Fife Flyers at 80: Supporting the team from 1938

Ian Bisset, Fife Flyers fan who saw the very first team play its earliest games in 1938
Ian Bisset, Fife Flyers fan who saw the very first team play its earliest games in 1938

Ian Bisset is a member of a small and very exclusive group of ice hockey fans.

They were there when Fife Flyers played their very first games in 1938.

One of the very first PR pics from Fife Flyers in 1938 as player-coach Les Lovell schools local kids in the art of ice hockey.

One of the very first PR pics from Fife Flyers in 1938 as player-coach Les Lovell schools local kids in the art of ice hockey.

And, 80 years on, they are still rinkside on match nights.

The team made its debut on October 1, 1938 in the same week the world stepped back from the cusp of war.

The opening of the rink and launch of this new, exciting sport of ice hockey, captivated the town – a capacity crowd of 4265 flocked to the opening ceremony, sparking a two-mile tailback in the Gallatown. No mean feat considering how few people owned a car back then.

It was the start of a love affair with the town which endures to this day.

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

The rink remains one of Kirkcaldy’s most important sporting, social and community assets – a place which has given generations of skaters and hockey players the chance to learn their craft and go on to success at the highest level.

It’s also a place where many people met their partners at the dancing which brought the biggest bands of the day to town– a venue where everyone from the Harlem Globetrotters to Gene Vincent have played.

For Ian, ice hockey is the sport which still draws him rinkside on match night, taking his regular seat in section C. Times have changed and the sport has developed beyond recognition across eight decades, but its appeal still holds firm.

Now aged 93, he admits his memories of attending in 1938 are thin.

“It was a one-off,” he said. “I got taken as treat. Travelling to Kirkcaldy from our home in Leven back then was an adventure!

“It was our first time seeing an ice pad. Up until then the only ice we played on was when ponds froze over – you’d clamp skates on to your shoes and then watch as most folk fell over or held on to each other!

“Then we saw these players come out and flying around the ice without falling over. We thought they were wonder men! I was overawed seeing the rink at first. It was quite a place.”

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Back then the building had a private bar– now the curling bar – and a quality restaurant as well as a bandstand. Flyers played on a Thursday night. Saturday nights saw the rink transformed into a dance hall.

The team featured in a Scottish league with opposition coming from Falkirk Lions, Perth Panthers, Glasgow Mohawks and Dundee Tigers to name but a few, and then arrival of Dunfermline Vikings then created a phenomenal post-war rivalry in the Kingdom with crowds of 4000 the norm as the two mining communities went head to head.

There were enough teams playing in the league to let fans watch hockey in a different town every night of the week, but travel was a major obstacle.

“You have to remember that back then people didn’t have cars and the population was static,” said Ian. “You travelled by bus, and if you missed the last one, you walked home!

“If you wanted to watch a game in Dundee you drove to Newport and got the ferry across the Tay or went round by Perth. Getting to Paisley – that was a journey and a half. There was no M8 back then.

“It was also difficult travelling because you worked five days a week, did overtime and also a Saturday shift.”

“And the game was also different.

“In the 1940s, teams had one line and two other skaters, so the pace was slower - it had to be!

“Today it is hectic and very fast. Back then it was a more studied game, but there was still some great hockey played. I recall seeing Racing Club of Paris playing a match in Kirkcaldy - one of the truly great teams.”

The stars of the post-war era still burn bright in Ian’s memory - Canadian stars who who lit up match nights and became huge favourites with the fans. The late 1940s saw Flyers enjoy huge success under Al Rodgers, a three times Coach of the Year award winner. In 1938, he played for Dundee against Fife in that very first match.

Ian reels off the players who lit up match nights – Earl McCrone, Floyd Snider, Bud Scrutton, and Chick Mann – and the memories they still offer up: “For me, Al Rodgers laid the foundations for Fife Flyers

“I remember Belanger, Greger and Snider, Scrutton, Mann and Hick Moreland.One line with two others who were Scotty and Bob Reid.

“Scotty was a bit like Danny Stewart, and Bob was a real quality player.

“We played Dunfermline one night and they had the Syme brothers, Tuck and Tiny; six feet tall and from mining stock. Scotty got the puck behind his goals and went straight down the middle. You could hear a pin drop as the Syme brothers stood ahead - they knew what was going to happen.

“Scotty never changed course. He hit them – it was like hitting a brick wall. We thought that was him for the rest of the game, but he was straight back out.”

Rodgers, he said, recruited well and built great title winning teams.

“We had Vern Greger, a tall beanpole stay at home defenceman who was a as hard as iron, Chick Mann was a deadringer for movie star Jack Palance, Scrutton was a great captain, Mann a very clever centre ice.

“A lot of the guys met and married local girls and stayed here.”

The rink was also the venue for many great nights dancing.

Having successfully argued its case to stay open when the Government tried to requisition the building for the war effort, it became a popular venue for some of the biggest bands of the era.

A dance floor was laid across one third of the ice pad, and the rink was packed.

“Everyone got dressed up and went to enjoy themselves,” he recalled.

“You’d rush home from work and head out to the dancing. It finished at eleven o’clock and sometimes we’d miss the last bus and walk home to Leven along the tram lines. You didn’t think anything of it - lots of people would walk back.’’

Eighty years after first venturing inside the shiny new rink, Ian planned to be back for Sunday’s landmark anniversary game.

“It’s a fantastic place,” he said. “It has been a great asset to Kirkcaldy.”