Only in the idiosyncratic world of League football in Scotland could a team that finishes 9th in their division claim silverware. Cowdenbeath are ready to take on any two from 2nd, 3rd and 4th in Division 3 to not only try and preserve their Division 2 status north of the border via a play-off but to give them only their second piece of national silverware since Hitler invaded Poland.
The Scottish League play-offs are new territory for Cowdenbeath FC and the self-styled Blue Brazil now face two two-legged cup finals if they hope to make a bit of history.
The whole Blue Brazil thing, by the way, came about in the early 1990's when Cowdenbeath FC, a team forged out of a tough Fife mining town in 1881 by Ayrshire's Pollock family, who settled in the area in the 1870's, were on a high under the managerial reign of ex-Hibs and Scotland defender John Brownlie. Brownlie's stewardship culminated in promotion for the first time in 22 years in 1992.
The day the new Cowdenbeath nicknamed was coined (it used to be THE MINERS but Maggie Thatcher sort of put paid to that circa 1984) can be traced back to a Scottish Cup tie against Stranraer at Central Park when the home side were playing some "silky stuff" according to those who were there.
"C'mon the silky blues" came a shout from the terracing, "C'mon the super blues" shouted the next approving voice as Cowden continued on their way to a 3-1 win. "C'MON THE BLUE BRAZIL!" came the final and ultimate cry from an excitable local who had waited some years to see his team play the kind of stuff they were playing that day.
Think Vic Reeves attempt at humour on SHOOTING STARS. Remember that bit where the joke falls flat and the guests go into silent mode while a tumbleweed blows across the studio floor? That was the sort of disbelief that fell upon Central Park when somebody finally compared the local blues with Brazil and the nickname stuck.
The Fifers have never survived for more than two seasons outside the basement division of Scottish football after promotion since the 1930's and former Dundee United stalwart Brian Welsh can write himself a big chapter in this small Kingdom club's history if he can avoid the drop in the lifeline matches to come.
Ironically, Welsh once saved Dundee United from relegation with a late goal in the 1990's when a two-legged play-off between bottom of the SPL and top of the First Division was briefly in vogue. This last gasp chance for SPL survival also insured Aberdeen stayed as the only club outside the Old Firm never to be demoted from the Scottish top flight when the Dons beat Cowden's local rivals Dunfermline Athletic.
Second-bottom Cowden were promoted under the stewardship of now-Hibs boss Mixu Paatelainen in season 2005/6 when they claimed their first League title of any description since 1939. The Third Division title was taken with a final day victory over Elgin City at Central Park. Local MP for Cowdenbeath and Kirkcaldy and PM Gordon Brown (he supports Kirkcaldy-based Raith Rovers) was in attendance to present the silverware and a crowd of just over 4,000 saw Cowden in unfamiliar surroundings of receiving a trophy that wasn't the local association Fife Cup which is played for on annual basis by the four Fife Scottish League clubs Cowden, Raith, Dunfermline and East Fife and the amateurs of Burntisland Shipyard.
Cowden only played six games in the top flight in 1939/40 before WW II intervened and when hostilities ceased their promotion was declared null and void. The injustice of that event wasn't diminished even when Cowden won promotion as a second place team to the old First Division in 1970 (they lasted one season amongst the likes of Aberdeen, the big Edinburgh clubs and the Old Firm etc) and in 1992 when they went from Second to First Division in the days of three senior leagues (again they were relegated the following season).
In the early part of the new century the managerial team of Craig Levein and Gary Kirk steered Cowden to two seasons outside the basement but after the second season 'Beath were down again. Paatelainen team, which included his two younger brother Markus and Miko, seemed to represent a brave new dawn at Central Park.
Markus went to Caley Thistle soon after Cowden's Third Division title celebrations and Morgaro Gomis, who had left English non-league football to try his luck in Scotland, was snapped up by Dundee United but still local Blue Brazilians hoped Mixu would stick around long enough to mould Cowden into more than just another also-ran in Scottish football.
Paatelainen was very much the local hero during his reign of just under two years at Central Park and was always going to be a hard act to follow. Cowdenbeath Youth Coach Welsh was promoted to the big job at Central Park when Mixu got an offer from Finnish club TPS Turku but there were calls of nepotism as Welsh is married to Cowden Chairman Gordon McDougall's daughter and, on the whole, the small but loyal band of Cowdenites did not take kindly to Welsh's appointment.
