A rink packed with ghosts and great memories

Ron Plumb''Player-coach Fife Flyers 1985''Won British Championship title at Wembley - returned as coach 1995-96.
Ron Plumb''Player-coach Fife Flyers 1985''Won British Championship title at Wembley - returned as coach 1995-96.

ALLAN CROW on the rink’s history and why it endures seven decades on...

I’ve spent so long in the press box there’s now a perfect indent of my left elbow, cast as I sit and scribble notes on match nights - and my attempts to calculate the number of hours spent at the rink came undone when I couldn’t decide whether I’d need six or seven zeroes on the end of the final number. Let’s just there have been many. ‘Way too many ...

The sport may not dominate my life in the way it once did, but the rink is still a special place.

I can look round and see the ghosts and characters of the past as well as the stars of today and tomorrow.

There are some fans still occupying the same seats they did back in ‘86-87 when Fred Perlini’s ‘tache made women swoon, and Al Sims made Gordon Latto do his work on the blue line.

A new generation - yikes, two generations! - have come and gone since those days, some have stayed and some have vanished into the night, but the sport, for all its shortcomings and self-inflicted chaos, endures.

Ah the ghosts ... Vincent Lukac taking the sport to unprecedented levels; Grant Slater’s stick-swinging sin-die madness dragging it into the gutter, Tony Hand tormenting Fife year in, year out; Ryan Kummu dangling David Longstaff by the ankles over the boards; Mo’s unforgettable British championship win on home ice; the electrifying thrill of seeing Les Millie burst on to the scene; the tears shed as a broken Cal Brown took the most emotional bow on the ice after life-changing surgery; the night Fife fans booed Gaztos and Coughlin ON to the ice; the shambles of relegation, the joy of championships won; the infectious enthusiasm of Ron Plumb; the smile of Milan Figala; the sound and fury of a Fife crowd in full, righteous indignation.

Ghosts and memories seep into every corner of this arena - the anecdotes and the faces will depend upon which era you watched your hockey in, but they are all here. Every game night. Every training shift. Every scrimmage game.

From Bud Scrutton and Chic Mann to Rab Petrie, Mike Fedokro and Chic Cottrell, this rink has a pedigree which sets it apart.

The pictures taken on the opening night in 1938 show how little the arena has changed. The seating areas remain exactly the same - it’s possible to pinpoint where you sit in 2012 by studying an image captured 74 years ago.

How many generations of ghosts have occupied your seat watching your team through the decades?

It’s strange to think that, 60 years ago tonight, fans flocked to YOUR seats, YOUR sections, for a full-bloodied Fife derby against Dunfermline Vikings ... 70 years ago they showed their displeasure at refs and visiting thugs by pelting them with oranges bought from the shop in the foyer ... and 30 years ago they had to buy tickets on a Friday night just to make sure they got into the game as Jack Dryburgh weaved some PR magic around town and the Plumb Line entertained on ice like never before.

Tha’s what makes Fife Flyers different.

That’s what makes this place special.

Sure, the rink ain’t the shiniest, yup the facilities maybe can’t hold up against Braehead or Dundee, and yes we’re cussed and thrawn when it comes to noising up the opposition (we’re Fifers, for goodness sake!) - but there simply isn’t a better place to watch, or play, hockey than in Kirkcaldy.

This rink isn’t just a sports arena. It is one of the town’s vital community assets and the bonds have endured generation after generation after generation.

For some it remains a place where they went dancing during the war years but secretly also went skating - ask your gran and I bet she’ll tell you stories of the nights she promised her folks she wouldn’t go on the ice, only to dangle her skates out of the bedroom window, nip round, pick ‘em up and get the bus to Gallatown. And skate while the big bands played. Many a romance blossomed has in this old barn ...

And ice hockey remains at its very heart.

The sport has had peaks and troughs through the years, but, 74 years on, it too endures.

My two and a half decades here pale in comparison with many fans who can point to hockey watching stretching back 30, 40 years and more. They’re the people who guys like Kel Land will tell you are the most knowledgeable fans on the circuit. They can take a look at a new import on his first shift and tell you there and then if he’ll fit in Fife. They’re right every single time, too.

And those who are no longer with us or who longer attend on match night, well, their ghosts are still with us.

And on those wonderful nights when the rink is roused into full voice I swear I can still feel their presence.

* A version of this article appeared in Fife Flyers’ match programme on September 8.

>> Follow me on Twitter @fifefreepressed

>> Tweet your match night verdicts to @ffp - and see them in print!