The term "legend" is used all too often to describe players who are elevated to a status well above their true worth, just as others are described as "stars". When an actual legend leaves a club, it is only right to pay a full and proper tribute. With yesterday's news of Joe Cardle departing East End Park, our club has lost its greatest modern day legend - a player who made over 200 appearances for the Pars, was instrumental in 2 promotion winning campaigns, and who after being jettisoned due to administration, returned to the club and made an even bigger impact in his second spell, contributing on the field and being one of the best off-field ambassadors for Dunfermline Athletic.
Joe Cardle joined Dunfermline in 2009 after leaving former club Airdrie. Pars manager Jim McIntyre gave Cardle his debut in July 2009 in a League Cup win against Arbroath. The following week, Cardle scored his first Dunfermline goal in a league win at Morton. He would be a regular part of the team in his first season. The next season, 2010/11, saw Cardle play 35 times in the title winning season that took the club back into the Premier League. The Pars suffered relegation the season after, despite Cardle scoring 8 League goals from the wing. New manager Jim Jefferies reshaped the squad over the summer of 2012 but Cardle was still a main player in the team that led the First Division and seemed set for an instant return to the top flight until financial problems and eventual administration decimated the squad and saw Cardle released along with most of the other senior players in March 2013. It was devastating for the player and the club and a sad way to end what had been a mostly successful 4 years at the club.
Good players are always in demand, especially in the circumstances that Joe Cardle found himself in: a free agent at 26 years old, about to enter the peak years of his career. A year with the Wee Team was followed by a season at Ross County, where he reunited with his former Dunfermline boss Jim McIntyre. This was McIntyre's second spell as a Premier League manager and he adopted a more pragmatic style at Ross County, after being fired by Dunfermline towards the end of the 2011/12 season with the club heading for relegation. The open, attacking style he had favoured with the Pars was replaced by a more disciplined, defensive system at Ross County, which served him well, but saw flair players such as Cardle being marginalised. When the 2014/15 season ended, a return to Dunfermline was completed when Cardle became one of Allan Johnston's main signings that summer, with the club determined to get out of League 1 under the new manager.
Cardle, along with players such as Faissal El Bakhtaoui, lit up League 1 and were the creative sparks that saw Dunfermline win the title with games to spare, scoring goals for fun (at one point the team were top scorers in Britain); Cardle himself scored 15 goals, the best goalscoring season of his career. The link up play of Cardle and Michael Moffat, together with and clinical finishing of El Bakhtaoui, made 2015/16 one of the most enjoyable seasons in recent times to be a Pars fan.
The return to the Championship in 2016/17 saw Cardle figure less as a starter, with Paul McMullan preferred on the left wing. Joe's appearances, particularly in the second half of the season, came mainly from the bench. Unsurprisingly, he was keen to make an impact in the limited game time given to him but that often had the effect of him almost trying too hard and losing the assuredness he had when selected from the start of games.
McMullan's departure at the end of the season gave Cardle a chance to re-establish himself in the team. Right from the start of pre-season it was obvious that Joe was determined to make an impact: his display in a public park against Partick Thistle in the first pre-season friendly last summer saw him put in an energetic performance, seemingly reinvigorated. When the competitive games began, his good form saw him named Championship Player of the Month for August 2017. He scored 9 goals in the opening 11 games of the season, one of which, a goal of the season contender, coming against Hearts at Tynecastle in the League Cup.
A hamstring injury in September, with the team top of the Championship, had a big impact both for the player and the club. Returning from injury 6 weeks later, Cardle maintained the same level of enthusiasm but could not recapture his scintillating early season form. More often used as a substitute, he was forced to watch from the bench as Fraser Aird took over the left wing slot. Yet the was still magic in the Cardle boots and he made 2 significant contributions in the limited time he was given towards the end of the season: on 21 April at Inverness, again as a sub, he flighted in a perfect ball for Nicky Clark's 95th minute equaliser, a goal that effectively sealed Dunfermline's play-off place given the consequences of losing that game; and then the following week, against Dumbarton, he played in Ryan Williamson for the fullback to score his first ever goal, in what would be Cardle's last appearance at East End Park.
There are few players who excite a crowd and who can light up games by themselves. Joe Cardle is one of those. We will miss him doing his trademark cut inside, which no matter how often it happened, was still difficult for opponents to defend against. Crucially, the cut inside was usually followed by an end product, which saw Cardle score 54 goals for Dunfermline in his combined 7 years as a Par. The goal assist tally would be equally impressive ( I do not have those stats for his early years) but he directly set up 9 goals in 2017/18, in addition to scoring 10. All of which would suggest that he was worth another contract - another year would have been deserved, not through sentimentality but because this is a player still capable of contributing on the pitch. He is also a great character to have around the club, a huge fan favourite who did much to boost the club's profile. But he is gone now, fully deserving his place on the list of club legends. His Pars career spans 9 years, 7 of those in the black and white. Thanks for everything, Joe.