Fife Flyers’ 1990 play-off farce at Durham

Fife Flyers - Rick Fera and Gordon Latto celebrate a goal (Pic: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)
Fife Flyers - Rick Fera and Gordon Latto celebrate a goal (Pic: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

Fife Flyers may be going into this weekend’s play-offs short-benched through injury and suspension – but it is nothing new.

Season 1989-90 saw the club fly to London for the play-off finals weekend with a suspension threat hanging over their coach just hours before face-off.

Fife Flyers v Cardiff Devils, 1990 British championship finals weekend at Wembley Arena - pictured is Les Millie (Pic: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

Fife Flyers v Cardiff Devils, 1990 British championship finals weekend at Wembley Arena - pictured is Les Millie (Pic: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

And that was just one major headache which spilled out of a shambolic, controversial play-off game in Durham.

Back then, the post-season games comprised of groups of three – and Flyers were paired with Murrayfield Racers and Durham Wasps.

Flyers made the best possible start to the play-offs, routing Wasps 13-3 in Kirkcaldy.

They binned the national anthem and played Flower Of Scotland instead, and the rink, and team, ignited with a glorious 7-0 third period demolition.

Fife Flyers - Wembley 1990 British championship finals defeat (Pic:: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

Fife Flyers - Wembley 1990 British championship finals defeat (Pic:: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

They then went down 5-1 at home to Murrayfield who booked their place at Wembley

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But it was the return game which changed the group.

Playing in front of the TV cameras, Flyers won 6-4 to eliminate Durham who, legend had it, had already ordered their Wembley team jackets and ties.

When Fife travelled to the north-east of England for a meaningless game, all hell let loose.

Wasps’ mood probably wasn’t helped when the big Fife support unveiled a banner which said “Big Blue Machine for sale – scrap value only.”

They won the game 10-2, but also took their revenge on Fife.

Barely two minutes the game and a shoving match between defenceman Neil Abel and Durham’s Adrian Smith resulted in a fight.

Abel was handed a match penalty plus a gross misconduct for allegedly striking an official trying to separate them. Smith got a 2+2.

At the end of the period, the gamesmanship began.

Fife forward Rick Fera was superstitious and liked to be the last man off the ice pad, so Wasps left a young skater, Anthony Payne, on the bench for the sheer hell of it.

The stand off lasted some time, forcing referee Nico Toeman to intervene and order Fera to the dressing-room.

End of period two, Wasps doubled up with Damian Smith joining Payne on the ice, this time indulging in a victory dance! They got ten-minute misconduct penalties.

Worse was to follow.

After 12 minutes playing short-handed. Fife coach Rab Petrie was thrown out.

With the team benches built into the crowd, he moved several rows back only to be told, across the PA, by announcer to move further back. The farce saw him move back one row, then a second ...

By the time the game reached the 47th minute, and with Wasps 5-2 up, import defenceman Mike Rowe was called for elbows.

Sitting in the sin bin, Gordon Latto threw his gloves in the air in utter frustration and was promptly handed a match penalty.

At that point, Flyers bench – by now minutes its coach, captain and assistant captain – grabbed a white towel and ordered the players to the dressing-room.

That left Rowe and Latto stuck in the sin bin which they couldn’t leave.

Chaos and confusion reigned for several minutes as some players headed to the exits, and others looked to the stripeys for some semblance of control

Sanity was eventually restored, and Wasps netted five without reply – Rick Brebant firing a straight hat-trick.

Flyers travelled to the finals weekend with no idea whether Petrie would be behind the bench.

His appeal was heard less than two hours before the semi-final tie against Cardiff Devils which they lost 5-1.

It transpired his game misconduct penalty had been increased, 24 hours after the game, to a gross misconduct for abusing officials, and then, on appeal, changed to a £500 fine.

Abel was permitted to ice, while Latto’s match penalty didn’t come with an automatic suspension.

Said Petrie: “Wembley has always been the highlight of the year for me, but this year I was just glad to get home.”