Howe of Fife RFC History
Club History In the early part of the 20th century any aspiring rugby player living in North East Fife had to go outside the area for his favorite sport. Apart from RAF Leuchars and St. Andrews University, whose clientele were restricted, there were no clubs in the area. The formation of the Howe of Fife Rugby Club in the spring of 1921 did much to meet the needs of the farmers who would form a majority of its members. The word Howe means fertile hollow, and it was in the middle of this area, at Heatherinch Farm Ladybank, that the now-familiar blue and white hoops were first seen.
First captain was Lex Bonthrone, one of three brothers who played in the team, and another doughty figure of these early years was HL Stewart, later capped for Scotland - at cricket! - and also to be captain of Cupar RFC after its reformation in 1928.
A move to Drumtennant Farm at the south end of Ladybank took place in 1923, and Howe continued as one of the best sides in the Midlands District until the breakaway movement to revive Cupar RFC (Which has existed off and on since the 1870's) took away many of the better players.
During the 1930's Cupar were the stronger side, winning the North of Scotland Cup in 1934, and it is difficult to say how long two Clubs separated by only six miles, as the crow flies, would have continued if war had not broken out in 1939. After peace returned it was realised that a merger was in the best interests of both parties, and this eventually took place in 1946. The name Howe of Fife remained, as this Club had always been members of the SRU, while Cupar had not been, and the blue and white hoops remained, although the change strip was the red and white hoops of Cupar. The combined Club played its matches at the Bell Baxter High School playing-fields at wetlands, Cupar, until 1951 when they relocated to the newly created annex of Duffus Park.
First Captain of the combined side was JL Stewart, younger brother of HL whose rugby days were over by now, but who was still active in the world of cricket.
Duffus Park annex did not have a pavilion and the Club had to use the Royal Hotel in Cupar as its changing and washing-up accommodation. This practice came to an end in September 1958 with the opening of a new pavilion at the west side of the park, which was marked by a match against the famous green jerseys of Hawick RFC. Howe put up a creditable performance against their more illustrious opponents before going down 14 - 3.
The Howe's play was founded on a strong pack which contained seven farmers. Behind them was Tom Pearson, later to become an SRU bigwig at scrum half, while other canny operators in the backs included such as Danny Gough and Bert Gibson. The SRU selectors soon recognised the merits of Dave Rollo at prop, for he won the first of his 40 Scottish caps against England in March 1959.
Joe Manson, another prop, began his career in September 1960, and when he finally retired in 1979 he had made 469 appearances in the blue and white hoops. He was also a goal-kicker and his tally of 1748 points was only recently exceeded by Mark Stevens , who started playing in the mid-eighties for the Howe colts, and retired in 2003, after playing 437 games and amassing 2604 points including 123 tries. Another long-serving player was Ian Kirkhope who could have moved to a more prestigious club but remained loyal to the Howe all his days. He began in 1966 and made the last of his 442 1st XV appearances 30 years later.
The 1973/74 season saw the start of the playing career of Chris Reekie, another player of remarkable longevity, who retired for the first time in March 1998 after appearing in 542 games and scoring 250 tries. After a two year sabbatical, the winger/centre returned as club coach who, when required, also became a club player. Although retiring as club coach at the end of the 2003/04 season no second "last" game as a player has been mentioned, even after 574 games.
The Club went through a bad spell in the 1970's and when league rugby came to Scotland in 1973 they were placed in Division 4. Howe's fortunes revived and after a couple of near misses they won promotion to Division 3 in 1977. Another advance to Division 2 followed five years later and they could claim to be the strongest Club in the Midlands at this time. The 1984-85 season was their best at this level, their pack containing Gordon Hamilton, who was later to wear the green of Ireland with distinction. Unfortunately a slow decline set in a couple of years after this high point, and indeed in the dozen years following 1988 Howe were relegated five times with only one promotion in 1997 to offset the unhappy trend, ending in National League 4 in the season 2001/02. The prospect of no National League games at the Howe focussed the minds of both players and committee with the result that in the last three years Howe have been promoted twice and are currently playing in National League 2.
In common with many clubs Howe have suffered from the loss of players, partly because of the decline in school rugby, and partly because of the decrease in local working opportunities. Although there is nothing the Howe can do about the increasing mechanisation in farming and the changing employment patterns in both the Howe and Cupar the club can and has taken steps to insure its future. In 1976 it formed its first nursery for rugby players, and Howe mini rugby was born. Today that youth program has been successfully expanded to include rugby for all age groups, from mini rugby, to midi rugby, to colts. All of this is designed to give youngsters the enthusiasm and playing skills to enjoy rugby and hopefully one day play senior rugby for the Howe.
The club is committed to this program, we are seeing success, so long may it continue.
(Thanks go to A.C. Baxter aka 'Scribe' for the brief Club History)
Anyone interested in learning more about the History of the Howe can purchase the 50th Anniversary Book.