Nostalgia: When Fife Flyers were British champions....

Flyers players race from the bench after winning the British National Championship in April 1999.Flyers players race from the bench after winning the British National Championship in April 1999.
Flyers players race from the bench after winning the British National Championship in April 1999. | JPIMedia
In March 1999, Fife Flyers travelled to Hull and returned to Kirkcaldy having been crowned British champions.

It was Sunday, March 28 that Mark Morrison’s men overcame Slough Jets in the final of the British National League Championship in the most dramatic fashion.

It was an incredible afternoon of high drama and soaring emotions as Flyers capped their 60th anniversary season in sensational style.

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Backed by an army of around 400 fans, and all the other supporters in the building with the obvious exception of Slough Jets, Flyers deservedly won the title in the most heart-stopping way possible – sudden death penalty shots.

Captain Frank Morris receives the British National Championship trophyCaptain Frank Morris receives the British National Championship trophy
Captain Frank Morris receives the British National Championship trophy | JPIMedia

No matter that they had given up a three goal lead in the third period, or that they were so tired some of the players could barely lift their sticks in overtime, the previous 65 minutes were forgotten as Joe Watkins saved Derek Higdon’s penalty after John Coyle (inset) had scored for Flyers.

It triggered a release of happiness as the realisation dawned on the fans and the section that housed the bulk of Fifers suddenly erupted in a mass of gold, white and blue.

People were hugging, kissing and celebrating with friends and strangers alike, most of those present experiencing the joy of watching their team lift a major trophy for the first time.

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For players such as John Haig, Steven King, David Smith, Andy Samuel and the other local boys, this was a special moment as they restored the famous club to its rightful place at the top of the tree.

Derek King had won the old title while at Cardiff but you could sense that as he carried the trophy around the rink, this meant more.

But before cooling the Jets, Flyers had first doused the Guildford Flames in the second of the semi-finals – the first a rather dull affair where Slough had won 3-1 against Basingstoke Bisons.

In contrast Flyers and Flames served up a real treat, Fife winning 4-3.

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It was obvious that the game plan was to unsettle Guildford with a quick start and, in the first minute, Todd Dutiaume rattled the piping with a fierce shot.

However, he was not to be denied and, at 5.33, he skated from behind the net and somehow hooked the puck past netminder Larkko Kortesoia from a tight angle.

Flames gradually came more into things and they equalised at 12.08 when Derek DeCosty found a way past Watkins.

But Flyers stormed back into the lead at 30.05.

It was the predatory instincts of John Coyle that did the damage, picking up Dutiaume’s pass and biding his time before taking the puck wide of the netminder to flick into the net.

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Flyers had the momentum again and, just 81 seconds later, John Haig was perfectly placed in front of goal to first time Steven King’s pass for the third and crucial strike.

However, Flames stuck to their task and at 33.13 as Ryan Campbell deflated McCoy’s shot past Watkins.

In the final period Rob Lamey was then called fora needless boarding penalty and at 55.46, Steve Brown found Coyle with a great pass and the livewire forward spun brilliantly away from his marker and fired an unstoppable wrist shot into the roof of the net.

The final four minutes seemed to drag and tension was increased again at 59.41 when Barclay Pearce scrambled the puck home but with the crowd cheering them on Flyers controlled the final few seconds to record an impressive and memorable win.

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Into the final and the Flyers came roaring out of the traps and the cumbersome Jets defence simply couldn’t cope.

However, Flyers decided to postpone their moment of glory longer than it should Eve been and when Jets equalised with just five minutes to go, even the most optimistic of Fife fan must have thought that the dream had died.

As in the semi, Flyers scored early at 5.05 when Steve Brown fired home on the powerplay but this lead was short-lived as Perry Pappas restored parity within 49 seconds.

However, rather than letting this set-back knock them off their stride, Flyers simply went into overdrive and were soon, back in front thanks to Dutiaume at 9.21.

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John Haig scored at 10.55 then Steven King scored a brilliant solo effort at 16.49 to put Flyers 4-1 ahead.

But Jets started to fight back and on 28.44 Rempel pulled one back but Dutiaume restored the Flyers’ three goal advantage on 36.27.

A scrappy goal by Mark Galazzi at 42.22 gave Jets some encouragement and when and when Rempel scored a fine solo goal at 45.59, the alarm bells were ringing.

And the unthinkable then happened, Pappas firing past Watkins from a tight angle on 54.47.

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Dutiaume nearly snatched it for Flyers at the death, but the match finished 5-5 and moved into sudden death penalty shots.

When John Coyle scored the first penalty, you could have touched the relief which was quickly replaced by hope and anticipation as Derek Higdon prepared to take his shot.

Watkins made the save and the building erupted, the corner with the Fife fans transformed into an ecstatic mass of joy and delight.

Slough deserved credit for the way they came back but the day belonged to Fife.

It was a fittingly dramatic finish to a memorable weekend and the perfect way to end the 60th anniversary of Britain’s oldest ice hockey club.

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