Long term readers and people who know me will already be aware of my sympathies for Cowdenbeath – my ‘Scottish Team’ since well before I moved up north. In fact, the first of my ’42’ trips was largely chosen as a result of Cowdenbeath being the visitors to Hamilton on that day back in September 2013.
Although I have been distracted during the 2016/17 season by the success of Plymouth Argyle and in planning and finally accomplishing my quest to ‘do the 42’, I had still kept a worried eye on the bottom of Scottish League Two and the potential trapdoor out into the Highland or Lowland League. Of course, Cowdenbeath finished bottom and that meant a two legged play-off against East Kilbride.
The deciding second leg was at Central Park and I was determined to be there;
20 May 17: Cowdenbeath v East Kilbride
Given that I had finished my tour of the 42 senior league clubs this season and planned to move onto the Lowland League in 2017/18, perhaps it was fitting that I would be at the game that would determine which of these two clubs would be playing in League Two or the Lowland League next time around. I also smiled as I crossed the famed Kincardine Bridge on my way to the Kingdom of Fife as the bridge seemed to regularly feature on the SatNav in our trips around the Scottish Football landscape.
Having parked up in the leisure centre car park up the hill from the ground, I made my way to Central Park and entered through the home turnstile with just under an hour to go until kick off. I had read online that the fans would be segregated for this game but I can’t really understand why as there were way more Queen of the South fans in attendance the last time I was at Central Park than had made the trip from East Kilbride for this one. What this did mean, however, was that the home fans could all shelter from the heavy rain in the two covered stands while the visitors had to stand and get soaked on the terracing opposite.
When I was last at Central Park, Cowdenbeath were in the Scottish Championship but, in the years since, they had suffered successive relegations and were now in real danger of dropping out of the senior leagues completely, after 112 years and in the centenary year of their moving at Central Park. It was little wonder that the Cowdenbeath FC website heralded this game as the most important in the club’s history.
My first port of call once inside the ground was the club shop. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but, given that this was the last game of the season, I had harboured hopes that I might be able to pick up a bargain replica shirt. The good news was that they had shirts left in the right sizes but they were still marked at full price and I wasn’t prepared to pay £40 for one so I made do with just the obligatory programme.
I wandered around in the half of the ground that was open to me, taking some photos, and was just about to check out what the snack bar had to offer when I was approached by someone who had clocked my Plymouth Argyle jacket. It turned out that he was a Birmingham City and Cowdenbeath fan who used to live in the Midlands but now resides in Aberdeen. We chatted for 5 minutes or so and he told me that he had been at East Kilbride the previous week for the first leg. Apparently, it had been a very tight game but it had only remained goalless due to a Cowdenbeath penalty miss, minutes from the end. The Blue Brazil had apparently missed 6 of their last 7 penalties…not a good record to take into a crucial game which would be decided by a penalty shoot out if neither side could gain an advantage in 90 minutes of normal and 30 minutes of extra time.
I noticed that the stands were starting to fill up so I abandoned ideas of food and found a seat in the ‘new’ stand from which to watch the game.
Heavy rain had been threatened for the day and the heaven’s duly opened just before kick off causing the Kilby Army on the open terrace to unfurl their umbrellas in an effort to keep dry. I made a comment about the weather (I’m nothing if not a stereotypical Brit) to my neighbour and struck up a conversation with him that carried on for most of the game. Once again, he was an Englishman; originating from Worcester although he had lived in Cowdenbeath for many years now and was a season ticket holder at Central Park.
The home side came out all guns blazing and, having already had a couple of efforts blocked, took the lead in only the 3rd minute with a drive from the edge of the box. Just what was needed to settle home nerves and Cowden continued to press, forcing East Kilbride to defend resolutely. Another effort was pushed onto the bar before the away team started to ease the pressure on themselves by playing the ball around and keeping possession better.
The second half began with the Blue Brazil still 1 – 0 up but Kilby were now playing better and you began to sense that one goal wouldn’t be enough to win this. East Kilbride are a decent passing side and their defensive prowess showed why they don’t concede many goals. Midway through the second half, the change in the tide of the game paid dividends and East Kilbride equalised in a similar manner to how Cowden had opened the scoring.
After that, there was very little quality on show although both sides continued to press for a winner. This game had an early (2.00pm) kick off to allow for possible extra time to play out before the regular stock car racing at 6.00pm. It occurred to me that Brechin’s game at Alloa was probably at half time by now (I have developed a soft spot for Brechin City since visiting Glebe Park) so I checked the Sky Sports App on my phone only to discover that that game was kicking off late at 5.15pm. A plan began to hatch…
Having checked with Mr Worcester, I confirmed that Alloa is only about 20 miles from Cowdenbeath. I wondered if I could see a second game that afternoon.
Anyway. Back to this game. It was still 1 – 1 when the whistle went after 90 minutes and we were now faced with extra time. Cowdenbeath’s dreadful penalty record once again came into the conversation and the home fans became increasingly nervous.
Extra time passed with plenty of bluster but little quality. East Kilbride hit the bar following a ricochet in the box and Cowden forced a good save from the Kilby keeper but neither side could break the deadlock. The final whistle went and we were going to penalties after all.
The home side took the first penalty and despite our misgivings, it was put away with clinical efficiency. EK immediately leveled things and so it carried on until the visitor’s 3rd penalty which was saved. Cowdenbeath had the advantage and they weren’t prepared to let it go. The blues converted both their remaining penalties and the game was won 1 – 1 / 5 – 3.
I would say that the crowd went wild…but they didn’t really. They clapped their heroes off the pitch and then went home. A bit of an anticlimax really from a dramatic end to such an important game. Never mind, the result was what was important and Cowdenbeath had retained their league status.
I rang home and Pamie raised no objections to my staying out longer. Time to rush back to the car and head for Alloa…