At the end of the season when we were relegated we had to play Dunfermline in the two-legged Fife Cup final. We had already beaten the Pars
in both First Division matches. To reach the final we had to overcome East Fife in the semi-final.
East Fife and Dunfermline to be honest were two sides
I just loved to beat. I didn’t mind Raith Rovers who we had some good tussles
with and who played good football but I and my Cowden team-mates hated losing to East Fife or the Pars (which certainly didn’t happen very often anyway).
My feelings towards East Fife
I guess really stemmed from when I was at Rangers. I was a local boy and my dad
was an East Fife fan.
At the age of 16 I appeared for Rangers at Bayview. The Daily Express
had interviewed me when I had signed for Rangers not long before and the article said I had always wanted to play for Rangers
even though I had said nothing of the kind!
The first time I got the ball the home fans booed me –
I was just a young laddie and I was livid. That memory always spurred me on when
I played against East Fife. Anyway East Fife were on their way to promotion as we were heading down thus there was a bit of keen rivalry
between the sides shall we say. Some of us used to watch East Fife when they played midweek games thus I knew Bertie Miller on the right
wing was a real flyer.
It was the first time I had
ever lined up against Bertie that night and I thought to myself I’ll show him who’s boss. However, when he came first came running towards me I went flying in and he left me standing. He fired in a cross and Billy McPhee put the ball in our net. Next
time he did it again and went on to score himself.
Andy Matthew was glaring at me and I had learned a real lesson. However, after being 2-0 down we came charging back to win 3-2 in what was a fantastic
game. A kick on my ankle though left me injured. When we played Dunfermline in the final we won the first leg 1-0 at Central Park. Andy Matthew wanted
me to play in the second leg despite my injury. As I wasn’t able to tackle
at all he gave me the outside right jersey! Early on in the game at East End I scored the only goal of the match and we won the Cup 2-0 on aggregate.
Back in Division 2, we were up for it from the off and went straight to the top of the table. One of earliest games saw us beat Forfar 7-0 with Ronnie Sharp scoring three. When Ronnie wanted to play, he had magic feet.
On other days though he produced absolutely nothing – no story about what Ronnie did would ever surprise me.
We really were beating teams easily and went about 10 games unbeaten from the start of the League
season. We eventually lost 1-0 at home to Stranraer who scored a last-minute
winner. It was a bit odd afterwards as Andy Matthew said ‘I’ve been
expecting this’. Andy Kinnell and I just looked at each other.
We carried on in good form and I remember beating St Mirren
before a good few thousand that December at Central Park. They had star wingers with Bobby McKean on the right and Ian Munro on the left. They thought they would beat us. Billy
McLaughlan and I though kicked the two of them all over Central Park and they didn’t get a sniff of the ball. Davie Ross and Billy
Laing scored a couple of beauties and we won 2-0.
The week after we were at Arbroath and were ahead 2-0 at one
point. Arbroath though got a draw. Jim
McArthur in our goal had the ball in his hands near the end. I was marking Eric
Sellars that day and had kept him quiet. Next thing though Jim was rolling the
ball along the ground and Sellars nipped in to take it off him and stuck it in the net.
You should have heard the bollocking Andy Kinnell gave Jim,
I thought Andy was going to kill him! That really was an excellent Cowdenbeath team but in the New Year, the club had some
financial difficulties. Andy Kinnell went in to see the directors on our behalf
to talk about bonuses for winning promotion but he was told there wouldn’t be any bonus.
This knock-back led to a bit of bad feeling. It certainly didn’t help morale. We were still up top
of the table in April but went to St Mirren and lost 3-1. Our next game was at
home v Arbroath who were also going for promotion – basically it ended up that whoever won that game would get promotion.
I recall hitting a cross into the middle for big Billy Mullen
quite early on. Billy got to it but ballooned the ball over the bar. It was so unlike him and I wondered if it wasn’t going to be our day.
In fact, Arbroath beat us 2-0 and went up instead of us. Both their goals,
were highly controversial – one of them was scored when the offside flag was raised.
We were gutted.
