Fight that led to effigy of a Fife Flyers’ player dangling from a noose

Fife Flyers 1990 - the b urtal fight between defenceman Mike Rowe and Chris Kelland, Murrayfield Racers, Rowe was branded a "lumberjack" by Racers' coach Leo Koopmans - and it led to an effigy of  the Flyers' player  being hung from the rafters of Murrayfield Ice Rink when the teams played again two weeks later
Fife Flyers 1990 - the b urtal fight between defenceman Mike Rowe and Chris Kelland, Murrayfield Racers, Rowe was branded a "lumberjack" by Racers' coach Leo Koopmans - and it led to an effigy of the Flyers' player being hung from the rafters of Murrayfield Ice Rink when the teams played again two weeks later

Fife Flyers and Murrayfield Racers have been arch rivals down through the generations, and gone hammer and tongs on many hockey nights - but nothing will ever come close to that sickening moment.

It happened back in 1990 and, incredibly, no photos of the effigy have ever emerged, but that only adds to the power of the story.

Mike Rowe, Fife Flyers (Pic: Bill Dickman, Fife Free Press)

Mike Rowe, Fife Flyers (Pic: Bill Dickman, Fife Free Press)

It had its roots in a shocking flashpoint in Kirkcaldy two weeks earlier.

In a rather meaningless, midweek tie in the Icy Smith Cup.

Racers held an eight-goal lead, making this a mere formality, until the heavyweights, Mike Rowe and Chris Kelland clashed.

Rowe was a fearsome defenceman who had been signed from Whitley Warriors where he was He wasn’t nicknamed ’Death’ for no reason!

Fife Free Press 1990 - report on the ugly fight between Mike Rowe and Chris Kelland in 1990

Fife Free Press 1990 - report on the ugly fight between Mike Rowe and Chris Kelland in 1990

The demon of Hillheads Road. He trailed many forwards into the corners and left them crumpled with a bone crunching check, defying them to get up and drop the gloves.

Kelland was Racers’ 60-minute defensive rock, tough as teak and, like Rowe, well versed in the dark arts of enforcing.

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It was the clubs’ eighth meeting of the season across five different competitions, and familiarity bred contempt.

The flashpoint was a shocking high stick from Rowe on Kelland as the duo went one on one for goal.

The stickwork saw Rowe sit a five-minute major penalty, and Kelland departed to the dressing-room for treatment. His anger was evident for all to see as he left the ice pad.

Seven minutes after both returned, they clashed in front of the Fife team bench.

What followed was a prolonged and brutal fight which spread as a few others paired off.

The delays meant the opening period took some 55 minutes to play. Referee, the late Mickey Curry, threw both men out, but that was just the start of the fall-out.

Leo Koopmans, Racers’ shoot-from-the-lip coach, branded the high sticks “one of the worst incidents” he had ever seen in hockey and accused Rowe of deliberately trying to injure his team captain.

He demanded Nico Toeman, chief referee, take further action and hinted at further movement from Racers if nothing happened.

Fife downplayed the whole thing, with Jim Anderson, GM, saying the matter was closed. It was anything but.

Koopmans took his verbal attacks further, branding Rowe a “lumberjack” in Racers’ match night programme as the two sides met again in Edinburgh.

His jibes paled into insignificance at the sight of the effigy.

As the teams took to the ice, a dummy on a noose was dangled from one of the old lighting gantries high above the pad.

It had a Fife strip with Rowe’s number on its back. The target couldn’t have been more obvious.

The Fife Free Press reported: “The sick, grotesque jibe was greeted with glee by the large home support.

“The stunt was unworthy of such a fine club. Public hanging of effigies takes us into a new and very ugly world.

“Somebody somewhere owes Rowe an apology and the SIHA a detailed explanation of their very warped sense of humour.”

Incredibly, no photos of the effigy ever circulated back then, or since - indeed, the only image of the fight is the one in this article, taken by Bill Dickman, chief photographer of the Fife Free Press.

Fife lost the match 12-7 - they were 7-3 down after then opening period - but the effigy was the sole topic of conversation.

The fans who were there were outraged, and, sitting in the crowd, Rowe’s wife, was left distressed.

Flyers lodged a complaint with the British ice Hockey Association, but, incredibly, they almost let Racers off.

Jim Anderson said: “We told them if the dummy was removed we would take no further action, but it re-appeared at the buzzer so we lodged an immediate complaint.”

As with all outrages, this one was quickly put to bed by the men in suits.

The BIHA fined Racers £100 and issued a “severe reprimand” with the final word: “The matter is now closed.”

Almost 20 years on, however, it remains one of the most shocking moments this sport has witnessed; one that still defies belief.