Some took the low road, others took high road. While sunseeking Sunderland fans opted for the Algarve, Pete Sixsmith headed north, experienced the heady delights of the Forth rail bridge – and saw Cowdenbeath put a stop to any notion of dancing on the streets of the suburb of Kirkcaldy that is indeed called Raith …
Couldn’t get to Albufeira, partly because I was still at work, partly because the proprietor wasn’t prepared to finance it, which is a shame. Having said that, the Amazon voucher, which is Salut! Sunderland currency, has been frittered away on Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy among others and very good too (it didn’t quite stretch to the £6.20 double edition of fROOTS magazine, but Pete realises you can’t have everything – ed).
So, instead of watching Frazier Campbell’s one man demolition job on the Tigers, I was sat with 1500 other hardy souls at Starks Park, Kirkcaldy, watching Raith Rovers’ cup tie- “diddy, diddy” (as John Penman calls them) – against their local rivals Cowdenbeath.
I had originally intended to go eight miles down the Fife coast to Methil, to watch East Fife play Brechin City, thereby completing my set of all 42 SPL and SFL grounds. I had visited the old Bayview ground weeks before it closed and had spied New Bayview from my vantage point, but had not got to it yet.
Travelling up by train, I experienced the thrill of crossing the Forth Rail Bridge, alighted at Kirkcaldy, birthplace of Adam Smith and Gordon Brown and the home of linoleum.
Perusing my bus timetables, I had realised that to be sure of catching the train that would connect with the 1900 from Edinburgh, I would have to leave before the end and if it went to extra time……….
I decided to take in the Fife derby as I walked around a not unpleasant town. I bought a copy of the local paper, realised that there was a Sunderland connection in Cowdenbeath’s new manager, Jimmy Nichol and made my mind up while waiting for a Thai meal in the only restaurant in town that didn’t serve pie and chips or Nepalese food.
It wasn’t a meal that would linger long in the memory – some grated carrot and croutons as starter, chicken with potato and rice for the main and the second worst cup of coffee I have ever drunk in my life. The worst was in a strange roadside café at Gretna many years ago, while on the way to Dumfries to watch the Battle of The Queens (South v Park). This one gave Maxwell House a bad name!
I walked out to the ground, through a fine example of a Victorian park, donated to the good citizens of Kirkcaldy by a local worthy who dropped dead before it opened. It had been Raith’s original home and they moved to their present home of Stark’s Park in the suburb of Raith in 1892.
The ground is a big one for the level they play at and fulfills the criteria for the SPL. It has two identical stands behind each goal, covered terracing down the railway line side and a wonderful, gabled stand that is at one end of the opposite side and turns at 90 degrees.
For a Sunderland fan of a particular vintage, this is the ground known as the location where Jim Baxter and Ian Porterfield learnt their trade. I can’t imagine that either of them would have been impressed by the fare on show in this game.
Of the two sides, part time Cowdenbeath looked the better and deservedly won with a deflected goal from their centre half midway through the second half. Rovers then slipped into a style of play that would have shamed a less than adequate pub side.
Their skipper was Ian Davidson, who spent his formative years at Sunderland. He was a member of the reserve side in the Reid era, said in his programme notes that the best player he had ever worked with was Kevin Phillips and that the Stadium of Light was marginally better than Central Park, Cowdenbeath. Unfortunately he had a shocker.
On the final whistle, the crowd jeered, the word “pish” was used copiously and I strolled back to the station in order to catch an earlier train back to Edinburgh. I was back in the house by 9.45 and saw that my original game had indeed gone to extra time, thereby fully justifying my decision to remain in “The Lang toon” as Kirkcaldy is known.
Alas, no flight to Portugal for the Benfica game, so I will have to rely on the official site and friends who are out there soaking up the Algarvian sun. I gather that the Neanderthal who criticised The Brucester and The Bramblester has had a conversation with the Chairman. I wonder who was the most eloquent in that little chat.
Next: a visit to Annan, the only almost palindromic team in Scotland as they take on Partick Thistle in the “diddy” cup. I can almost sense the air of anticipation out there.