The Last Kings Of Scotland: Happy Birthday, Fife Flyers

The Fife Flyers, the oldest hockey club in the UK, played their first game (against the Dundee Rockets) on October 1st, 1938.

Since then, they’ve won 81 trophies, an incredible four Grand Slams, and survived a World War, economic boom and bust, and any number of changes in British ice hockey, being one of the few constants in the sport in this country.

If the NHL can claim to have an “Original Six”, then UK hockey can claim to have an “Original One”. And that One is Fife Flyers.

Many places in the UK like to consider themselves “hockey towns”…Nottingham, Sheffield, WhitleyBay, even Coventry and Cardiff. But there is no place I’ve ever been to where the stories of teams and players past seem to whisper in the air, no rink as haunted by the ghosts of great players, teams and matches past, and no place where a hockey team feels such a part of its town as Kirkcaldy (well, maybe Murrayfield in Edinburgh or Hillheads in Whitley Bay get close). It is the British equivalent of Montreal or Toronto…one of the UK’s hockey Meccas.

The Fife Ice Arena is a veritable cathedral of the sport. Built at the same time as the Flyers, it’s a beautiful old building where love for the Flyers and the game of hockey itself seems to seep from the very stonework…a British arena as beloved by fans in this country as the Montreal Forum or Maple Leaf Gardens were and are in Canada-only unlike both those arenas it’s still living, breathing and adding to its myth with every game.

I first visited Kirkcaldy with the Blaze in 2002/03, and it left an indelible impression on me as a hockey fan.

Entering the Fife Ice Arena is an experience both awe-inspiring and mystical for true lovers of hockey. The championship banners and myriad retired numbers hang in tribute to the illustrious Flyers history, and the rows of seats packed steep and high around of the rink give it a true “old school” atmosphere.

It’s intense, cramped, hostile and suffocating for away teams-the Fife fans are passionate, knowledgeable and truly proud of their team. In a sport where passion is often slightly muted by the emphasis on “playing nice” and “family entertainment” they go to war for their Kingdom and Scotland every single week

The Kirkcaldy Roar in full flow is something truly terrifying to behold if you’re an away fan, and yet, at the same time it’s a truly wonderful sound-a scream of national and local pride from 2000-odd throats that will never be silenced as long as there’s breath in a Fife fan’s body.

In summary, if you haven’t had the experience of seeing a Flyers game in Kirkcaldy, then you haven’t truly lived British hockey-it’s one of the great experiences of the game not just in the country, but in the world.

There’s more, though. Fifers are intensely proud of the fact that, despite seeing truly legendary imports like Doug Smail, Dave Stoyanovich, Ron Plumb, Frank Morris and Todd Dutiaume grace their ice, some of the greatest players in Flyers history have come from their own backyard. Even today, only one British player on their roster (goalie Blair Daly) was born outside Kirkcaldy, and even he was born just across the Forth in Edinburgh.

Iain Robertson, Steven and Derek King, Gordon Latto, Kyle Horne…these are names that live in Fifer’s hearts, grew up standing on the FIA terraces dreaming of the time they could step onto the ice in front of friends and family, and as a result bled, white, blue and gold for their home town when they did so.

Simply put, the Fife Flyers are more than a simple hockey club-they’re part of the soul of the Kingdom of Fife, driven into the bedrock beside the Forth as solidly as Ravenscraig Castle or the Sailor’s Walk. They’re a part of life for Kirkcaldy people in the same way as the stinging wind off the Forth or a walk through the Lang Toun along the High Street.

And today they celebrate 75 years with a legends game, on the anniversary of first that 4-1 loss to Dundee on October 1st 1938, that will see some of the greatest Fife Flyers ever return to the ice one last time in front of several generations of fans that loved them then and love them equally now, along with the current team who hope to follow in their footsteps, and play hockey together celebrate 75 glorious unbroken years of the Fife Flyers.

And tonight all of British hockey (even their deadly rivals in Edinburgh) will celebrate with them.

From a Sassenach who’s only been watching you for 13 of those 75 years but has a special place in his heart for you and your town all the same:

Happy 75th birthday, Fife Flyers“. Here’s to the next 75 years.

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