(by Alan Fairley – Edinburgh, March 2021)
First things first, this is not a football post, neither it is a Partick Thistle post.
Posts of that nature can be easily found elsewhere on the site but for this travelogue, which details an epic journey from suburban Glasgow to the darkest recesses of Fife in August 1970, both the game of football and the Jags provide convenient pegs on which to hang this partick-ular (see what I did there?) jacket.
Along with Courthill legend Dougie ‘Sparra’ Davidson, I had been following Thistle home and away for some time and the club’s relegation to the Second Division at the end of season 1969-70 had opened up a cornucopia of new travel opportunities resulting in us spending the summer eagerly planning trips to the uncharted waters of places like Montrose, Arbroath, Stirling, Brechin and Forfar, all of which had been, to us, mere dots on a map of Scotland up until then.
Dougie was the main planner. he was the 70s equivalent of Google. How he did it I’ll never know but he seemed to know every bus and train timetable in mainland Scotland as well as the geographical and socio-economic features of most areas of the country and our first major adventure of the season was a journey to The Kingdom of Fife.
Not a trip to the historic burgh of Dunfermline where the bones of King Robert the Bruce rest beneath the town’s abbey.
Not a pilgrimage to St Andrews, the equally historic home of golf.
Not even an excursion to Anstruther where the most famous fish suppers in the world are flipped out from the sparkling friers in all their golden glory.
Nope, none of the above. This was a jaunt to see our team play a League Cup sectional tie against East Fife in the club’s home town of Methil, a locality which had apparently once been described by no less than Prince Philip as a ‘dump’ during his wartime service with the Royal Navy. A remark which the Chookie Embra has since denied, but an opinion which has been shared by, well, pretty much everyone who has ever had the misfortune to visit the place.
Dougie had the itinerary meticulously prepared – early morning bus into Queen Street, train to Edinburgh Haymarket, another train to Kirkcaldy and then a bus to Methil.
All went well until we rolled into Haymarket a few minutes late and missed our connection.
Not to worry, plenty of time in hand so we went out of the station for a brief stroll around the Haymarket environs (little did I know that in six years time I would be buying my first flat just across the road from the station).
The first thing we saw when we emerged was a group of about 15 sullen looking Hibs supporters who, on noticing our scarves, advanced en masse in our direction.
It was long before Irvine Welsh had created the characters of Begbie and Renton but even so, the sight of a group of Hibs fans coming at us was suitably frightening. However, it transpired that the supporters bus for their game at Airdrie hadn’t turned up and they merely wanted advice on how to get to the Peoples Republic on the Plains by alternative means.
Step forward the human Google, aka D. Davidson esq, and the happy Hibees headed off with a comprehensive knowledge of the train times which would ensure their arrival at Broomfield by 3pm….
Next stop Kirkcaldy and a pleasant walk along the esplanade to the bus station before enjoying a picturesque run through the east neuk of Fife, passing through a series of small towns with quaint names such as Coaltown of Balgonie.
Methil, however, was anything but picturesque. Ive never been a great admirer of HRH Prince Philip but his alleged description of the town was bang on the money.
Calling Methil a dump is an insult to dumps the world over and, having arrived there with over an hour to go before hostilities, and being well short of legal drinking age, the only source of amusement was, wait for it, a cafe with a bagatelle. That’s right, a bagatelle. A wooden board with a series of wooden pins where you manually projected a steel ball and waited for it to nestle in one of the areas at the base where numeric stickers confirmed your score.
Don’t knock it however. Bagatelle was probably the forerunner of pinball and, who knows, without it Pete Townshend might never had written Tommy.
In the unlikely event that anyone’s remotely interested in the game itself, it ended in an uninspiring 1-1 draw with most of the action occurring on the unsegregated terracing as either set of fans lobbed bottles and cans at each other in time honoured fashion.
The hostile atmosphere continued in the streets after the game and as the two of us looked for an escape route, we found ourselves face to face with a group of small boys, every one of whom looked to be around seven or eight years old.
One of them, who possessed an angelic-like countenance, stepped forward with a rather unangelic opening gambit of ‘fuck off back tae Glasgow ya cunts’.
We were amazed that such an aggressive and profane salvo could emerge from the mouth of one so young and cherub looking (unless of course, Methil Primary School had introduced the works of D H Lawrence to its curriculum), but we didn’t feel there was any mileage in debating the point and increased our pace a notch to ease clear of these mini gangsters, especially when I saw one of them picking up a discarded half brick from the gutter.
A quick glance over my shoulder and I was met with the sight of the said half brick hurtling towards my head, after which discretion quickly outstripped valour as we broke into a sprint and in fact, legged it all the way to the neighbouring town of Leven before seeking sanctuary in the bus station.
The return journey was uneventful up to a point. That point being our arrival back at Haymarket and finding ourselves with time to spare before catching the Glasgow train.
Never mind, it was August, the sun was shining and the Edinburgh Festival was in full swing so a pleasant evening stroll seemed a good idea.
Bad move. Hearts had been playing Ayr United at home that day and a group of their fans, clearly fortified by some post-match libations in the nearby hostelries, took exception to us invading their turf and we were chased back into the station where we jumped on to a departing train which looked to be heading a in a westerly direction.
Westerly was correct but we hadn’t checked the destination, an error of judgement which only became apparent when the train pulled into some God-forsaken place called Fauldhouse and the driver switched off the engine before heading home at what was clearly the end of his shift.
Not only were we up shit creek but the famous ship creek superstore ‘Paddles R Us’ was closed for the summer.
Dougie scanned the fading numbers on the station’s timetable board and established that the next train to Glasgow was not for another two hours so we trudged off for the proverbial ‘look round’ and decided a drink of beer would improve our jaded demeanour.
In terms of shit-hole towns, Fauldhouse could easily have given Methil a run for its money but we did find a pub that was open.
As stated earlier, we were well below the legal drinking age so we hung around the pub door like a couple of jakeys (ie blending in with the locals) until we managed to convince an old guy to pick us up a couple of cans of Harp lager which, as I recall, retailed at 2s 9d each, thats about 14p for those who may not recall the advent of decimalisation. The good old days.
The cans were drunk, the train arrived and we eventually got home about 10pm at the end of an eventful 14 hour odyssey.
Ive watched countless games of football in eleven countries within three different continents and as the memory fades with age, they all tend to blend into one another but that trip to Methil over 50 years ago is the one where, for reasons which I’m sure are obvious, every single detail remains firmly lodged within my psyche.