Fife Flyers-Murrayfield Racers: Infamous 1993 headbutt, brawls and threat of fans’ boycott

They were the greatest of rivals, and their derbies were among the most compelling, passionate and often explosive in ice hockey.

Tuesday, 31st May 2022, 10:31 am

Head to heads between Fife Flyers and Murrayfield Racers were stand-out fixtures across the game’s Heineken era and well into the 1990s.

They played to huge crowds - even games televised live by BBC in mid afternoon attracted full houses - and the atmosphere was often electric.

Season 1992-93 delivered more than its share of confrontations as a glance through the Fife Free Press archives revealed.

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Rob Abel confronts Mike Ware, and then takes a painful beating (Pics: Bill Dickman/Fife Free Press)

It kicked off with a festive showdown in Kirkcaldy where the season of peace and goodwill didn’t stand a chance as the red mist descended on Racers’ intimidating defenceman, Mike Ware.

The game was won 9-4 by the Edinburgh side - a fine result considering Fife led 4-1 after the first period.

But it will always be remembered as the night Ware rag dolled Rob Abel in one of the game’s flashpoints.

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The headbutt made headlines in the Fife Free Press

Even in warm-up you could sense the tension – my photographer said he was going to focus on Ware as he sensed there was something in the air! He was right.

Amid cheap shots and nasty stickwork, the game niggled its way through three periods of hockey.Ware got away with a shocking high stick on Steven King, but when he jousted with Abel, and the Fife forward slashed him back, the gloves came off.

Abel really didn’t stand a chance - Ware was bigger and much, much tougher.

The punches he drilled into Abel left him battered and bruised, and it took several minutes to restore order as several minor supporting bouts broke out

Mike Ware (Murrayfield Racers) fighting Rob Abel (Fife Flyers)

Fast forward into the New Year and a big 5-3 win for Racers on home ice in front of a huge crowd.

Again, the game will forever be remembered as the night of the headbutt.

A third period brawl saw four players binned amid 102 minutes of penalties.

Headlines from the Fife Free Press on the Mike Ware-Rob Abel fight

Fife defenceman Darin Banister clashed with Tony Hand, prompting brother Paul to come off the bench and go for Abel. Ware quickly followed.

Paul was then stepped into his brother’s fight, and when Abel hauled him out, the Racers’ defenceman turned, pinned him to the plexi, and headbutted him.

Feelings ran high at the rink that night - the rare sight of several police officers in the foyer and outside as the huge crowd dispersed underlined that.

Hand got an automatic three-game ban, but the fans were far from happy, and by the time Fife returned to capital in February there was real talk of a boycott.

That would have hit Racers in the pocket - back then hundreds upon hundreds of Fifers made the journey across the Forth to take in games on a Sunday.

Flyers’ coach Jim Lynch appealed to supporters to turn up, adding: “I understand the emotions and thinking ,but we will miss every supporter who makes the decision not to attend the game.”

In the end some 1200 followed the team and they saw another defeat - this time 11-7 - and more chaos.

The opening period ended 4-4, but Racers blew the game wide open with a stunning 6-2 final period.

Apart from goals galore, that last period saw Ware confront Banister and Bob Giffin before being thrown out, while Tony Hand and Scott Plews dropped the gloves.

Racers’ player-coach John Newberry also collected a gross misconduct for abuse of the officials.

Noted the Press: “Those who sat and howled at home will have examined the reports of an ultimately physical match and concluded that leopards don’t change their spots.”

Lynch also berated the officials, stating: “They fail to appreciate how intense some games can be and make no allowance for passionate feelings. It got to the stage on Sunday I couldn’t even speak to the referee.”

Fast forward to March and more explosive confrontation - this time in a Scottish Cup semi-final match staged in front of the STV cameras in Kirkcaldy.

Racers won 8-6, but the big talking point was Ware’s fight with Abel after which the big defenceman “launched a frenzied attack on the officials who tried to discipline him’ before being thrown out on a gross misconduct.”

It was inevitable the rivals would meet in the play-offs - this time Racers simply buried Flyers in an avalanche of goals, winning 11-2 - their first line netted ten of them.

The return game saw Fife crash 13-2 as they lost four matches in seven days.

By the Sunday they were exhausted and frazzled.

After the home tie against Billingham Bombers, Lynch took a gross misconduct for sliding the ‘man of the match’ crate of beer towards ref George Nicholson. His general manager, Andy Nikiperowicz, presented the official with a white stick …