Kirkcaldy Ice Rink
As Kirkcaldy Ice Rink begins its 85th Anniversary season, we spotlight the early history of the rink, recognising its resilience, the dedication of the people who support it and the vision behind it.
Home to the oldest surviving club in top-flight British ice hockey, this
Architect's Initial Sketch of Kirkcaldy Ice Rink
‘large shed with art deco touches’ has survived myriad challenges and become so much more than simply a hub for ice sports.
Generations of players, performers, coaches and fans have found focus, friendship, relationships, something close to family.
Kirkcaldy in 1938 was very different world, a world in transition, with the threat of war looming over the arena’s state-of-the-art construction. We go back to place the rink’s origins in their social and sporting context and acknowledge the people who built it for future generations and trusted that they would come.
The Kirkcaldy Ice Rink
is to be opened next Saturday
For generations of ice sports’ fans, such a simple statement can arouse a fond sense of anticipation. Skaters, curlers, hockey fans alike will count down the days to a new season, the latest of which is promising a ‘new era’.
How much more exciting that headline must have been when it appeared for the very first time, prior to the Grand Opening of Kirkcaldy’s brand new ice rink on Saturday 1st October, 1938.
As we approach the 85th anniversary of that occasion, we can only admire the resilience of the town’s ice sports venue, the dedication of the people who support it and the vision of those who conceived, built and established it.
The rink - described by Scotland’s premier architectural historian John Gifford as merely “a large shed with art-deco touches” - may not seem to be an aesthetic wonder today but it sits proudly at the ‘top of the toun’, defying fashion and adversity.
The rink’s demise has been forecast many times. But it has survived economic fragility, eddying social and leisure trends, the roller-coaster ride of British pro and semi-pro ice hockey, potentially devastating fire damage, the Covid pandemic and - not least - a global conflict that erupted just a year after the rink opened and which had loomed over the arena’s conception and construction. The skills and resources of our community that built an ice rink would soon be deployed in a World War.
It withstood all of that, and still it stands, its principal function now as then, as a venue for ice hockey. Its original 4575 capacity is now reduced to 3280, considerably fewer than the crowds that sustain hockey in many modern arenas today.
But the Gallatown rink has bonus collective lung capacity. It has character. It has, literally, the longest history and it has a distinct atmosphere that engages like no other. On good nights and in good seasons, this ‘large shed’ still rocks.
The team that inspires and feeds off this atmosphere is the oldest surviving professional club playing in the top-flight of British ice hockey. Fife Flyers arose like many other teams, as did the rink and many others, in the wake of Great Britain’s sensational gold medal in the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany.
Just months after that Olympic triumph, a pioneering book was published - ‘Ice Hockey’ by Major B.M. Patton. Its back cover states simply “The recent growth of the popularity of Ice Hockey in this country has been almost phenomenal.” Fife was to follow the trend, and there is no doubt that the rise of ice hockey at this time was essential to the growth of indoor provision.
Ice hockey has sustained the arena through countless crises of confidence and each fresh season is met with the hope that this will be Another Great One. Successful Flyers’ teams have pulled in crowds - the 10th Anniversary year team coached by Al Rogers which clinched the Scottish League title in 1949; the 1964 multiple trophy-winners, the 1976/77 team that dominated the British game; the 1985 Wembley-winners; the one-season Czech experiment that drew huge admiration not just in Kirkcaldy but at rinks around the country; the millennium-year Grand Slam squad, the various new combinations of the Elite League era.
Great players and characters pulled on the first Flyers’ jerseys, led by first captain and mentor Les Lovell and Olympic gold-medallist Jimmy Chapell. Countless others followed through the generations - Opening Night mascot and future Olympian Bert Smith; Floyd Snider (“without doubt one of the greatest defencemen ever to play in Scottish hockey” – Hall of Fame citation); Verne Greger; the languid but lethal Les Lovell jnr; pint-sized blueliner Ally Brennan; gifted stick-handler Gordon Latto; top rookie and future coach Chic Cottrell; inspirational player-coaches Pep Young, Lawrie Lovell, Ronnie Plumb, Mark Morrison and Todd Dutiaume; the eternally classy Danny Brown; Czech masters Milan Figala and Vincent Lukac; NHL-thoroughbreds Al Sims and Doug Smail; teenage netminding prodigy Stephen Murphy; and Jack Dryburgh, player, coach, manager, visionary, who perhaps encapsulated best the spirit of the rink, with his deep interest in skating, curling and hockey, his flair for marketing and absolute enthusiasm for ice sports.
There have been so many more, standouts or stalwarts – everyone has a favourite, line after line of personalities, home-bred and imports . . . favourites fly past, legends of their time and part of a unique heritage that started in 1938, truly the dawn of a new era.
In celebrating Kirkcaldy Ice Rink - one of the larger and more permanent objects in our project - we cannot aspire to even a highlight reel of Fife Flyers. We have isolated a moment in time when Kirkcaldy suddenly (from land purchase to opening was less than 12 months) had an ice rink and became a hockey town. It still is.
Yet many of Kirkcaldy Ice Rink’s founders, funders and pioneers were initially enthusiasts not of ice hockey but of skating and of curling. Equally interesting, many of the original company of directors and tradesmen employed in the construction were not actually Kirkcaldy people (although indubitably Fifers and some very notable ones at that).
The ‘roaring game’ was central to the social and recreational lives of many of those behind the rink. After years of hearing ‘Hurry hard’ echoing around frozen lochs and ponds, the curlers had their ‘hoose’ within a permanent home. And Kirkcaldy was able to host and nurture new generations of skaters and ice dancers under their own 145-foot long roof.
Ice sports have naturally dominated but from its inception Kirkcaldy Ice Rink set out to diversify and over the years has housed myriad cultural and sporting activity in the name of entertainment, from dancing, big bands, rock concerts, dog shows, motor shows, ice motor bike racing, car boot sales, professional boxing, wrestling, street hockey tournaments, even a live screening of a Billy Graham evangelism event in 1991.
Kirkcaldy Ice Rink’s roots lie deep. It was conceived and built by local people who had a vision. A name change to Fife Ice Arena sought to broaden its identity but for many it’s still simply ‘the rink’.
It is also for many some kind of home. Generations of ice sports enthusiasts, players, performers, coaches, workers, fans have found more than employment or enjoyment there. They have found a focus, friendship, relationships, something close to family.
It’s also been a kind of portal to the world – globe-trotting hockey players, skaters, curlers and performers, fans from other towns and countries, broadcasters, advertisers can find Kirkcaldy on a map because of its ice pad.
For that we owe thanks to the rink founders, and to those who have respected and protected their great legacy. In making Kirkcaldy Ice Rink one of our 50 objects, we hope to pay due tribute to the vision of the rink founders, to place its origins in context and, above all, to acknowledge our debt to the people who built it for future generations and trusted that they would come.