Former Fife mining village rises to scoop SPFL status

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Perhaps the most striking thing about football in the Fife community of Kelty is not the five short years it took for local club Kelty Hearts to rise from the Junior ranks to third-tier League One in 2022, but the fact that the Jambos were only formed as late as in 1975.

This is, after all, a mining community, similar to but smaller than nearby Cowdenbeath, whose own flagship club dates back to 1882. Shortly after the war the adjoining mining village of Hill of Beath produced Jim Baxter, the great Rangers and Scotland half-back at his peak more than a half a century ago.

And yet this community, one of 9,000 residents when the mining industry still thrived, had no local team. Kelty could produce footballers – most notably, Willie Penman, whose 58 goals in one season lifted Raith Rovers to top-flight promotion in 1949 – but they all had to cross Fife to play.

Welcome to Kelty/Liam Dawber

Even after 1975, when the Maroon Machine came into being, it took an evenly balanced friendly against nearby Halbeath Juniors four years later to persuade Kelty’s management to leave behind the Kirkcaldy & District Amateur League for the brighter lights of Scottish Junior football. 

This doesn’t refer to players’ ages, rather the non-league status of clubs who shun the potential economic pitfalls of the professional game. Some of the greatest players in Scottish football, Jimmy Johnstone, Dave Mackay and Pat Crerand, came through the Junior system.

With the right support and recruitment, a team in the Fife Region Junior League such as Kelty Hearts could build an impressive reputation and collect silverware, just as the Maroon Machine did in the 1990s, invariably with neck-and-neck battles against rival neighbours Hill of Beath Hawthorn. These leagues were later streamlined and regionalised, each divisional winner qualifying for the Scottish Cup.

Welcome to Kelty/Liam Dawber

A crowd of 7,500 saw Kelty lose out to Kilwinning Rangers in the 1999 Scottish Junior Cup Final and by the time they were winning the Junior East Super League in 2015, the senior sides immediately above in the Highland and Lowland Leagues could win through to the full professional set-up.

With a substantial fan base built up despite the slow demise of the industry around it, and a cosy little ground at New Central Park on Bath Street, just off Main Road that cuts north-south through Kelty, management decided to apply for admission into the Scottish Football Association after winning a second Junior East title in 2017.

Kelty Hearts instigated a flood of East Junior clubs entering the lowest level of the senior pyramid, the East of Scotland Football League, one down from the Lowland League, two down from League Two itself. Winning the ESFL at their first attempt, the Maroon Machine hired former Rangers star Barry Ferguson as manager to top the fifth-tier table during the pandemic. Immediately after an emotional play-off win over Brechin, Ferguson made tracks, leaving Kelty to storm League Two at their first attempt and gain three straight promotions.

Welcome to Kelty/Liam Dawber

Its team sharing the same status with the likes of Falkirk and Dunfermline, whose reserve side plays here, Kelty remains very much a village in every sense and barely two-thirds the size it was before the last pits closed in the 1980s. It has two churches, a sprinkling of shops and a couple of schools, one of which overlooks New Central Park and whose pupils have permission to use the community-owned pitch.

Curious away fans and groundhoppers happy to tick off a new senior destination gather in The Kings pub on Main Street and sports bar at the ground, where a League Two season attendance record of 1,202 was set for Kelty’s first SPFL game in July 2021.

Their opponents before the Maroon Machine charged up the league to win it? Near neighbours Cowdenbeath, who would go on to drop out of the Scottish League for the first time in 117 years. Perhaps history isn’t everything after all.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and timings

Edinburgh is nearest airport to Kelty, 32km (19 miles) away.  Stagecoach JET bus 787 leaves from Stop G outside the terminal building every 30mins, bound for Halbeath Park&Ride (£8.40/pay on board, journey time 40mins). From there, the Stagecoach X56 (every hr, not Sun) takes 10mins to reach Kelty Kingsland Terrace near New Central Park.

The alternative is to take the same 747 from Edinburgh Airport to Inverkeithing Roods Road (journey time 30mins), then change for the 7B at Inverkeithing Back O’Yards 50 metres away, that goes to Kelty every 30mins (every 1hr Sun) via Dunfermline, 1hr journey time.

A City Cabs taxi (0131 228 1211) direct from Edinburgh Airport to Kelty should take 25mins and cost around £50. A local taxi (01383 305 288) from Halbeath Park&Ride should cost around £15.

Buses stop on Main Street, on and off which are Kelty’s few food and drink outlets, and football ground.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

The only pub in Kelty, The Kings stands at the crossroads of Main Street and Station Road in the village centre. This large, recently refurbished corner alehouse is also the main pre- and post-match drinking destination whose many local regulars are treated to TV sport, pool, darts, poker nights, even psychic sessions. Tennent’s, Belgian Heverlee, Guinness and Magners cider are the main options on draught, which can also supped in an enclosed outdoor courtyard that catches the sun mid-afternoon.

Opening hours till midnight through the week, 1am at weekends, encourage you to linger. There’s no food at present, however. Further up Main Street, Young’s Diner is the pick of the local eateries – look out for the façade of Elvis in Jailhouse Rock – where Scottish breakfasts, affordable meal deals, shakes and hot chocolates feature on the menu, but nothing stronger than coffee.

Near The Kings, the licensed Kelty & Blairadam Ex-Servicemen’s Club is open evenings only and should welcome non-members if you happen to be passing.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground near town

Kelty has no hotels. The Fife Tourist Board lists a few options in the area, the most convenient for Kelty located in Dunfermline, 10mins away by 7B bus or taxi. 

Clark Cottage is a comfortable, family-run guest house a short walk from Queen Margaret Hospital for the 7B bus, Dunfermline Queen Margaret station and also East End Park, home of Dunfermline Athletic.