In the 1990s, Dunfermline and Airdrie built up a rivalry that began when the Pars were awarded a dubious penalty kick late in a 1991 League Cup semi final between the teams. After Derek McWilliams scored, Dunfermline then went onto win the tie after extra time in a penalty shoot out. From that moment, the clubs - not linked geographically or for any other reason historically - became rivals for a few years, and meetings were often bad-tempered affairs. Dunfermline had 2 players red carded in a 1993 League game at East End Park when Airdrie visited, and in 1994, at the last game at Airdrie's Broomfield ground, the home side defeated Dunfermline 1-0 to damage Dunfermline's First Division title hopes, which the Airdrie fans celebrated as if they had won the league themselves. A couple of years later, a section of the Airdrie support then showed disrespect during a minute's silence to mark the death of Norrie McCathie. As years passed, however, and the group of players and managers that had taken part in most of the early/mid 1990s clashes left each club or retired, Airdrie gradually became just another club to Dunfermline. Their move to the Shyberry Excelsior Stadium also diluted the atmosphere between the clubs during games. All of the factors and changes covered above could now also apply to an even bigger rival, and our opponents on Saturday - Falkirk.
Dunfermline and Falkirk's rivalry grew through the 1980s into the 90s. Relations between the 2 sets of fans reached a low point in 1996, at Falkirk's Brockville ground, when a section of Falkirk fans on the terracing made the sound of gas escaping, a reference to Norrie McCathie's death. I was on the terracing that evening, and a riot almost broke out such was the fury among the Pars support. Some tried to get to the other side of the fence that separated the supporters. The atmosphere was dangerously ugly, and this continued for several years. In many ways, Falkirk became Dunfermline's fiercest rivals, even more so than the traditional Fife rivalry with Raith Rovers. While we always wanted to defeat Raith, their position as the "Wee Team" is summed up in the lyrics of a song that is still sung by Pars fans to this day - "we don't even hate you, you're just a wee team."
Not so with Falkirk - the clubs, similar in size and supporter base, and both having ambitions to establish themselves in the top division, continued to have an active dislike of each other.
Then something gradually began to change. The comparison with the Airdrie situation could be made again. Falkirk moved from Brockville to a modern, purpose built new stadium on the edge of town, imaginatively titled The Falkirk Stadium. Away days at Falkirk, so full of fire and venom at Brockville, now became almost soulless in the new stadium, which has never been completed, one side of the ground missing a stand, and the 2 sets of fans being kept apart before, during and - for the most part - after games. Pars fans occupy the away stand behind a goal, and although songs are sung back and forward, the distance between the supporters has the effect of watering down the atmosphere. What also hasn't helped is the Dunfermline team's awful record at Falkirk in recent years, typified by this season's timid displays, losing 2-0 and 2-1, and with the on-field temperature rarely rising above lukewarm. Games between the teams at East End Park have also been largely forgetful, and lacking in the feel and emotions of past decades.
The Airdrie and Falkirk comparisons could be due to the sanctification of modern football. Were the Bairns to have remained at Brockville - as Ayr United have done at Somerset Park - the chances are we would still relish an away day at Falkirk on the terracing, in pie-hurling distance of our rival's fans. Instead, we are a hundred yards apart and the action on the pitch also fails to raise the temperature, a pale shadow of the battles of Brockville. There is also the theory that there was never a solid foundation or concrete reason for the former intense rivalry, and so it was inevitable that it would eventually fade away.
In 2017, the Pars and the Bairns are like a divorced couple who once hated each other but, with the passing of time and no real foundation for continuing any bad feeling, now meet up at mutual friends' weddings or parties 4 times a year, and while they will never be friends, they tolerate each other.
3 points on Saturday would still be relished, even if games against our visitors from across the Kincardine Bridge no longer have the same passion.