That team I believe deserved to go back up to Division 1 and
if we had made it, I am certain we would have given a better account of ourselves than a year earlier. Just after the end
of that season, my full-back partner Billy McLaughlan was tragically killed in an accident in his home. He and I had holidayed together in Malta just a year earlier. His funeral was the biggest I have ever attended. The whole team was there and it was very sad.
Andy Kinnell then was transferred to St Johnstone and he really was irreplaceable. After the first game I ever played for Cowden my dad said to me that that Kinnell’s a good centre
half. Andy was a hero to us – he still is even today. He was the best player we had by a mile. He was hard and strong
but in terms of football ability he was second to none. He was a real captain.
We started off the 1972/73 League campaign though pretty well including a win over Dunfermline at
East End and were back at the top of table. I remember missing a penalty then
against East Stirling and Billy Bostock and I had a
big argument about it. Billy said to me, ‘a professional footballer should
never miss a penalty’. Billy took over the penalty duties for the next
match and he stepped up to take a spot kick in that game and promptly missed! All
he said to me then was, ‘Back to you!’
We lost Jim McArthur and John Dickson in quick succession when they were both transferred for sizeable
fees but we still kept challenging for a time. While Andy Kinnell was a huge
loss, Duncan Reid and Rab Russell were both good centre halfs.
Allan Kinnell did more than a fair job at right back and Raymond
Allan was a good replacement for Jim McArthur in goal. I played with some good
goalkeepers but I would rate Raymond up alongside Murray McDermott and Jim McArthur as one of the best.
Cowden were mainly playing 4-2-4 then with Billy Bostock and Jimmy Taylor in midfield. Billy could
get you 15 goals a season from midfield and was doing blindside runs 35 years ago. Big
Jim was a talented player. I met up with him at Stark’s Park not so long
ago and at the age of 62 he still looked fit enough to turn out.
I was a bit upset for him down at Stark’s Park when they
introduced Jim to the crowd as a tough-tackling defender. Fair enough he played
at centre-half in his latter days with Raith Rovers but he was a good footballer as well.
He also got Cowden a fair few goals.
One memorable goal Jim scored was on New Year’s Day 1973 at Central
Park v Dunfermline. I actually was given a copy of an article in a Cowdenbeath fanzine a few years ago
which had an interview with Jim Leishman in it. He spoke about that game. Jim was quoted as saying he was walking along to Central
Park to play for Dunfermline that day when he met Dick Campbell and I in the street on the way. Jim
recalled that Dick and I were a bit worse the wear for drink so he had fancied Dunfermline’s chances.
It was also mentioned that Jim somehow had sped past a green
faced Davie Cairns in the first minute. Not long after I ran into Jim at a Sportsman’s
dinner and suggested to him that it was a good story but there never was any game where I turned up the worse for wear in
In fact I asked Jim if he could remind me of the score that day and of course he eventually reluctantly
confirmed Cowden won 1-0 thanks to Jim Taylor’s header. Leish also acknowledged
that in those days Dunfermline could never beat Cowden.
Dunfermline looked down their noses at us and every game we went out to show them. I
was never on a losing Cowden side versus the Pars.In the New Year our challenge fell away.
We still had a good side but we had lost some really top class players who were impossible to replace.
My first two and a half years though with Cowden were
fantastic and we truly had an exceptional team. There was a great team spirit. Billy Laing and I have been friends for years and I still see him regularly to this
day. It was a privilege to play behind a great left winger like Davie Ross.
I also recall having my 21st birthday party in the Cowdenbeath
Supporters Club in the High Street. Jock Gilliard was there and he ended up conducting
the band. The other Cowden director I recall apart from Charlie Gronbach was
Davie Fowlis who in his playing days had been a left back as well.
In 1973/74, Andy Matthew brought in veteran left back Willie Coburn as a coach. Soon after, I had a disagreement with Willie in a practice match when I didn’t agree with how he
was handling the youngsters. Just after that Andy Matthew dropped me and played
Willie Coburn at left back and it hurt our relationship a bit.
About six weeks later though Andy took me aside when we were
scheduled to play a league match at Kilmarnock. He told me I’d be playing and that I was now appointed club captain.