Welsh kept Cowden up when Paatelainen left mid-way through last season and seemed to have won over his critics at the start of season 07/ 08 as the Blue Brazil got off to a flyer drawing with title contenders Ross County and Airdrie United before beating promotion play-off favourites and local rivals Raith Rovers and outplaying Gretna for long periods of a 2nd Round CIS League Cup tie at Fir Park before finally going down 3-1, a score line that flattered the border club.
It all seemed to go south for Cowden after the turn of the year when an ambitious plan to build a 3,000 seater community stadium at the south end of the town was knocked back by local councillors who disagreed with Tesco coming to Cowdenbeath and building on what would have been a demolished Central Park. Their argument was that local traders would suffer under the expansion of the Superstore chain and that decision also caused an Ayrshire-based company, who would also have built houses near Tesco, thus giving Cowden more cash to leave their crumbling home (built 1917), to pull out of talks with the club.
Between January 26th and April 5th 2008 Cowden lost six and drew one of their home league matches which went a long way to seeing Welsh and Co tumble from mid-table and a flirtation with the promotion play-off places to second-bottom of Division 2 and the kind of play-off territory nobody around Central Park wanted.
Now the Fifers face a play-off semi-final and (perhaps) final against Third Division promotion hopefuls in 2nd, 3rd and 4th below Champions East Fife who are automatically promoted.
Manager Welsh still feels Cowden have what it takes to overcome two two-legged encounters and win a third season outside the basement and all too familiar matches against the likes of East Stirlingshire, Albion Rovers and Stenhousemuir.
Welsh said : "If we are lucky with injuries and have everyone fit we can overcome Third Division opponents not once but twice and stay up. I am still confident we can stay in Division 2 for a third season and no matter what the boo-boys say that will be a significant achievement for this club. I know I am not popular with a lot of the guys on the terracing but we can survive any play-off encounters by all pulling together."
Although events off the field of play cannot directly be blamed for Cowdenbeath's current league placing the failure to see the future away from Central Park by local burghers has not helped things. Cowdenbeath continue to play in front of Third Division crowds in the Second Division and going through attendances in the Sunday papers anyone can see they still pull in only a slightly better home crowd than infamous SFL bottom feeders East Stirlingshire on the whole. Central Park continues as one of the most depressing venues for football in the Scottish senior divisions. The stadium looks even more like a venue for motor sport than it used to and the wide open space of the Central Park terracing which are no longer populated by miners standing shoulder to shoulder are a throw-back to the days of flat caps in the crowd and knee-length shorts on the field of play. (Stock Car Racing has of course been a staple diet of Central Park life for most years since the 1950's, the stadium is even renamed 'The Racewall ' on a Saturday night for 9 months of the year)
It maybe says a lot about where the local Scottish League team is in the concience of the Cowdenbeath populace as a whole when a Public Toilet that has stood just off the High Street for 40 years is raising a campaign to save it on the back of local council cuts which includes the closure of the Pit Road Loo. Column inches in the local press when the football club was refused planning application for their new stadium was nil. Angry of Cowdenbeath seemed to be replaced by couldn't care less of Cowdenbeath.
The cup-tie atmosphere of the play-offs may bring along interested parties who gave up on Cowden mid-season but a play-off final crowd at Central Park to match the Third Division title winning attendance will only be worthwhile if The Blue Brazil win. When Cowden were relegated after their 1970 and 1992 promotions it took them 22 years and 9 years respectively to win back their place outside the SFL no-hopers.
With little chance of improving their domestic surroundings in the near future a long run back in familiar Third Division surroundings beckons for Cowdenbeath if their young side cannot pull out a Brazil-like performance in the play-off matches to come and keep Cowdenbeath away from the worst of the worst in the SFL.
Ironically, Welsh will be able to taunt the 'Beath boo-boys who have been giving him major stick since the turn of the year with silverware should Cowden get to the play-off final and win it. A trophy is awarded to each of the play-off final winners in the Division 2 and 3 scenario (no play-off now between SPL and second top of First Division) so Welsh could yet become the only Cowdenbeath manager since Mixu Paatelainen to claim silverware in a national competition since the fateful promotion that never was in 1939. It seems in Scottish League football you get nothing for being second but you can get something for being 9th!
Ger Harley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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