Dunfermline fans revel as El Bakhtaoui hat-trick seals title

Dunfermline Athletic players celebrate with manager Allan Johnston after winning League 1. Picture: SNS
Dunfermline Athletic players celebrate with manager Allan Johnston after winning League 1. Picture: SNS
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Dunfermline Athletic are heading for the Championship and they’re taking the Skids’ Into the Valley with them. The Pars always run out to this locally-produced punk-rock classic which, one division up, will still sound like gloriously pretentious codswallop, although the line “betrothed and divine” has a nice ring to it.

But will their League One-clinching hat-trick superstar still be there next season? Faissal El Bakhtaoui certainly has divine skills, as evidenced by his second and third goals in this victory – both volleys, both absolute peaches. But is he betrothed to East End Park?

To find out, we had to walk under the main stand and through a door marked “Ladies”. We were unsure about this but a man with local knowledge insisted it was the way to the dressing rooms. These used to be at the halfway line, requiring players to negotiate a small flight of steps, and the fact match-days here have lost this quirk doesn’t affect the stadium’s great charm.

Sure enough, after a wait commensurate with a sparkling 29-goal haul and all the selfies it merits, El Bakhtaoui appeared. Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka – the tune with which the Pars always end games – was playing and the man of the moment was all smiles.

“It’s been an unbelievable day and I’m so happy,” said the French-Moroccan striker, known in these parts as Fass. “My first-ever hat-trick, we win the league – champions. Unbelievable.” This was the word of the moment for sure. Dunfermline escaping from a “bad place” after administration and relegation was unbelievable. The performance of the whole team all season long was unbelievable. But so was the quality of El Bakhtaoui’s latest strikes.

Running on the balls of his feet, he twice popped up at the back post, watched and waited and set himself as long crosses dropped out of the sky, to deliver sweet finishes. The first of them, to double his and Dunfermline’s tally, would on any other day have been the talk of the pubs afterwards. But the 23-year-old was to trump it in injury time with something even more sumptuous.

It was an even better goal but also came laden with drama. By then Brechin City had countered through Robert Thomson and would frequently threaten an equaliser. Cowdenbeath had gone ahead at Peterhead, bringing the title tantalisingly close. But Allan Johnston’s men were jittery. Cue Fass and his fairytale ending.

“It was a nice dream, that last goal,” he said. “My best for Dunfermline, 100 per cent. I scored a good one two weeks ago at Ayr but this was better.” Did the team know Peterhead were losing? “The manager told us at half-time. After that the fans were shouting: ‘Come on, come on!’ Yes we got nervous but we tried to tell each other: ‘We can be champions after this game. Let’s do this’.”

El Bakhtaoui looked back on his career in Fife, which began as more established players were made redundant, victims of the club’s financial crash. “I was there when Dunfermline were having a hard time. I’d come from futsal to work hard in training and to learn. [Ex-manager] Jim Jefferies put me on the bench every week. Then he said: ‘I think you have something’.”

Fifteen flair-filled minutes against Ross County in this season’s Scottish Cup were shown on TV, introducing him to a wider audience and starting speculation about his future. So we came to the big question: out of contract soon, did he want to stay and help the Pars climb even higher? There was a pause, like he was waiting for another cross to drop, then: “Yeah, why not?”

First things first, though – there was a title to celebrate. How was Fass planning to do this? “I don’t know, I’ll just follow the lads!”