East End Park was bathed in sunshine as the stadium played host to the fourth annual Ben and Finlay Challenge Cup. The gleaming trophy, donated by Fife Engineering Services, had just been engraved with the previous years’ winners and had spent the last 12 months in the safe custody of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
The build-up to the match was difficult for both sides as key players were lost to injury not least the Police’s intended player-manager Stevie Kay who ruptured his Achilles at training just two days before the game. He therefore had to resort to a manager only role propped up on his crutches in the dugout. The Fire Service lost the services of last year’s hat-trick hero Russell Smart to a calf injury.
The walk from the dressing rooms beneath the Norrie McCathie Stand always serves as a reminder of the exalted players and now legends who have gone before and graced the hallowed turf with their excellence. Jock Stein, Alex Ferguson, Roy Barry, Norrie and our own Andy Tod are just some of the faces that inspire on the walk towards the pitch.
The surface was akin to a billiard table, by far the best pitch we have played on so far and provided an excellent platform for what was to be a fiercely competitive contest. A decent sprinkling of spectators was housed in the McCathie stand and looked on as the Police kicked off just after 2pm towards the Cowdenbeath end.
Learning from last year’s demolition where the Police side was carved up through the middle of the park, the Police welcomed Andy Tod back to the centre of defence to partner the ever youthful 52-year-old Brian ‘Bambi’ Kenny. Sitting in front of them a la Claude Makelele was former Raith Rovers hero and now Dundee cop, Robbie Raeside. Bombing on either side of the centre halves were full backs Shug ‘Spuds fan’ Pearce and Derek Skene. Goalkeeper Scott Russell replaced the now retired Carley Marshall between the sticks and looked resplendent in his Fife Constabulary high visibility jersey.
Strung across the midfield were the solid Dan Greig, Duracell powered Paul Cochrane and Law Society veteran Stevie Fell. Up top, Russell Craig supported willing runner John McDiarmid.
The Police side started confidently as they kept the ball and sprayed passes around in the sunshine. Within two minutes of the start, the Police were ahead as Stevie Fell bundled home at the far post following a patient build-up. Stevie will doubtless rightly have embellished the quality of the strike in his post-match post-mortem with friends and family and put it down to his new Adidas Tiger and Scorcher Billy Dane’s boots! The truth is that it was a sclaff but they all count and the Police were ahead.
This reverse pressed the Fire Service team into probing more forcefully up front and their early efforts were quickly rewarded when (it was never) a penalty was awarded in the sixth minute for a challenge by Andy Tod. Referee Gary Kelly had no hesitation in rewarding the faint appeal from the sniper struck striker. Everyone else appeared stunned by the award but Wynn Edwards was not going to be embarrassed by the ref’s charity and calmly slotted the pen away low to the keeper’s left. Scott in goal got hands to the strike but alas couldn’t keep it out and the Fire Service were level.
The game then settled down a bit with both teams enjoying some possession although there was an assurance about the Police play and build-up largely orchestrated by Robbie the midfield anchor. The ref was doing his best to avoid producing cards despite some fairly meaty challenges.
After 25 minutes the Police regained the lead with a low struck shot by the tireless Paul Cochrane, which crept under the keeper at his near post.
Pat Callaghan, that famous Pars name, then entered the fray replacing the exhausted Russell Craig up front. The Police side held the lead until half-time and the whistle was welcomed by both teams as the hot sunshine and big, manicured pitch were clearly taking their toll.
Manager Kay took the opportunity to freshen up the Police team introducing human battering ram Eck (Robbie’s brother) Raeside up front and in midfield, Bryan Kerr, Chris Campbell and ex-Par Russell Taylor were put into action.
Within minutes of the restart, the Police stretched their lead following some neat play down the left involving full back Skene, Paul Cochrane and Big Eck. A deft flick inside by Eck played in sub Russell Taylor who took time to compose himself before coolly slotting a shot high into the net – 3-1!
As energy sapped, the Police were unable to sustain their fluency and accuracy and gradually the Fire Service took control and they dominated much of the second half possession. Trigger Tillier came on to shore up the Police defence but he also provided a welcome outlet upfront as he bombed (yes, bombed once or twice) up and down the left touchline.
The guile and experience of Raeside, Tod and Kenny were telling as wave after wave of Fire Service attacks were repelled although in truth keeper Russell was not overly busy. As the half wore on, the Fire Service pressure finally told and Chris Murphy scored the goal of the day, a 25-yard raker into the postage stamp top corner. Game on and 25 minutes still to play.
Ross Bennet enjoyed his usual cameo appearance and managed to make it off the park safely at the end despite almost being halved in his first contact with the ball and opponent. The ref never saw it!!
Despite great efforts by the fitter Fire Service, the Police defence held firm and there was huge relief when the final whistle sounded returning the Ben and Finlay Challenge Cup to Police hands.
Mark Napier, Fire Service manager then presented the trophy to Police captain Andy Tod. Robbie Raeside was the sponsor’s man of the match and he was presented with a case of beer endorsed quite appropriately (ha!) by Eric OO AH Cantona! We then took lots of photos to capture the occasion and some of these are shown below.
Afterwards everyone retired to Legends Bar upstairs at East End and enjoyed some beers and wholesome pies and sausage rolls – yum!
Enforcer Bennet took charge of the whip round and what a whip round it was! We raised a marvellous £826-69 from the participating players, management teams and hingers on and spectators.
Thank you to everyone who so kindly donated their time to play and to contribute to Ben and Finlay’s future.
This fixture is now a permanent annual feature, where each year those who struggled with the pace vow to get fit for next year! We shall see!
Finally, special thanks are due to Ross McArthur, Margaret Miller and Kevin Dawson of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club who were the perfect hosts and without whom none of this would have been possible.
The Ben and Finlay Challenge Cup will now be engraved showing the Police as winners for 2016, taking a 3-1 lead.
Until next year………………….
Kick off in the sunshine at East End Park
Toddy accepts the trophy from a gracious Mark
Police Goalscorers (L-R) Stevie Fell, Russell Taylor & Paul Cochrane
Gaffer Stevie Kay - cheers mate!
The victorious team!
MoM Robbie Raeside