I think he felt a wee bit bad about things and I knew that
Andy had always rated me as a player. In fact he once said if players like Cairns and Laing were with a more fashionable club they would have
been capped by Scotland.
Things were never really the same thereafter at Cowdenbeath though and maybe Andy had stayed on a
bit too long at the helm. Andy’s strength was as I said before his ability
to spot and judge a player – the game though was becoming increasingly tactical and perhaps we were getting found out
a bit with Andy’s off the cuff approach.
We had lost some great players mind you and although we had
good replacements we weren’t tough enough for the long haul. We were top four
but slowly the winning runs turned into losing streaks. After Christmas we would
fall back down the table and we became a midtable side.
Around that time I was selected for a Division 2 trial match to choose a Scotland side to play in Italy versus a team representing Italy’s semi-pro players. I was in the same side as Johnny Dempster the Queen of the South right winger and we did a deal before
the game. He would try and show up my rival for the left back slot and I would
keep his right wing rival quiet. Our plan seemed to work well enough but neither
of us were selected – I suspect the team had largely been picked before the trial game went ahead.
The next season brought a great deal of change to Central Park. Andy Matthew resigned early in the season and he was replaced by
Bert Paton who brought Bill McTavish with him as trainer/coach. Bert produced
a revolution at Central Park and it was fantastic. Training was brilliant and we went five games without losing a match.
However, Bert had only been in charge for four weeks when
he asked me to come to see him in his office. He then told me that he had been
offered the manager’s job at Raith Rovers and that he and Bill McTavish were resigning to move to Kirkcaldy.
He asked me as captain to come along with him when he announced his departure to the boys. It was gut wrenching stuff, there were tears in that dressing room.
Bert told us he wished he could take us all to Stark’s Park with him.
Years later, Bert still felt his worst ever decision was
to leave Cowdenbeath for Raith Rovers. Dan McLindon and Frank Connor then came in as the new management team. They had a hell of a job though as nobody could replace Bert in our esteem.
They brought in some experienced players but some younger lads
like Ronnie Inglis from Kennoway and Raymond Allan were frozen out. Dan and Frank
weren’t that sure of me. I was the captain but I sensed an undercurrent.
They used to say about our time under Bert that although we
had been unbeaten in five games, four of them were draws so that was nothing at all to shout about.
I was then selected along with Billy Laing and Andy Harrow to play for the Fife Select side in a testimonial
match at Bayview for East Fife’s former Scotland centre-half John Martis. The
side we faced had guest players such as Pat Stanton, Tommy Gemmell, Kenny Aird and of course Bobby Charlton. I can therefore proudly say I played against Bobby Charlton.
It was a real honour to represent Cowdenbeath in a game such
as this and afterwards I felt I had gained the respect of Dan McLindon and that he rated me from then on as a player.
However, not that long after Bert Paton left Cowdenbeath he made an offer for me, just sweetie money
really, and I was transferred to Raith Rovers. At the time I was pleased to be
reunited with Bert but with hindsight it was also the worst decision I ever made.
It was the beginning of the end for me as a player and things
were never to be the same afterwards. It’s hard to explain. Being with Cowdenbeath was like a family and I had shared so much in my years at Central Park with guys like Davie Ross, Andy Harrow and Billy Laing.
Team spirit had been great again during Bert Paton’s spell there. Cowden had a good regular support and Charlie Gronbach as chairman was a good guy who did his best for
the club. I know I should never have left Central
Park and I know that Davie Ross feels the same as he found it hard when he joined St Johnstone. We had played five years together and that’s a long time in
I was to get a rude awakening at Stark’s Park though.
I had been a Raith Rovers supporter as a boy but I got a bit of a shock when I ran out the tunnel for my first game. I was excited about playing for Bert again and for the club I had supported but was
greeted by one supporter shouting, ‘Hey Cairns, away you back to Cowdenbeath!’
