The Beginning of Kirkcaldy Rugby
The members of Kirkcaldy Cricket Club and those who were favourable to the formation of a Football (Rugby) club held a meeting within the George Hotel on Wednesday 1 October 1873 at half past seven o’clock.
As a result of the meeting Kirkcaldy (Rugby) Football club came into being. There are no reports of matches being played before the end of 1873 – although there may have been at least one – so that the first recorded game took place on 3 January 1874 against Portobello, away, with Kirkcaldy winning by the massive margin of 121 goals and 12 tries to nil.
Kirkcaldy was just one of scores of football clubs playing to rugby rules up and down the country in the early 1870’s following the success of the inaugural international match between Scotland and England in 1871.
This Scottish enthusiasm for rugby declined within a decade in the face of the advance of association football across the country and most of the early clubs disappeared without trace. Against all the odds, Kirkcaldy survived, and by 1885 had satisfied the criteria for admission to the Scottish Football Union (now Scottish Rugby Union).
In the growing industrial town of Kirkcaldy at that time playing space was at a premium at the beginning of the 1890’s and the club’s activities were curtailed when their ground was taken over for other purposes. At times the only playing space was on the beach at low tide. The gift of Provost Beveridge’s grounds to the town to form Beveridge Park provided space for a new pitch for the club and the use of the cricket club’s pavilion.
Another public meeting reformed KRFC and membership of the SFU regained in October 1894. Apart from the world war years the club’s existence has been unbroken since that date.
The years spanning the turn of the 19th century proved to be highly successful with as many as six players selected for the Fife County side in 1898-99 and the North of Scotland Cup won three times in five years. Playing numbers reflected this progress and a second team was formed before the end of the century.
David Howie, who first played for the club in 1908, became the first Kirkcaldy player to represent Scotlandwhen he was selected to play against France in 1912. Altogether he appeared in seven international matches in that and the following year. Tragically he died in Egypt in 1916 during World War 1. Howie was one of the hundred present and former of KRFC who enlisted in the colours. Eighteen of those were killed in action, many of whom had played in the last pre-war season. The club faced an uncertain future when rugby resumed in 1919.
World War II Period
In the first post war season the club, despite these losses, quickly regrouped and was immediately recognised with the selection of full back George Thom for all four games of the international championship.
Playing strength quickly restored, Kirkcaldy regained its former status as a leading club in the District and won the Midlands League three times in the 1920’s. The club also participated in the first ever sevens tournament north of the Forth in Dundee and emerged as winners.
The leading player of this period was Robert Howie, younger brother of David.Like his brother, Robert Howie won seven caps for Scotland, including the opening match at Murrayfield against England in 1925 when Scotlandwon the Grand Slam for the first time. Howie also took part in the British Lions tour of South Africa in 1924 playing in all the four test matches. After his playing days were over he served the club in various roles, including the presidency from 1936.
Before the official SRU Championship started in 1973 Kirkcaldy’s fixture list had changed little since the 1920’s. Fixtures in the main were against other Midlands clubs and the second teams of the major Edinburgh sides. Occasionally there would be a fixture with a Borders junior team or a similar one from Glasgow. Playing standards were not particularly high but enthusiasm for the game at a social level increased and a third team came into being in the 1930’s.
The outstanding personality of the years after the 1939-45 war was Ian Kilgour, captain from 1948 to 1950. In the 1949-50 season, having played through all the SRU trials, Kilgour came close to being Kirkcaldy’s fourth cap. Most critics of the time believed he should have been in the national team but instead he remained as travelling reserve. After having served the club as its president Kilgour became the Midlands District representative on the Union committee.
The Midlands league failed to resume after the war, apparently because many claimed it encouraged negative play. Sides like Kirkcaldy therefore had to content themselves with a diet of friendly fixtures. Most seasons produced more wins than losses but Kirkcaldy remained unable to force themselves onto the fixture lists in the Borders, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The shared pavilion with the cricket club produced a series of disputes about responsibility for breakages and repairs. This encouraged the rugby club to seek facilities elsewhere in the town, at Dunnikier Park for instance, where the new Kirkcaldy High School was shortly to be built. Shortage of finance precluded any move but ultimately the situation resolved itself when the cricketers moved to Bennochy.
Slowly playing standards improved with a marked improvement in the quality of fixtures and greater attention being paid to fitness and techniques. By the late 1960’s Kirkcaldy was generally considered to be one of the better sides outwith the unofficial championship, then run by various national newspapers.
Playing numbers grew appreciably thanks to the numbers recruited from Kirkcaldy High School, then one of the strongest rugby schools in the district. A fourth team had a full fixture list by 1964 and within a couple of years a sixth side had a full fixture list.
Suggestions had been made regularly from the mid fifties that the club should acquire premises in the town for conversion into clubrooms and bar. These came to nothing until the departure of the cricket club changed the situation. The Beveridge Park pavilion, now wholly owned by the rugby club, underwent a transformation in 1968 into a clubhouse with bar and tea room. Plans for new changing rooms were drawn up soon afterwards and eventually opened in 1971. Welcome though the new clubhouse was it proved to be inadequate for a rapidly expanding club and extensive fund raising in the mid seventies provided the £30,000 needed to construct the present clubhouse
National League Rugby – The First Decade
Kirkcaldy and other like-minded clubs had a major role in the setting up of the national league system, which started in 1973. After a hundred years and more of organised Scottish rugby, a club’s status would be determined on the field, rather than by its off-field connections.
Kirkcaldy were placed initially in the fourth of five national divisions. More often than not the side finished in the lower half of this division, some times being accused of lacking ambition. However in 1978-79 in the sixth year of the leagues a talented group of players came together and with nine wins from eleven games won second place in the table and promotion to the third division.
