Dunfermline back in the big time

Jim McIntyre
Jim McIntyre took over as Dunfermline manager at the end of 2007

It is 25 years since Jim Leishman began a First Division season that would end with Dunfermline Athletic making a long-awaited return to Scotland's top flight - and 15 since Bert Paton took them back there once more.

But it is another promotion hero to whom present manager Jim McIntyre can look for the most contemporaneous guidance - and some encouragement - on how the Fifers can survive and prosper in the Scottish Premier League.

Ten years ago, Jimmy Calderwood led Dunfermline to within a point of a top-six finish in his own debut season managing in Scotland's elite.

And, last term, he found himself in opposition as manager of Ross County while the Pars' late surge pipped Fife rivals Raith Rovers to the Division One title that brought with it a summer step up in class.

"They scored with the last kick of the ball against us in March - you could hear how much it meant to them from the singing in the dressing-room - and that win in Dingwall seemed to be the turning point of their season," said Calderwood.

There will be many Dundee fans who will argue that the Pars won the title by default as the run in might have been different had the Dens Park side - who finished 26 points behind - not received a 25-point penalty for going into administration.

"Rules are rules," said Calderwood. "Dundee managed to get a few loan players and trialists in and they and Barry Smith did brilliantly until they were hit by some injuries, but Dunfermline went on to be deserved champions."

The £550,000 the Leishman-era Pars were able to pay Bordeaux for Hungary midfielder Istvan Kozma remains a club record transfer fee.

Meanwhile, Calderwood was able to bolster a squad that already included former Scotland midfielder Ian Ferguson, international striker Stevie Crawford and a host of seasoned professionals with the likes of Lithuania defender Andrius Skerla and Barry Nicholson, the promising midfielder exiting Rangers.

McIntyre's main moves this summer have been to recruit former East End duo Paul Gallacher and John Potter, the goalkeeper and centre-half having last season narrowly avoided relegation with St Mirren, and retain the services of Kevin Rutkeiwitz, a defender initially signed on loan after being deemed not good enough for St Johnstone's starting line-up.

Although April's virtual promotion decider against Rovers came close, average attendances have never again matched the 12,500 achieved under Leishman.

"The finances of football have changed," said Calderwood, who pointed out that the current Dunfermline must be viewed in comparison with the relatively weaker strength of their SPL oppenents and not the team he eventually guided into Europe. "Rangers had brought in all the boys from Holland, while Celtic were able to pay £5m for a guy, Rafael Scheidt, who hardly played for them, but the Old Firm can't bring in the Ronald de Boers and Arthur Numans nowadays."

Calderwood believes two of his own former charges - forward Andrew Barrowman, the summer capture from County who previously experienced the SPL with Inverness, and Gary Mason - could prove to be McIntyre's trump cards along with striker Liam Buchanan.

"It was a big signing for them to keep Gary Mason," said the seasoned one-time Manchester City midfielder's former boss at East End.

"Buchanan will only get better and I know Andrew Barrowman really well having first tried to sign him for Dunfermline when he was 17 or 18 and with Birmingham.

"He did well for us against Dunfermline and I wasn't surprised they were in for him as he holds the ball up well. He did not score the goals he should have done, but there are goals in him."

So what kind of team can opposing fans expect to see this season?

"They won't bamboozle teams with the way they try to play good football, but they have a good work ethic," said Calderwood.

"I still live in Dunfermline and see the the players in the gym and you can see the spirit flowing through the team, but they have good players as well.

"Jim is a great professional, great with the players and, as a former striker, he is a football man. They don't have the quality to sit in and defend, so I would expect them to go and play, especially at home."

Dunfermline managed a six-year stretch in the SPL - five under Calderwood - before spending the last four back in Division One and their former boss does not expect a swift return to the second tier.

"It will be a tall order for them to get into the top six right away and, if you asked Jim now if he would accept second or third bottom, he would be very, very pleased," he said.

"But not many teams come straight back down.

"With some shrewd signings, the stadium and their spirit, they should do well.

"They have no divine right to be in the SPL, but it is great to see them back."

It was fitting that promotion should come 15 years since former Dunfermline captain Norrie McCathie died of carbon monoxide poisoning in his home during another title-winning season. Pars fans will be dreaming that the stand named after him witnesses a repeat of the fifth-place top-flight finish that followed.