I was barely in the door at Stark’s Park when Bert was on his way out again. Bert really got the dirty done on him and there was a bit of a clique who had the knives out for him in
the boardroom. Basically Bert was called in to see the Directors who advised
him that they were having to cut costs and that as a consequence they were going to sack Bert’s right-hand man Bill
Bert told them that if Bill went he would go as well and they
promptly replied, ‘OK then!’.I couldn’t believe it when I learned Bert had resigned only weeks after I had
gone to Raith. Next thing Andy Matthew took over as manager. It wasn’t long before I was left out the team by Andy and I rarely got an opportunity to try and
reclaim my place.
Not surprisingly that led to a falling out between myself and
the club and I was then in dispute with Raith Rovers for six months and out of the game.
I reckon that time out of the game cost me a yard and I was never the same player after that lay-off.
Eventually, I went to see Rankin Grimshaw, the Raith chairman,
and he sorted matters out so that I was able to leave Raith Rovers. I then went and joined Berwick Rangers and soon my old
Rangers team-mate Dave Smith became manager at Shielfield Park. My old pal Billy Laing who had also been with us at Rangers was also at Berwick.
However, at the end of that season, I went in to see Dave who
wanted me to re-sign and told him that I had been promised a signing-on fee when I had first arrived if I agreed subsequently
to sign on for another season.
Dave spoke to the board but they refused to pay me what I was
due and therefore Dave arranged for me to get a free instead. After I left Berwick I stopped playing again for a month of
two. Ian Stewart though who I had played with at Forfar was manager of Brechin City and he got me to join him.
I was a couple of seasons with Brechin and had some good times there.
John Ritchie was the goalie, the Campbell twins were there and so was Billy Laing once again. It was very similar
to when I was at Cowdenbeath. I remember once we drew East Fife in the Scottish Cup. I
was right up for a game against my old foes. We lost 1-0 though and guess who
scored for them – John Dickson – I knew it would be him who’d score!
I also remember one evening going to the paper shop to buy
a Sporting Post and the write up said the outstanding player on the park was veteran Davie Cairns. I wasn’t best pleased as I was only 28 at the time.
After leaving Brechin City I assisted Billy
McPhee at Leven Juniors. I didn’t want to play although I did once turn
out for Leven. My problem was as always I was strongwilled and opinionated –
things had to be my way or no way. I packed it in anyway.
I thought that was the end of football for me but lo and behold
one day I was walking down Leven High Street when I bumped into Mike Marshall of East Fife.
‘Davie Cairns, the very man!’ he said. He asked me to ’Come
to Bayview’ but I said ‘No, no!'
I went on holiday then but when I came back was persuaded to go along to train at Bayview. It was OK and I played in a practice match. I was just strolling
through using my experience as an old pro. Davie Clarke though wanted me to join
East Fife before the practice match was finished.
I tried to say ‘no I’m finished as a player’
but Davie was having none of it. He got my ego going saying things like ‘I’ve never seen you ever play
a bad game’ and that he wanted me to play v Brechin on the Saturday.
Like an idiot I signed. I played one season for East Fife as a bit of a stop gap. I
added experience to their squad and some versatility playing at sweeper in a few games for example. That season 1981/82 was my last as a player. I had been 15
years a player and had stopped enjoying the training – when that happens it’s time to go.
Looking back now on my career I had a lot of good times. A
highlight was the big games I played for Cowden in the top flight. I remember
some fine games too versus Stirling Albion with big crowds watching. Stirling always played good football when they were managed by Bob Shankly
or Alex Smith.
There were lots of good tussles versus Raith Rovers, we beat
a confident St Mirren side 2-0 once in a top of the table clash, and there was an amazing game at Central Park when we were
losing 3-0 to Montrose but went on to win 4-3.
Obviously all the times Cowdenbeath beat Dunfermline were a thrill – I’m quite proud that they could never
beat us when I played. I also remember once Cowden played a friendly v Celtic at Central
Park. I was up against Jimmy Johnstone. Lou Macari was another guy I recall was playing.
Jinky wasn’t getting a kick against me and we went 2-1 ahead. Colin
McCullie scoring what proved to be our winner.
