How Fife councillors tried to tackle the 1978 skateboarding craze
Two worlds collided early in 1978 with the explosion of skateboarding.
The craze quickly swept through Fife, and a Kirkcaldy District Council initiative to create three designated facilities generated front page headlines – and a backlash.
Councillors who were trying to get to grips with a whole new sport, complete with its talk of noseslides and kickflips, suddenly found themselves being referred to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
A recommendation in an otherwise mundane report sparked the furious row.
The project was included in Kirkcaldy District Council’s jobs creation programme and was presented to the policy and resources committee .
Phase five included schemes drawn up to give 156 people employment for up to 40 weeks through the old Manpower Services Commission, which was set up pick up a chunk of the tab.
The inclusion of three skateboarding parks – no locations were given but Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Leven were all front-runners – pricked the ears of several councillors who clearly didn’t think much of this new craze.
Councillor James W. Brodie, who represented the Ratepayers Association – then a highly influential group which had several elected members – dismissed the whole sport as a passing fad and branded the investment “a waste of money”
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He was backed by Councillor Robert King (Glenrothes, Labour) who said the committee’s priorities were “absolutely cock-eyed”.
He said he had kids in his own ward almost drowning in the Bighty Burn, but no money could be found to culvert it, while there was a need for new community centres to house the many groups meeting in wooden huts.
After heated discussion, the committee agreed by eight votes to six to adopt all recommendations, including the skateboard options, and work was slated to begin in April.
Alexander Sneddon, director of leisure and recreation – the man who brought the proposal to the table – said there were two ways of managing the skateboarding craze.
Do nothing, or find some way of meeting the demands from local groups and youths.
Councillors were well aware of the buzz around the sport.
January saw the first supervised skateboarding session at Kirkcaldy Boys at Linton Lane – there was a big turnout, with Keith Bennett (14), Southerton Gardens, the Scottish area champion for his age group, giving a demonstration.
In March, despite atrocious weather, over 60 youngsters turned out for the club’s skateboarding weekend where they were backed by three councillors – Dan Stewart, David Stewart and John Stewart.
The members had already compiled a 500-strong petition backing their case for facilities.
There were also similar campaigns under way in Glenrothes, Leven and Methil.
Cllr Brodie remained unimpressed.
Come the full council meeting he tried again to have the project stopped, claiming he had received many expressions of support following the story appearing on the front page of the Fife Free Press.
A compromise was pitched with the council proposing to go with just two of the three parks, cutting its contribution to around £33,000.
Cllr Brodie stood firm, while Tom Gray (SNP) wondered if skateboarding would be similar to two other recent crazes – hula-hoops and yo-yos.
Cllr Brodie stated: “Skateboarding is not as popular as anticipated and as it is being made out to be.
“The council has not looked at the possibility of roping off areas for skateboarding courses and, even with that, children will still use pavements.”
After failing to convince the council to reconsider the decision, he fired off a petition to Bruce Milan, Secretary of State for Scotland, urging him to instruct the MSC to withdraw funding for the projects and divert it to “more worthwhile activities” – gardens being one of the ideas put forward.
Even now, the sound of generations not quite understanding each other rings through the whole story.
And skateboarding? The passing craze turned out to be something rather more durable … as a trip to Beveridge Park any weekend will quickly show.