Although schools’ rugby was still strong in the 1970’s the various national unions believed that youngsters should be introduced to the game at primary school age. This took the form of mini rugby enthusiastically embraced by Kirkcaldy from 1975 onwards. Midi rugby for boys up to sixteen years followed two years later. Kirkcaldy formed their first colts’ team, originally aimed at boys who had already left school at sixteen but this target was never attained. By the end of this decade Kirkcaldy had a full range of youth teams from Primary Four up to Under 18, all well supported and enjoying success.
The colts side won the first ever SRU National Youth League final in 1981 beating Melrose in the final at Murrayfield and retained the trophy the next year. Captains of these sides, Alex Carruthers and Andy Henderson, both went on to serve the club well in the years to follow, each serving as captain and first team coach with the latter playing more 1st games than anyone else in the club’s history.
For the senior side life in the third division was anything but easy, with frequent brushes with relegation. However as the first products of the original colts teams matured a particularly strong side emerged, coached by Terry Trewartha, which won the third division title with a 100% record. Trewartha, who had four separate spells as first team coach, was associated with the side from the National League Division Four in 1973 to Premiership Division One in 2000 when he finally retired.
Up to the 1980’s KRFC had found it almost impossible to hit the headlines, even in the Fife Free Press. Two separate events, three years apart brought the club unrivalled publicity in the national press.
For many years the club had suffered from a punitive rates bill levied by the local council under national legislation. A campaign to rid amateur sports clubs of this financial burden took the name of Kirkcaldy to the House of Commons and onto national television before the regulations were changed to remove such clubs from the rating lists.
Media attention returned in 1990 when Kirkcaldy became the first sports team from Western Europe and any discipline to visit Siberia. This was part of a four game tour of the Soviet Union and included three games in the previously closed city of Krasnoyarsk and Moscow. This greatly heightened the profile of the club and paved the way for on-field prosperity in the decade to come.
1990s and a march to the top
n a remarkably short space of time in 1991 the club raised nearly £70,000 to erect a 250-seat grandstand and match floodlights and these attracted both representative and minor international matches to Beveridge Park.
After a third place finish in the second division in 1994-95 Kirkcaldy found themselves consigned to the newly created Premiership.
Another third place followed and it not until the 1996-97 season before promotion was gained. This season without a doubt was the best in the club’s history. In addition to the third division title, the Blues reached the semi-final of the national cup competition, losing to Melrose in a controversial game played at Galashiels, the Midlands Cup retained and four sevens tournaments were won. Individual success also came Kirkcaldy’s way and no fewer than nine of the first team squad appeared for Caledonia Reds in the Heineken European Cup.
The reputation of the club was now such that many experienced players joined the ranks from elsewhere. In 1998 Gordon Simpson arrived from New Zealand on an SRU contract and was assigned to Kirkcaldy. In June of that year he became the club’s fourth capped player when he took the field for Scotland against Australia in Sydney. Local talent also came to fore and former first team captain Willie Anderson had eleven appearances for Scotland A as well as playing against Spain in a World Cup qualifying game.
After yet another third place in 1998-99 Kirkcaldy eventually attained first division status in 2000 finishing second to Boroughmuir in the Division table thereby becoming the first team from Fife to win its way to the top division for more than quarter of a century.
There were two seasons of first division rugby, the first of which was enhanced by the performances of Quintan Sanft recruited from New Zealand. During his stay at Beveridge Park Sanft won two caps for Samoa, including one against Scotland at Murrayfield.There had been some outstanding performances in that first season of first division rugby including substantial home wins against Melrose and Gala.
The second season was much less productive and relegation for the first time followed. While the club lost in the third round of the national BT Cup there was some consolation in that there was now entry into the BT Shield which was duly won at Murrayfield.Relegation inevitably led to an exodus of players and it was a particularly young side which played through the 2002-03 season and showed much promise for the future.
Towards the end of the 2001-02 season the club had acquired the services of New Zealander Mike O’Donovan who held the post of joint first team coach with Andy Henderson. Their efforts were widely appreciated to the extent that Henderson was lured away to be head coach at Melrose in the summer of 2003. By this time future internationalist Rob Dewey had moved from Madras and he proved to be a real asset before he moved on to Heriots and then the professional ranks.
However the club had to dispense with the services of O’Donovan eventually through financial constraints and there followed a rapid downward spiral in playing fortunes. Relegation to the third tier inevitably ensued and there were four seasons at that level.
In the early 1990s Kirkcaldy became one of the first clubs in Scotland to create a women’s side and it continues to flourish. Several players have won international honours and a number of cups have adorned the trophy cabinet. Last season Kirkcaldy won the National League title and through its promotion of the women’s game. has become a hub for girls’ rugby in Fife.
From the middle 1990s intake from the youth section declined with numbers falling. The 4th XV had gone and the thirds had an intermittent existence. Although the club appointed a full time development officer in the form of the afore mentioned Quintan Sanft, support from local secondary schools was negligible and this was reflected in the youth teams. Nevertheless, a good senior squad was assembled and after a close fight with Gala and Peebles in 2007-08 just missed out on a second division return. This was only delayed for a year with the third division championship again won in 2009.
A positive first season in the second division preceded relegation, in the second, despite a late rally. At the same time the seconds dropped out of the national reserve league set-up and now find themselves in a Midlands division where the opposition is more congenial.
At the 140th anniversary the first team is in the regionalised Championship “B” division, the old third division. Although there has been further player losses, a most encouraging movement of young players into the senior ranks has been welcomed. It will take time for them to gain the necessary experience but the prospects for further advancement are good
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