It was a terrible rainy night, the pitch was a mud heap but
suddenly Jinky started going past me like I wasn’t there. I realised then
he hadn’t been trying up till then. However, when he was tackled he fell
into the mud and was absolutely covered with sand and mud and God knows what else from head to toe. ‘Get me aff now’ he demanded and was subbed.
I enjoyed playing at Rugby Park as it had great
playing surface and Tynecastle was another ground I liked. Coatbridge though was not a place I enjoyed visiting. As for the best players I faced, I think I did not too bad and gave many of them a difficult time.
Davie Cooper though gave me a hell of time as I remember. I always tried to respect my opponents as cockiness is dangerous thing sometimes in
football. Joe Watson was a real difficult opponent and a fantastic player. He was a local lad who played for Forfar and then went to play in Australia.
As for players at Cowdenbeath I guess I could single out Andy Kinnell but it was a quality side. We had great team spirit and a real togetherness.
Everyone went to nights out en bloc and we all got on really well. The
team in my first couple of seasons at Central Park
was an excellent side.
It was a pleasure as a 19-year-old to play for Cowdenbeath
and my mum and dad used to come to the games and follow Cowden. Whenever I meet
up with my old playing colleagues from Cowdenbeath even after all these years we are all always delighted to meet one another.
Davie Ross was just a joy to watch, while Andy Harrow’s
ability stuck out at age 16. Billy Laing I had known since I was 10 years old. I’ll give Andy Matthew credit as he knew how to build a well balanced side. Two young fast full backs and a great centre half with Jim Moore sweeping up. Andy Kinnell would be on the right and Jim on the left in central defence with Billy
McLaughlan and I using our pace to cover them.
There were grafters like Bostock and Taylor in midfield with Laing or Mullen up front as centre. Then you could add in Dixie’s delicate skills while there were other good players like Dick Campbell, Robin Thomson and Ronnie Sharp
I really couldn’t single out any of my Cowden colleagues as the best but I would like to
specially mention Billy McLaughlan who died so young and tragically.
Basically when I quit football I sort of cut myself off from the game.
With hindsight I probably wish I had gone to Largs and done the coaching qualifications. However, I doubt if I’d have lasted too long there, they would have thrown me out. A certificate anyway doesn’t tell you what to do when you’re one down with 20 minutes to go.
I served a good apprenticeship and learned a lot in my time
in the game. You should always look to pass on what you’ve learned to the
next generation. I think Mixu Paatelainen is a real credit to the game. In his first manager’s job he took a wee club and got them to play the right
I can’t praise him high enough as a credit to his profession
and for passing on what he learned to young boys coming through. I was asked many times to go along to football related events
over the years but always said no. Davie Ross would sometimes ask me but I wasn’t
Eventually I was contacted by Ally Gourlay who runs the Raith
Rovers Former Players Club and he asked me to go along to Stark’s Park. I
turned him down twice. He though persisted and when he asked for a third time
I gave in and went to see Raith play Stirling Albion. The game itself was dire
and Brian Cooper said to me ‘this is one of the better games’!
Later I met Davie Gorman in the street and he said ‘it’s
a hundred times worse at Bayview’. However, on that visit to Stark’s
Park I had a wonderful day meeting up with old friends such as Jim Taylor who at the age of 62 still looked fit enough to
play. Andy Harrow was there as well but sad to say he told me that he felt he
wasn’t very welcome at Central Park after his
time as manager.
That’s really sad as he was a great talent and a fine Cowden player. I realised then I’d been stupid and have greatly enjoyed since then going along to things like Sportsmen’s
dinners and meeting up with old playing colleagues.
A Cowdenbeath reunion would be a great idea. A wee while ago
people I know locally were in a pub in Norway. Their son was looking at a picture on the pub wall and said ‘that’s
Jack Cairns’ dad!’ He was amazed – it was an old photo from
Shoot magazine from the time I was Cowden captain.
I had a 15 year football career and as you know I spent some
time at Ibrox but you know what I say if anyone asks me about my career? I always
say ‘I played for Cowdenbeath, I was captain of Cowdenbeath’ That’s
what I am most proud of from my football days.