The last of the four main Fifeshire clubs to see the light of day, East Fife extend their allegiance to a coastal area within the historic county on the north bank of the Firth of Forth. Although always based in Methil, first at Bayview Park and since 1998 at Bayview Stadium, East Fife represent the wider conurbation of Levenmouth.
This is fortunate, as two of the three towns that comprise this coastal community – Methil and Buckhaven, merged into one burgh in 1891 – have had little going for them since the closure of the collieries from the 1960s onwards. In fact, Bayview Stadium has been one of the few new developments there since. Even the chimney of the coal-fired power station behind it has been demolished.
The third element, formerly separate Leven, across the river of the same name, stands out as a resort with hotels and golf courses of decent standard. If you need a bed for the night or a beer in convivial surroundings, you won’t find it in Methil.
In fact, apart from East Fife and a surprisingly interesting heritage centre, there would be little reason to visit Methil at all. Bayview Stadium is near the river, just as close to Leven as the site of the old Bayview Park on Methil’s main street, Wellesley Road.
When East Fife were founded at a public meeting in 1903, Methil was Scotland’s busiest coal port. Two of three docks had already been built and a third would soon be added. Methil had trains, trams and pubs a-plenty. Raith Rovers in nearby Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline Athletic and Cowdenbeath FC had been in operation since the 1880s – now there was a team to represent the expanding labour force on the Fife coast.
Working at full capacity during World War II, Methil saw its football club reach its zenith soon afterwards when East Fife won the Scottish League Cup three times in six years to add to the Scottish Cup victory of 1938. The Fifers even challenged for the league title, in an era when Rangers and Hibernian were very strong sides indeed.
When Methil declined, so did East Fife. The last passenger train left in 1969 although there has been serious talk of reopening the Levenmouth rail link from Kirkcaldy, via the major bottling plant of Diageo.
Leven, meanwhile, draws more and and more tourists with its caravan parks, self-catering properties and golf courses – Leven Links is often a qualifying course when the Open is held at nearby St Andrews, as it was in 2015.
For all their humble surroundings, East Fife have shown great resilience, winning League Two in 2016 and temporarily expanding capacity to cope with the visits of Rangers and Dunfermline in recent years. Few fans will remember the glory years of the early 1950s, or even the last top-flight seasons in the early 1970s, but the club retains its spirit and identity.
Edinburgh Airport is 53km (33 miles) south of Methil. The No.747 bus goes as far as Halbeath Park & Ride (every 30min, journey time 35min), from where the No.X27 runs every 30min to Kirkcaldy bus station, journey time 25min. These bus services are operated by Stagecoach.
It may be easier to take the tram from the airport terminal (every 10min) to Edinburgh Haymarket station (25min journey time, £5.50), where a regular train runs to Kirkcaldy (35min journey time, £8 single, off-peak day return £9.50).
From Glasgow, for Kirkcaldy you need to change at Edinburgh Haymarket, overall journey time 1hr 40min, single £17.
From Stance 1 at Kirkcaldy bus station in the town centre, the No.7 runs to Methil, and Bayview Stadium, every 30min until late in the evening, journey time 40min. From Stance 4, the X58/X60 is quicker and runs half-hourly, hourly all the way from Edinburgh.
The No.7 runs on from Methil to Leven (4min), with hourly services also provided by the No.9.
All these local bus services are operated by Stagecoach.
Based near the ground on Wellesley Road, Taxi Centre Fife (01333 300 300) offers a full airport transfer service from Edinburgh for £55 and quotes £17 from Kirkcaldy.
Unfortunately, you’ll find none of these in Methil – the last hotel, the White Swan, closed a long while back.
Accommodation is available in tourist-friendly Leven just over the river from the ground.
The most obvious choice, the mid-range Caledonian, offers golf packages and dinner/B&B deals. En-suite rooms have WiFi, Sky TV and tea- and coffee-making facilities, and the restaurant operates from breakfast to 9pm. It’s just off the main street about 1km from the ground, and 300 metres from Leven bus station.
Nearer to both and right on the high street, The Windsor is a pub recently transformed under friendly new management and features five refurbished guestrooms at knockdown prices. Each has a flat-screen TV as well as WiFi and tea and coffee in the room.
Slightly further from the town centre, behind the Caledonian, the Dunclutha Guest House provides a comfortable, affordable stay in one of five rooms, guests looked after by welcoming owner Julie. Features include home-made shortbread, home-cooked breakfasts and a large communal hot tub in the sun-catching back garden. There’s even drying facilities if you get caught in the rain.
Further up the beach-lined coast are all kinds of guesthouses, self-catering lodgings and holiday parks, but these require a taxi or car to/from the ground.
Methil may have lost its hotels but it still has some of its pubs, which you’ll find on and off Wellesley Road, the main street.
Right where the old ground stood, by the corner of Kirkland Road, the Bayview is still open for business though match days see custom shifted closer to the dock area where the newer stadium sits.
Near Methil Parish Church, The Argyll Bar at 54 Methil Brae provides Belhaven brews just off Wellesley Road.
Leven isn’t short of pubs either, on and off focal North Street. For sport, your first port of call should be McPhail’s, with its 13 screens, two bars, cover bands and DJs. You’ll also find TV football at friendly, popular Mollys, near the equally revered Crown Inn.
You’ll find few better pubs in Fife for football watching than The Windsor, with decent food and a warm welcome from the new management. It has guestrooms, too.