Pep Young - a true ice hockey legend

Fife Flyers Ice Hockey Players - Verne Gregor - Pep Young - Andy Napier and Joe McIntosh
Fife Flyers Ice Hockey Players - Verne Gregor - Pep Young - Andy Napier and Joe McIntosh

There are very few people more important to the story of Fife Flyers than Harold Young who has died at the age of 86.

Known to all as ‘Pep’ his association with the club spanned more than 60 years; a highly respected and much loved man whose lifelong enthusiasm for the sport never diminished.

With his trademark Montreal Candiens baseball hat and Flyers tie, he was a familiar figure rinkside in Kirkcaldy and also Murrayfield.

Pep played and coached, but his legacy extended much further than the ice pad.

For a player who only planned to stay here for two years, Pep leaves a remarkable legacy.

He was a key figure in the relaunch of hockey in Kirkcaldy the early 1960s’ and he started Kirkcaldy Kestrels which gave many local players a chance to make the step up to the senior side.

But those simple facts don’t fully capture the influence of the quietly spoken gentleman who was always made welcome in the dressing-room post-game.

Born in Montreal, Pep learned to skate on the outdoor rinks formed on rivers and lakes outside his native city.

He played right wing at Westmount High School and then skated in Junior ‘A’ with Verdun Maple leafs.

In 1948, aged just 21 he came to the UK to ice with Earls Court Rangers- one of the top teams in London - before returning to Canada where he played with Granby in a Senior B league.

His return to these shores came out of the blue.

He was playing baseball in the park when he was approached about a moved back to Scotland.

‘‘I knew I wasn’t going to make the NHL because I was not big enough so I reckoned I could try again,’’ he told Fife Flyers match night programme in 1998 interview. ‘‘I intended to stay for two years - but I never went home.’’

Pep boarded the ship and sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in the UK seven days later before being deposited in Fife. It was a move that changed his life.

He met Sheena Balfour, the skating champion, and they wed; the fifth generation Canadian became a first generation Brit.

In 1951 he helped Flyers lift the Autumn Cup only for his own career to suffer a serious setback when an accidental encounter with an opponent’s skate blade snapped four tendons in his ankle.

He spent seven weeks in hospital and was told he wouldn’t skate again. He did.

Pep actually refereed some games before lacing up again to play competitive ice hockey, and the creation of new leagues led him into coaching.

The 1950s saw the sport collapse as ice shows took over, and a seven year hiatus followed before Flyers relaunched in 1962.

‘‘The ice shows really killed the game. They made big money though - I remember at Earls Court waiting for half an hour to get started because the show was still going on.

‘‘The sport really went down, and it was the Scottish clubs which brought it back. A lot of credit must go to Fife for hanging in there. In the 1950s the best hockey was being played up here.’’

In 1962 Flyers bounced back with a new-look team and in a league which featured teams such as Perth Panthers, Dundee Rockets and Ayr Bruins.

Pep returned from playing with Murrayfield Royals to take the helm of the rookie side - ‘‘Joe McIntosh and Les Lovell were my only experienced players’’ before stepping back to focus on his business commitments.
With Flyers in disarray at the end of the 1960s he returned once more to revitalise the team - and open the door to many talented local players.

Starting out with just one player - Les Lovell - he built another championship winning side, bringing on board players such as Ally Brennan, John Taylor, Davie Medd and John Pullar, imports such as Bruce Libbos and Norrie Boreham ... and even bagged the first strip sponsor in the shape of Lees macaroon bars, changing the club colours from a brief sting in red and white to the mow famous blue, white and gold.

‘‘We won lots of trophies and it was good fun,’’ he said.

That fun included an unprecedented European trip to Holland where they took an a team full of imports.

‘‘We had no money. We drove to Hull, parked our cars and got on the ferry. The Dutch spent two weeks playing lots of Scottish music in preparation for our arrival!

‘‘We were meant to be playing an amateur team but by the time we arrived they had nine imports!

‘‘The trip was a reward for the players who basically skated for for jersey, and maybe some petrol money.’’

His skates now hung up, Pep concentrated on the coaching and launched Kirkcaldy Kestrels as a development team, the Kirkcaldy Kestrels, and this was key to the development of so many legends and great players - Gordon and Dougie Latto, Willie and Chic Cottrell, and Kenny Cruden to name but a few.

Pep then handed over the coaching duties to concentrate on the under- 16 team, the Safeway Sabres. It reads like a who’s who of Fife hockey - Andy Donald, Andrew Linton, Neil Abel, Steven Kirk, Stuart Drummond, Craig Dickson, Gordon Goodsir, and Dean Edmiston all came through its ranks.

Pep officially retired in 1981, but retained strong links to both Flyers and Murrayfield where he was a regular spectator on match nights every Saturday and Sunday.

Reflecting on a life in Scotland, and so much of it spent in the dressing-rooms in Fife, he told Flyers TV just a few weeks ago: ‘‘Being with the team for so long, to see the improvements in the rink is fantastic. It peps me up.

‘‘I love the rink - even the clock reminds me of the Montreal Forum.’’

When Flyers celebrated their 75th anniversary in October, his name was first on the list of invites.

Players from across the decades flew in for the official dinner, but when it came to the official ‘team’ picture the seat in the centre of the front row was reserved for one man - Pep Young.

He loved the sport, and it loved him.