“AND the final score is… ” said the East End Park announcer, milking the moment, “Peterhead 0, Cowdenbeath 1!” The Blue Brazil had never – repeat never – been greeted by such thunderous acclaim in this corner of Fife. But the result confirmed Dunfermline Athletic, after some years of trauma, as League One champions.
The players bounced in the centre circle, accompanied by their daft mascot, and the big crowd, wondering if they’d ever see another day like this, had to be strongly advised not to join them, otherwise the club could be fined – and the finances had suffered enough already. Somewhere in the middle of the celebratory huddle was hat-trick hero Faissal El Bakhtaoui, whose sense of theatre had been stunning.
With Brechin City threatening to equalise and make Cowdenbeath’s win academic, the little French-Moroccan striker produced an outrageous, last-minute scissors-kick goal to end the doubt and worry, and get the party started.
“That goal sums up our season, I think,” said Pars manager Allan Johnston afterwards. “There was a bit of class for the cross into Fass and then a wonderful strike. Big players step up in big games and he’s definitely one of them. The boys have been amazing and deserve all the credit they’re going to get. Everyone has played his part and it’s been a real team effort.”
The triumph comes three years to the day since Johnston won the same division with Queen of the South with a victory against the same opposition. “Winning leagues doesn’t happen very often so you have to cherish every minute of success,” he added. “But this is just the start for this team. We want to build on this.”
The day was always going to unfold this way, according to two excited Pars fans who insisted your correspondent share their taxi up to the stadium. Cowdenbeath were going to beat Peterhead, who would be saving themselves for Hampden and the Petrofac Cup final, they said, and this surprising act of Fife kindness would enable the once-mighty but recently-deposed Pars to clamber back into the second tier.
“Look at this toon, look at these buildings,” said Joe on the journey. “We should be playing in a higher division.” His pal Liam agreed, adding: “We cocked up but we’re coming back.” Then Joe revealed he was the Pars goalie Sean Murdoch’s dad. “He’s nicknamed Safe Hands and you’ll see how good he is.”
The cocking-up had led to a sorry decline indeed for Dunfermline. There were the various humiliations of unpaid taxes, players denied their wages, voluntary administration, staff made redundant, a 15-point penalty and a ban on playing in the Scottish Cup, won twice so thrillingly in the 1960s. Administrator Bryan Jackson rated the club’s plight the worst he’d seen. Relegation from the top flight was quickly followed by demotion from the second. That hellish spell is over, although Johnston admitted there were times when nerves got the better of his men.
Brechin had brought some form, four wins in a row, but lost player/manager Darren Dods to injury in the sixth minute and the opening goal 60 seconds later. El Bakhtaoui broke down the inside-left channel and shot across goalkeeper Graeme Smith but got his angles slightly wrong. The ball was quickly returned by Ryan Wallace, and El Bakhtaoui squeezed it home from five yards.
The Dunfermline full-backs were soon swinging the ball across the park to each other, Jason Talbot on the left combining cleverly with David Hopkirk, and from there El Bakhtaoui’s second goal originated. This one was a bit special. A long, high Talbot cross found him at the back post and the volley was perfect.
Right, time to check the Peterhead score. But while many were looking at their phones Robert Thomson halved Dunfermline’s lead following a hopeful punt. Safe Hands was beaten. This encouraged the Angus side and Murdoch had to be smart to block an Andy Jackson drive. Dare the fans call up the score again? Cowdenbeath were now winning, which was great if the Pars could just remember the script.
The stands were getting jittery. But then came El Bakhtaoui’s moment of brilliance.
El Bakhtaoui 7, 24, 90+1