A taste of salt and battery for Kirkcaldy Rugby Club in Siberia

Kirkcaldy Rugby Club arrive in Siberia in 1990
Kirkcaldy Rugby Club arrive in Siberia in 1990

Kirkcaldy Rugby Club saw its name entered into the history books when players and officials spent their summer break in Siberia in 1990.

In doing so, it became the first sporting team from anywhere in the Western world to enter the previously forbidden Soviet city of Krasnoyarsk.

Members of the squad look on during one of their matches

Members of the squad look on during one of their matches

Though not unusual now, 30 years ago it proved to be a historic and a remarkable 5,000 mile journey for the party of 33, which included one supporter, to a territory virtually unknown to anyone in the west.

A 25-hour bus and plane journey took them from Beveridge Park to an area associated with nothing but salt mines and bone-numbing cold.

The reality of Krasnoyarsk was a city of one million friendly, curious people, stadiums on par with established soccer venues in Scotland, and temperatures in the high 80s.

At the airport, they were accorded a traditional Siberian welcome of bread and salt carried on salvers by girls in national dress.

The team entertain the locals

The team entertain the locals

Club official John Methven, who still writes the Blues’ match reports for the Fife Free Press, said upon arrival: “We only found out about it a few minutes before landing.

“You take a chunk of bread, dip it in the salt and eat it – it shows that you will accept their hospitality.”

It proved to be the first of many gestures of welcome.

The hosts organised a full diary of sight-seeing and social functions, and the Fifers raised more than a few eyebrows by donning Scottish Highland dress.

“We thought our first touring team would come from Poland or Romania, but here we have Scots wearing skirts” said one Russian rugby official.

The party held talks with the Soviet rugby fans, met politicians and dignitaries, and made many friends on the tour which opened with a 22-18 victory over Sibtyazhmash, and the players quickly discovered that their Russian hosts knew every piece of gamesmanship in the book.

Devious fingers found their way into eye sockets, and more than one jersey was given the occasional tug. The goal line had a concrete border, and the inevitable injury saw player Alan Fraser dislocate his elbow.

The rutted pitch also grazed many knees while mosquitoes took care of the arms.

A little bit wiser, the Blues prepared for their toughest test against top side Krasny Yar who proved to be too good for the Blues and emerged victorious by 26-9 and won a return match by 16-1, though it was a much improved Kirkcaldy performance.

The games were filmed by Siberian television and broadcast the following evening, giving the players a chance to watch themselves in action.

The tour concluded with a strength-sapping game in Moscow against top side Slava which the Blues lost 24-0.

Two weeks of training, playing and coping with a radically different diet had taken their toll, but there was at least the consolation of cupping draught beer in Russian rugby’s only clubhouse.

“It was a bit like being back in Beveridge Park on a wet night!” said John.

The incredible adventure finally ended when the coach made the final leg of the journey from Manchester to Kirkcaldy, arriving back late on a Sunday evening.

“It was the trip of a lifetime,”John said, “It was a superb experience, and nothing we asked for was too much trouble.

“They were desperate to show what the city has to offer, and the hospitality was out of this world.

He added: “The kilts we wore proved to be a great source of interest!”