FOR veteran supporters of East Fife, the tragedy at the climax of Sunday’s League Cup final will bring back memories of a day in 1949 which, as Kilmarnock experienced at the weekend, should have been one of the greatest days in the club’s history but became one of the saddest.
The Bayview club, under the astute guidance of chairman John McArthur, had become a real force in Scottish football. Having become the first - and only - side from the second division to win the Scottish Cup in 1938, the Fifers went from strength to strength post-war and had already won the League Cup in 1947 when they arrived back at Hampden two years later for a semi-final, intent on regaining the trophy.
Up to that point, East Fife had never beaten Rangers in a competitive match, and it was McArthur’s long-held desire to see his team overcome the Glasgow giants - who awaited in the semi-final.
McArthur was a highly respected figure at the Scottish Football Association who had a knack for picking the right manager. After Hearts lured away Davie McLean, the man who had guided East Fife to Scottish Cup glory, McArthur turned to former Rangers player Scot Symon to take over.
Symon nurtured a clutch of Scottish internationalist, including prolific inside forward Charlie Fleming. With the match against Rangers into extra-time, Fleming scored a goal which was referred to in the national press as one of the finest goals the stadium had seen.
But the Fifers’ sensational win came at a cost. The Sunday Mail reported: “As the whooping, ecstatic East Fife players, near exhaustion, came bounding into the pavilion at the finish, the man who had lived to see this day, who had sacrificed so much that it should happen, lay dying in their dressing room.”
McArthur had been warned by doctors to stay away from the semi-final because the excitement might be too much for him, having suffered a heart attack the previous year. But he could not stay away. When he stood up to acclaim Fleming’s goal, he collapsed into the lap of a fellow director, with his wife and daughter beside him.
John McArthur passed away at 5.21pm, his place of death recorded as ‘Hampden Pavilion’.