizzy played a famous gig there while Billy Graham’s UK tour was beamed live to a massive audience of
believers.

When the current Flyers‘ shop was made, an internal was knocked down. Behind it lay a white baby grand paino, and drawers full of the monogrammed ‘KIR’ cutlery once used in the restaurant.

Those connections with the past are strongest of all in the museum which dominates the foyer.

The silverware, photographs, jerseys and memorabilia are soaked in nostalgia, and are a permanent tribute to all who have donned the famous gold, white and blue tops over seven decades.

Those early pioneers - Les Lovell, Norman McQuade, Tommy Durling, Len McCartney, brothers Alex and Billy Fullerton, Tommy McInroy, Chick Kerr, Jimmy Chappell and Jack Chatham - could never have imagined that, 75 years to the very day they first skated in 1938, the rink would again stage a day-long celebration consisting of a bonspiel, a figure skating display and a hockey match.

I suspect they would be thrilled that the sport they launched just months before a world war has become part of our fabric.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the legends flying in for this most special occasion skated out to the same full house those very first Flyers witnessed on October 1, 1938?