Scotland's Football Brigadoon: Cowdenbeath FC | @Alexecky

Part of a series of Scottish football history articles written for us by radio presenter Alex Horsburgh, today we look at Fife-based, Cowdenbeath FC (a place he was born and bred):

Late 1976... Elton John is at the peak of his musical powers. He's just written the hit 'Philadelphia Freedom' for Billie Jean King's tennis team (the Philadelphia Freedoms) in return for tennis lessons from the US superstar and Wimbledon favourite, and he's been a chart regular since his 1970 breakthrough hit 'Your Song' which coincided with Cowdenbeath last playing in Scotland's top division. 

He's also shown his loyalty to his beloved Watford Football Club, by becoming Chairman and largely (along with manager Graham Taylor) being responsible for starting their rise through the four divisions of the English top flight, which culminated in a top five finish in Division One and an FA Cup final in the early 1980s.

Elton is in Edinburgh on another sell out tour, and stops off after his Edinburgh Playhouse show for a late night discussion with Edinburgh based 'Radio Forth' and local DJ, Steve Jack. The chat turns to the "biggest influence on his career" and without missing a beat, Elton answers with the words  "Cowdenbeath FC".

The Radio Presenter largely glosses over this curious response to his question from the Rocket Man, but the next day the papers in Scotland highlight "Elton's favourite Scottish team". It should also be noted that Elton isn't the only long distance fan of the Fife sporting institution. It may be the non-threatening nature of this quintessential football pools town's name but many a southern based football fan has meandered, if not flocked, up to the former mining community near Scotland's East Coast to see if it really is a sporting Brigadoon.

Cowdenbeath has actually existed in a football sense since the early 1880s, when the Pollok family, 'immigrants' from Ayrshire on the West Coast, formed Cowdenbeath Football Club from three local teams and set about establishing them as a football power North of the border.

Elton John a secret Cowdenbeath fan?
They achieved Scottish League status in 1905 and have been a permenant feature ever since. Success has been limited for sure but everywhere I've been in the world, football people, at least, have known my home town has a league club. In that respect they're up there with Barcelona, Liverpool, both Manchester giants', and yes, I'd argue, even with Celtic and Rangers.

From former 1960s superstar soap actor of Coronation Street fame, Peter Adamson (aka Len Fairclough), who turned up in the town on a mission to see the team in 1965, only to rubber stamp his hell raiser credentials by spending the weekend in every pub in Cowdenbeath, thus missing the game, to the legendary John Peel, who also missed a game because he missed the Meadowbank Thistle (now Livingston) supporters bus from Edinburgh to Cowden's Central Park after a gig in the capital, the great, not so great and the good have always been intrigued by the name Cowdenbeath.

Crime author Ian Rankin is a Cowden fan also and although former PM Gordon Brown supports Fife rivals Raith Rovers in Kirkcaldy, he was first to step up to present the team from the town he represented as an MP in the 1980s with a rare divisional title in the 2000s.

Cowdenbeath have also featured in classic 1970's British TV comedy "From Death Us Do Part" (Alf Garnett bemoans the team as a coupon buster), and in anicdotes by the late football pundit Jimmy Hill (wartime service near the town), as well as in a brilliant documentary exploring towns only known for their appearance on the pools coupon by art critic Jonathan Meades for the BBC, in which he imagines Cowdenbeath as a Brazilian shanty town (and more on the Brazilian connection in a moment).

Even in these troubling days, the randomness of Cowdenbeath cannot be denied. As Covid19 took a grip on the nation, a plea for financial donations to keep Cowdenbeath FC alive was met by a response from great broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough!

As the club itself announced "From the Blue Planet to the Blue Brazil" (Blue Brazil - Cowden's tongue in cheek nickname since the early 1990's achieved after an unexpected run in the Scottish Cup which culminated in a narrow and undeserved defeat by Hibernian).

Cowden's Central Park Stadium
Maybe Attenborough, more than most, knows that beautiful things need to be saved from extinction. Cowdenbeath might not be beautiful but the name is set to live on, even after the great virus of 2020 has been relegated to a bad memory.

This piece was kindly written and given to @TFHBs by Alex Horsburgh - you can follow him on Twitter: @Alexecky

©The Football History Boys, 2020


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