Pat Savage: Footballer & Soldier
A Fife Footballers Great War Story
Pat Savage was born at the Little Raith Colliery just on the South edge of Cowdenbeath in Auchtertool Parish on the 19th of November 1882. He was the son of pithead worker Elizabeth Savage, unfortunately his mother died when Pat was very young and was brought up by his maternal grandmother Grace Savage as part of her own family.
Pat first went down the pits in 1892 at the age of 10, by the time he reached his 18th birthday he was the head of the household at 66 Broad Street Cowdenbeath. Although he worked in the pits, Pat inherited his love of football from his uncle James, who had played full back for the local team Cowdenbeath FC. Pat it seems showed some early talent as a goalkeeper and would eventually follow in the footsteps of his uncle into the Cowdenbeath first team, though he initially started in the junior ranks with Cowdenbeath Athletic.
Pat first signed for Cowdenbeath FC in 1905 as a substitute to the established goalie Joe Dickson, as the Miners (this was before the days of the Blue Brazil) made their Scottish League debut; the miners had just been elected to the Second Division. From 1907 Pat became a bit of a footballing nomad. Firstly he dropped a level for a season, being reinstated as a junior at Hearts of Beath for the 1907/08 season. In August 1908 Pat joined Dunfermline Athletic, who were playing in the Northern League at the time. The footballer made his debut for the Pars at East End Park against Kirkcaldy United. The football correspondent for the Dunfermline Press was obviously impressed by the team’s new goalie when he summed up Dunfermline’s first performance of the season he said,
“Of the new men Savage eclipsed the rest he was simply a marvel, and the spectators were perfectly astonished at the way he dealt with some of the shots.”
Aged 32 Pat signed for his home town team; he came back to Cowdenbeath in 1914 as a backup goalkeeper to Donald Cameron. However, he also took on some duties as an assistant trainer. Pat’s experience seemed to steady the ship and he played a pivotal role in securing the Second Division title. Cowdenbeath were so impressed by the emergency cover that Pat was kept in goal.
In October 1915 Pat would again leave North End Park but this time it was to join the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry for the biggest away fixture of Pat’s life. Pat had been persuaded to join up by a local referee, Sergeant Grieve from Dunfermline. Grieve knew that Pat was an excellent shot from his frequenting of Cowdenbeath’s miniature rifle range. By the time Pat had joined the regiment it was the 14th Battalion of the Black Watch (Fife & Forfar). This regiment had been involved in the Gallipoli Campaign and the subsequent evacuation of the peninsular. Pat was initially based in Aldershot for his basic training and while based there he signed for English club Reading FC.
The 14th Battalion of the Black Watch were heavily involved in the Palestine Campaign. In the spring of 1917 the Battalion as part of the 74th Yeomanry Division were involved in the 2nd Battle of Gaza and later the 3rd Battle of Gaza; the latter included the captures of both Beersheba and Sheria. The 74th then captured and held Jerusalem at the end of 1917.
In March 1918 the Division were given orders that they were to be deployed in France and by the 7th May 1918 the first units arrived in Marseilles. In the final months of the war the 14th Black Watch would be involved in the most decisive battles on the Western Front, including the 2nd battle of the Somme and the final push in Artois and Flanders. According to the records of the Fife & Forfar Yeomanry they sustained 286 fatalities and over 600 officers and men were wounded, it is a minor miracle that Pat came through the war unscathed. Death does not distinguish between rich and poor and Iain Couper Nairn – to whom both the war memorial and museum in Kirkcaldy are dedicated- was a member of the same regiment as Pat. Captain Nairn lost his life on September 2nd 1918 at Moslaine.
When Pat returned in 1919 he resumed his playing career briefly with Cowdenbeath FC before moving again to Hearts of Beath. Even at the age of 36 he still attracted the attention of a senior club, when St Bernard’s signed him as a reserve goalkeeper. The 1921/22 season would be Pat’s last as a senior footballer; at 39 he was still good enough to make 3 appearances for St Bernard’s. His Last game came in a 3-2 win over Clackmannan. However, Pat continued to work down the mines until 1949 when he retired after 56 years at the age of 66.
Patrick Savage died on November 9th 1969 at 204 Foulford Road Cowdenbeath, he was a well-known character around the town and worked as a barman at the Commercial Hotel, he was one of the oldest members of the Thane Lodge No781. For being just an ordinary man Savage seems to have lived a remarkable life.
Special thanks to Martin Boyle for allowing us to tell the story of his Great Great Uncle Pat Savage, a true footballing hero.