Kelty Hearts

Fife’s Maroon Machine are moving on up the SPFL

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

It’s not often that history is made at Glebe Park in Brechin but that’s what happened on May 23, 2021. Towards the end of a tense match of two red cards and goalkeeping heroics at both ends, a late winner by team captain Michael Tidser changed the game for Kelty Hearts.

Founded as recently as 1975, amateur for four years then non-league Junior until 2017, The Maroon Machine only needed one season in the senior sixth tier to reach the Lowland League and gain a transformative passage to League Two and full league status.

Having been denied a play-off in 2020 despite topping the fifth-flight Lowland League before the Covid cut-off, the men led by former Rangers star Barry Ferguson were determined to seize their chance with both hands when in the same position the following year. Brechin, facing relegation from the Scottish League after 67 years, had protested that a similarly truncated campaign in 2020-21 should have left them safe for another year.

New Central Park/Liam Dawber

But a two-legged play-off, the first staged at Kelty’s New Central Park, led to Brechin’s demise and the Maroon Machine’s promotion to League Two. Within a single season, Kelty Hearts had leapfrogged straight to League One.

While Kelty’s Fife rivals, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, East Fife and Raith, are either underachieving or losing long-term support, this former mining village of some 6,000 residents is attracting floating fans and groundhoppers a-plenty. This is a community of one Main Street, two churches, one pub and a tidy football ground of just over 2,000 capacity.

It wasn’t always this way. While their Fife neighbours were winning major silverware and competing in Europe, Kelty remained without a football club until 1975. When one was eventually created, Kelty Hearts remained strictly amateur until a fateful friendly with Halbeath Juniors in 1979. Separated by a five-minute drive along the M90, the two were leagues apart, Kelty’s opponents part of Scotland’s Junior set-up, a deeply rooted network of non-league clubs not drawn to the senior game.

New Central Park/Liam Dawber

With widespread local support and, later on, potential qualification for the Scottish Cup, Junior football held significant attractions for a club such as Kelty, persuaded to make the leap from the amateur game by their strong 3-1 win in a random fixture with nearby Halbeath Juniors.

Starting with an early stint as manager by later long-term Dunfermline boss Jim Leishman, the move led to nearly four decades of consistently strong showings in the Fife Junior League. Five-time champions through the 1990s, Kelty twice made Scotland’s Junior Cup final, neither successful, but proof of the club’s status in this vibrant level of the nation’s game.

Looking at examples south of the border where non-league clubs such as Burton and Fleetwood have thrived in the Football League, Scotland began to open up its professional game, first allowing Junior sides in the Scottish Cup. With the club’s long-term full-back Tam Courts at the helm as manager from 2013, Kelty sat at the top of the newly streamlined Junior East Super League, with nowhere to go but down.

Kelty Hearts team bus/Liam Dawber

As the various doors of the Scottish league pyramid opened up, so Kelty successfully applied for senior status in 2017, winning the sixth-tier East of Scotland League at their first attempt. Several Junior clubs followed suit, though pioneering Kelty could show the decision makers round their neat New Central Park, with its two covered enclosures, seating and 3G pitch. They could also point to their youth and women’s sides and a decades-long operation as a true community club.

Despite the unexpected departure of the much-liked Courts during their first Lowland League campaign, Kelty could replace him with former Rangers star Barry Ferguson, then sign prolific striker Nathan Austin.

Subsequently top league scorer with 37 in 25 games, Hertfordshire-born Austin would have done enough in any other season to secure a play-off for the Maroon Machine – but not in pandemic-hit 2019-20. Austin then led the club’s scoring charts in 2020-21, just ahead of his compatriot striker, Kallum Higginbotham.

While Austin hit a hat-trick against Brora Rangers in the first pyramid play-off, Higginbotham opened the scoring in the subsequent first leg against Brechin.

New Central Park/Liam Dawber

In the wake of the celebrations over Kelty’s 3-1 aggregate win to join the Scottish League, Barry Ferguson left New Central Park to give way to his former Rangers teammate, Kevin Thomson, who now had one-time Dunfermline midfielder Joe Cardle to rely on to provide chances for Austin. 

It proved a winning partnership, as the English trio, completed by Higginbotham, all won Player of the Month awards during Kelty’s immediate one-season rise to win the division by a country mile. In goal, Darren Jamieson was as impressive all season as he was in the Brechin play-offs.

With youngsters, Scottish midfielder Scott McGill and Italo-Ghanaian striker Alfredo Agyeman, given regular first-team football under former Dunfermline defender John Potter, Kelty have managed to hold their own in Scotland’s third tier, despite their modest budget and surroundings. The club has achieved this without losing touch with its roots, attracting many a first-time visitor curious to experience football in a village with a population smaller than capacity of half the grounds in League One.

ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Neat, compact and intimate, New Central Park lies on Bath Street, just off Main Road. Capacity is just over 2,000, with 350 seats available along the School Side. There are two covered enclosures along the East Side, where you also find the social club. Raised grass banking behind each goal can accommodate more spectators, visiting supporters either allocated the North End or the choice of reserving seats in advance.

The pitch is 3G, its lush green, contrasting with the signature maroon colour of the terrace railing. All feels looked-after and ready to welcome bigger names in the Scottish game – the record attendance of 2,300 was set when a Rangers XI visited for a testimonial in 2012.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Kelty is accessible by bus from Dunfermline, the Stagecoach 7B (every 30mins, every 1hr Sun) taking 20mins from Dunfermline bus station via Queen Margaret Hospital.

New Central Park (KY4 0AG) is just off Main Street on Bath Street, where there should be adequate free parking on match days and at the Kelty Community Centre (KY4 0AQ) on the west side of the stadium.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

It’s usually pay-on-the-day at Kelty, through the main South End entrance on Bath Street. The club also offers online sales in the run up to match day.

Admission is £18, £13 for over-65s, under-18s and disabled, £6 for under-16s.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Kelty Hearts club shop (Wed-Fri 11am-6pm, 3pm match days 1.45pm-2.45pm) is found across from the Hospitality Lounge, where maroon hats, scarves and shirts are stocked.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Along with Kelty’s only pub, comfortably renovated The Kings (see Kelty), drinking for home and away fans takes place at two venues around the ground. 

The Kelty Hearts Social Club opens on match days and weekends to broadcast action on one vast screen and two smaller one, while the Sports Bar, aka Hospitality Lounge, also shows maxi-sized live football, with a pool table and dartboard also available.