Bang, and there it is, Andy Brand’s penalty kick right in front of the Away support promotes Stenhousemuir and leaves Cowdenbeath to fight for another season in the basement of Scottish football, after the 3rd Division Play Off Final went to penalties. Ochilview was silent for a few seconds, but the Blue Brazil faithful didn’t have to wait too long before the party started. As the players traipsed off the pitch, realisation hit that many would now spend the summer looking for Part-Time contracts elsewhere. Just as fans of Stenhousemuir started to stream onto the pitch to replace the players in blue leaving it.
Manager Danny Lennon spent the summer of 2010 planning the next seasons assault on the 3rd Division, something the club would have to do without star striker and renowned lower league Target Man John Gemmell, who opted to join Steven Tweed at Montrose. The board and supporters groups would also be fighting for the future of the club, as various financial constraints were put in place. Stories of a merger with Edinburgh side Spartans also hit the national news and many people throughout Scottish football wondered just how much longer we would have a club called Cowdenbeath. A twist of fate a week before the season kicked off, ironically at Ochilview against Stenhousemuir’s lodgers East Stirlingshire, found Cowdenbeath promoted into the 2nd Division. At the same time Livingston were relegated from Division 1 to Division 3 as punishment for going into administration and being unable to field a team. It was a move which rocked Scottish Football, but there were certainly no complaints coming from the small town in Fife.
Fast forward a season and after being tipped as 2nd Division cannon fodder, Cowdenbeath were once again celebrating promotion. However this time it was into the 1st Division and was achieved on the merit of Play Off wins, rather than through the back door. Although I’m sure nobody with Cowdenbeath FC connections really cared how they went up, they just did. Fans said goodbye to derby matches against near neighbours East Fife and hello to four money spinning derbies against the larger supported Dunfermline Athletic and Raith Rovers, plus they now had the added bonus of the potential of big crowds against nearby Falkirk. Life couldn’t get much better for the Blue Brazil and the smile returned to the “coo on yonder hill”!
Things didn’t go to plan straight away; in fact the first piece of news to come out of Central Park was that highly regarded young manager Danny Lennon was leaving the club along with Assistant Manager Iain Jenkins to join SPL side St.Mirren. Both would actually spend much of the next month or so tempting various players away from the club to join them and Darren McGregor, Gareth Wardlaw, Paul McQuade and Peter Bradley took them up on their offer while newspaper reports and internet message boards suggested a few more players were being considered.
After an 11 year absence from football, Donald Findlay Q.C was appointed Chairman of the club in June. Findlay had been one of the most colourful, not to mention controversial, figures of Scottish Football during his spell at Rangers during the 90’s. His first job at the club was to secure a new manager who would take on one of the biggest challenges within Scottish football, keeping this Part-Time outfit in the 1st Division. This would be no easy task considering the 1st Division boasts of 8 Full Time sides and is arguably the most competitive league within the country. The job was given to Jimmy Nicholl, a personal friend of Findlay’s who had an impressive record as manager of Fife rivals Raith Rovers and had also managed English side Millwall as well as being caretaker at Dunfermline Athletic. Nicholl also made a name for himself as Jimmy Calderwood’s assistant at Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock along with being Assistant Manager of Northern Ireland. Nicholls won the League Cup with Raith Rovers, leading them into Europe and in partnership with Jimmy Calderwood got Dunfermline promoted, led them to 3 top 6 SPL finishes and their team finished runners up to Celtic in the 2004 cup final. On the day of his appointment to Cowdenbeath Nicholl spoke about his intention of gaining the supporters respect and continuing to take the club forward. He also expressed a desire to involve the club more in the wider community.
It was not initially clear how Nicholl was going to achieve this, but already his appointment had caught the imagination of the supporters and days later he appointed Ex Wolves, Hearts, Raith Rovers and Scotland Internationalist Colin Cameron as his Player/Assistant Manager and during the summer he was also joined by man of many clubs Ludovic Roy who was to become Player/Goalkeeping Coach. It became apparent that Nicholl felt that a mixture of youth and experience was the best way for survival, youngsters like Paul Byrne joined the club and Nicholl would later go on to sign Ex Scotland International striker Stevie Crawford and Ex Hearts and Dunfermline man Lee Makel both the wrong side of 37.
Fate would have it that the season was to kick off with a Fife Derby in Kirkcaldy against Raith Rovers (in the Alba Cup). The Blue Brazil came away from the match having progressed into the next round thanks to a John Armstrong strike, a man who had played in the Play Off defeat at the hands of Stenhousemuir. However, if people were starting to think that the season would now become a stroll, their hopes soon came crashing down when 3rd Division Clyde put them out of the League Cup and Ross County recorded an easy 2-0 win at Central Park on the opening day of the season.
It did not take Cowdenbeath long to record there first league win however. The following week they beat Stirling Albion 3-1 at Forthbank Stadium. This was a massive 3 points for the club, as it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that come the end of the season it will more than likely come down to who had the least points between these 2 sides for relegation. So far this season The Blue Brazil have beat Stirling in 3 games out of 3, including coming back from 3 goals down to win 4-3 and an impressive 5-1 Home win. Cowdenbeath have also enjoyed wins against Dundee, Morton, Partick Thislte and have gained credible draws against Partick Thistle, Ross County and Queen of the South, however they still wait for that elusive league win against either of there neighbours.
Central Park has constantly been the bug bare of many away supporter in whatever league the club plays in, with poor facilities and Trainspotting like toilest, I doubt many Away fans would be sad to see the back of the place. The club held public consultation events in February to find local opinion on redevelopment plans of the land and the football club moving to a nearby site on Broad Street. There has yet to be any official announcement on the feedback of these meetings, however with the adventurous plans in circulation, it has become evident that the new supporters run board of directors are looking to pull the club into the 21st Century.
As yet it is unknown wither Cowdenbeath will avoid the dreaded drop back into the 2nd Division, as we go to print they sit joint 2nd bottom joined with Ross County, however with one of the most highly respected managers in the Scottish Football League, who seems to be in no rush to leave, plus experienced quality players mixed in with hard working youth, plucked from throughout Scottish football, it’s easy to see that the party in Cowdenbeath is going to continue. The club is back on track to be one of the most successful and well run Part Time clubs in the country. The dark days of the Play Off defeat at Ochilview seem nothing but a distant memory these days.
Written by Craig Brown