Fife Flyers at 80: A salute to a grand old team

Fife Flyers 1938 team - the first one to skate out of the newly opened Kirkcaldy Ice Rink. From left: Jack Stover, Alex Fullerton, Les Lovell, Norman McQuade, Billy Fullerton, Len McCartney, Tommy Durling, Tommy McInroy, Jimmy Chappell, netminder Chick Kerr.
Fife Flyers 1938 team - the first one to skate out of the newly opened Kirkcaldy Ice Rink. From left: Jack Stover, Alex Fullerton, Les Lovell, Norman McQuade, Billy Fullerton, Len McCartney, Tommy Durling, Tommy McInroy, Jimmy Chappell, netminder Chick Kerr.

Fife Ice Arena is a special place. To step through its doors, and hear them creak as they swing back and forth before finally settling, is to enter a building that is steeped in history.

Pick a point, look around and you can hear the noise of an ice hockey crowd roused to anger or united in boisterous celebration. The swish of skates and the clunk of curling stones delivered perfectly into the house - and of the great dance bands tuning up ready to deliver a night of unforgettable entertainment.

If these old walls could talk, what wonderful tales they could tell of sporting triumph and disaster, incredible comebacks and landmark achievements.

The ghosts and characters, the old-timers and the rink rats – they’re all there.

There are some fans still occupying the same seats they did back in the Heineken era, back even further to the days when Flyers crushed Southampton to become British champions in ‘77, to when Jimmy Spence reeled off multiple goals every single night in the 60s, and netminder Pete Belanger – arguably one of the best ever to play in Fife – thrilled the post-war crowds.

Two, three generations have come and gone. Some have stayed and some have vanished into the night, but the sport endures.

Fife Flyers - advert from Fife Free Press in 1938 announcing arrival of team

Fife Flyers - advert from Fife Free Press in 1938 announcing arrival of team

And those ghosts spark many memories. Snapshots in time which still burn bright.

Vincent Lukac taking hockey to unprecedented levels; 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 Gatzos and Coughlin ON to the ice; the shambles of relegation, the joy of championships won; the infectious enthusiasm of Ron Plumb; the glorious smile of Milan Figala; the sound and fury of a Fife crowd in full, righteous indignation, destroying the concentration and focus of visiting teams like a force of nature.

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.

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For hockey fans, the sense of history imbues every nook and cranny.

The rink rats who swept the cafe, and scraped the ice before the invention of the Zamboni, who spent every waking hour around the building will all have tales to tell.

Of sharp-suited, trilby hat wearing imports in the 50s who flipped them a nickel, and brought a sense of glamour to town.

Of the incredible derby nights with Dunfermline Vikings when 4200 fans would pack the rink and express their displeasure by pelting the referee and opposition players with orange peel and rolled-up programmes.

Of the truly great teams whose championship victories are honoured in the banners which hang from the ceiling.

And there is still one more to raise - the Gardiner Conference banner from 2017-18. It would be remiss if that didn’t happen on the 80th anniversary.

These banners are important to fans and players.

You can chart Flyers’ story simply by raising your eyes to the roof and follow the success different eras brought to the rink and town.

From the championship winning post-war teams of Al Rodgers to Law Lovell’s 1977 Grand Slammers and Mark Morrison’s peerless class of 2000.

From the Perth Line to the Plumb Line.

From Scottish league titles to British championship glory.

Every banner tells the story of a great team and it hangs from the roof in permanent tribute.

That’s what makes Fife Flyers different.

That’s what makes the rink special.

And it isn’t just a sports venue. It is one of the town’s vital community assets. The bonds first forged in 1938 have remained strong across the generations.

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 board the bus to Gallatown, Many a romance blossomed in this old barn.

And ice hockey remains at its very heart.

The sport has had peaks and troughs through the years, but, 80 years on, it endures. It still thrills and captivates.

My 33 years rinkside pale in comparison with many fans who can point to hockey watching stretching back 50, 60 years and more. They’re the people, who, guys like Kel Land will tell you are the most knowledgeable fans on the circuit. They know what they like. They know what they want – guisers and chancers are sniffed out in the time it takes to drop a puck for a face-off.

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

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

So, happy 80th anniversary to the grand old lady of Rosslyn Street.

May she host many more great nights of ice hockey which leave the fans breathless, hoarse and counting down the days to the next one.