Cowdenbeath retained their SPFL status with a penalty shoot-out defeat of East Kilbride, in what may be the most important win in the club’s history.
It would be over-egging things to suggest the roar which greeted the Blue Brazil’s survival could be heard as far away as Rio, but the cry was certainly impassioned.
Cowdenbeath, after 112 years, and 120 minutes of this League Two Play-off final, are still a senior team. Remarkably for a side that couldn’t score a penalty while languishing as Scotland’s worst team, they netted all five in the shoot-out.
“I’m over the moon,” said manager Gary Locke afterwards. “This is a small club but a lot of people care a lot about it. Most of all I’m delighted for them that we’ve held on to our status.”
Eccentric as ever, Cowdenbeath had fluffed their last six spot-kicks before yesterday. “Obviously when it went to penalties I was worried. We made sure we practiced them but I think if we’d managed to score even just a couple before now we wouldn’t have been in this position. Credit to the lads, though, they showed a lot of bottle stepping up to take them.”
Cowdenbeath were trying to remain one of The Football Pools Towns, the title of a notorious 2009 BBC documentary about forlorn Scottish places which have “no existence other than as components of a Saturday afternoon rite”.
Training his camera on supermarket trolleys hurled in burns and quoting heroin stats, presenter Jonathan Meades – a man too smart and too southern for his own good – said that without their position in the classified results the likes of Cowdenbeath would be “even more obscure”.
Lowland champs East Kilbride, though, are pretty obscure themselves. A team from a new town and just seven years old. Their manager, Martin Lauchlin, cursed their cruel luck in losing the way they did after Paul Woods recorded the only miss and Locke praised a side he thinks could come again. But they were up against it yesterday, lacking Cowden’s heritage and jokes.
Hello, is that Central Park, what time’s the game? When can you get here? There’s plenty more where that one came from, this being the kind of ground where the loudspeakers announce the names of the crowd to the players, rather than the other way round.
A further reminder of the 42nd best team in Scotland’s heritage came when it was announced the match was being sponsored by “Nottingham supporting Cowden miners”. There was applause for that, doubtless some of it from hands callused in the pits which used to circle the town.
The home fans braving the wide open slopes of the Cowden Pleasuredome huddled under brollies, while old-timers in the main stand stamped their feet on the wooden floor and kids waved Brazil flags to greet the start of the showdown – and they didn’t have long to wait for a goal.
Sliding tackles on the sodden turf caused bow waves and Jamie Sneddon’s first kick-out was held up in the wind but at the other end Fraser Mullen was sure-footed and decisive as he thrashed a low right-foot shot past Matthew McGinley from the edge of the box. The full-back slid on his knees in delirious celebration and the fact there was no-one in the corner of the ground to acclaim him didn’t matter one jot.
McGinley was in danger of being beaten a second time but blocked Dale Carrick’s effort with his legs. He was saved by his crossbar from the resultant corner.
West Fife’s weather eased and the Lowland champs enjoyed some respite from both it and their desperate but driven opponents. But the players were still skittering about on the appalling surface. Then the rain returned and it seemed to suit Cowden, Mullen going close with a 25-yard free kick. A long throw produced a chance for Kris Renton whose volley was clever but again just wide.
The Blue Brazil were solid at the back. Captain and centre-back Scott Rumsby was as unbudgeable as any of the monster-truck tyres which form a modern art installation round Central Park. Kilby didn’t seem to have much clue how to break down the defence, with their Portuguese striker Joao Victoria flattering to deceive, and then out of nothing they drew level. Gerry McLaughlan dithered on the edge of the box and Kieran Gibbons produced almost a carbon-copy of Mullen’s shot.
In extra-time Alan Strachan saw his deflected shot clip the top of Cowden’s crossbar. There weren’t many more clear-cut chances but the players were going to have to hurry. Cowden share the ground with stock-car nuts of course and behind the stand the engines were revving. The winning penalty came from Liam Henderson. Like his namesake for Hibs in the Scottish Cup final a year ago today, he delivered.