Whistle blows on a century of football

ST Monans is soon to celebrate a special social and sporting landmark.

The East Neuk community is marking 100 years of football in the village.

Events are being organised to hail the deep bond between St Monans residents and their local soccer squad, which spans the closing years of the 19th century to the present.

Local people are rightly proud of the spirit which has sustained the small club for so long – and reckon it's a fitting tribute to the character of the village in general.

Originally kicking off in the 1890s as St Monance Swifts, the side finally joined an offical league set-up in 1907-08 – hence the centenary festivities – and since 1959, they've been known as St Monans Swallows.

A special match is to take place at Recreation Park between Swallows and a Scottish Amateur Select on a Sunday in March, which is still to be finalised.

Then, on Sunday, April 6, a sporting dinner, to which male and female guests are welcome, is being staged by Swallows' main sponsor, the Mayview Hotel.

Special guests are set to include Jimmy Nicholl, the former Manchester United, Northern Ireland and Rangers player and ex-manager of Raith Rovers, now assistant at Aberdeen.

Potent threat

Numerous domestic honours and a smattering of international recognition have come St Monans' way over the years.

Assistant coach Willie Fyall has been researching the history of the club and reckons it's amazing how many local families have connections with it, with dads, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and other relatives all playing.

Long established at Recreation Park, the side played at various grounds in and around the village over the years, including the area now know as the Common, and Craigiewells Farm.

Recent seasons have seen Swallows establish themselves as a consistently potent threat in Fife Amateur Football Association's Premier League, where they have been runners-up in three of the last four campaigns.

St Monans Community Trust is on a quest to bring a new, multi-use community building to the village and is seeking charitable status, while Swallows hope an improvement in local amenities will bring them a new pavilion.

Cup finals

September 1893 saw the foundation of St Monans Swifts, although evidence does point to a game against Elie in March of that year.

Swifts became part of the East Neuk Junior League in 1907-08 – and officially part of football in the Kingdom.

They reached the Fife Junior Cup Final in 1921-22 but lost to Rosslyn Juniors, of Dysart. However, one player, Davie Hunter, was capped three times for Scotland at junior level and signed for East Fife the same season.

Swifts switched for a while to juvenile soccer but reverted in 1929 to junior status and played in the East Neuk Amateur League, where many top-table titles were to come their way.

Their most successful season was in 1935-36, as they became the first Fife team to reach Scottish Amateur Cup semi-finals, where they were beaten by Queen's Park Victoria at Bayview.

However, that defeat was their first of the entire season and, at the end of the campaign, they played five cup finals in one week, winning all but the last.

Further national recognition was bestowed on them as William Peattie was capped three times for the Scottish amateur squad.

Swifts were in the Fife Junior League with another East Neuk outfit, Pittenweem Hearts, in 1938-39, and when football resumed after the Second World War, they became amateurs again before restyling themselves as St Monans Swallows.

Various East of Fife league titles were won in the years since then, including three Fife Cups in the 1970s, while the turn of this century saw a resurgent Swallows rise under a new management team, headed by George Glen, and a climb from the lower reaches of League II to become regular challengers in the Premier League.

There is a very strong presence of East Neuk players in the squad – the oldest is just 31 – and a nucleus of good young players to watch in future from St Monans Spurs, the youth side which succeeded St Monans Colts.

Senior stints

In addition to Davie Hunter and William Peattie, four other St Monans-born football players have represented their country at different levels.

John Ritchie and Philip Gay were chosen for schoolboy matches, along with Willie Fyall himself as an under-18 youth player.

Most famous was Charlie Cooke – possibly the only St Monans native ever to be mentioned in a Monty Python book – whose senior stints at Aberdeen and Dundee were followed in the 1970s by high-profile spells at Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

The village was equally proud of Jock Davidson, who was capped three times for Scotland at rugby, and other St Monans residents who excelled in athletics and other sporting pursuits over the years.

"For a small village, the number of people we have produced at that level is quite amazing," said Willie, an ex-telephone engineer who is now a club steward at Anstruther Golf Club.

Even with the decline of some traditional industries over the years, people still supported the local club, he added.

Swallows hope fervently that this year will bring them the Premier League flag, while they are still in all the domestic cup competitions.

And there could well be another celebration in 2009 – the year they celebrate half a century of being known as St Monans Swallows.