Cowdenbeath midfielder, Craig Winter, clocked up appearing in 400 games for the Blue Brazil at the weekend during their 2-0 home win over Stirling Albion and is now closing in on featuring in a career total of 600 matches.
The player, affectionately known as ‘Toorie’ due to a hat he wore as a youngster, is in his second spell with the Second Division club after joining 17 years ago from Fife rivals Raith Rovers.
Winter is now the second highest ever Cowdenbeath appearance record holder and whilst he only needs five appearances to reach his half a dozen centuries of appearances, he has 91 to go before he draws level with goalkeeper Raymond Allan’s total.
The SFL Newsletter got together with the 35-year-old to discuss some of the more memorable matches and personalities from his career and we enjoyed the chat probably a lot more than Brechin City fans will.
Winter started with a goal scored in a memorable game just over 10 years ago:
5th May, 2001 - Cowdenbeath 2 Brechin City 1
“This was the last game of the season and we were involved in the hunt for promotion from the Third Division with Hamilton Academical and Brechin City. We were level on points with Hamilton although they had a much more handsome goal difference. Brechin were a point behind so we knew that a draw would see us promoted and potentially winning the League if Hamilton slipped up at Montrose.
“The title was soon gone as Hamilton were three up at half-time but we were one ahead. We knew that the League Championship was out of our grasp and as this was before the Play-Offs were introduced, it was looking good for being promoted.
“Well it did until Brechin scored an equaliser and they were only one goal away from being promoted themselves.”
What happened next is the stuff of legends as Winter explained: “The whole season had been nip and tuck between the sides and it came down to the last minute at Central Park in front of a crowd of 3,000. A cross came in from the right hand side into the Brechin box and I got my head onto it and the ball went in to win the game and, promotion. The roar from the crowd was fantastic and it was just a wonderful time.
“Craig Levein had been our Manager at the start of the season but he had left in the December and Gary Kirk took us up. It was my first promotion and a really special way to earn it.”
Another promotion occasion was Winter’s next choice as he explained:
16th May, 2010 - Brechin City 0 Cowdenbeath 3 ( First Division Play-Off Final Second Leg - Aggregate 0-3)
“The first leg of the Play-Off Final had ended goalless but we were three ahead at half-time in the second leg of the Final thanks to a goal from Joe Mbu and a double from Gareth Wardlaw.
“To go in with that lead was fantastic and Cowdenbeath players, officials and fans were just waiting for the party to get started. However, by this stage in my career, Brechin were a former club of mine and I did feel for the players and the Committee there.”
Winter was able to let his hair down on leaving Angus saying: “That was some night in Cowdenbeath as the town was simply buzzing after getting promotion to the First Division.”
Another success over Brechin:
18th January, 2003 - Brechin City 5 Cowdenbeath 7
“What a game that was and it was only 2-2 at half-time. Derek Clark, Chris Templeman, Kevin Fotheringham and Jamie Smith all scored for Brechin with David White scoring a goal for us and Derek Riordan grabbing a hat-trick. Kevin Gordon, Paul Hilland and Ian Mauchlen all netted for Cowdenbeath as well.
“It was just one of those games where every time we attacked, it felt like we scored and they were doing the same. I had thought Craig Gordon was in goals for us in that game but he was here the season before and it was Marc Graham who was between the sticks.”
Riordan, like Gordon, enjoyed a loan spell at Central Park before going on to play for Scotland and Winter remembers the former Hibernian and Celtic striker being a precocious talent as a 20-year-old saying: “You could see he was a player as he could score with his right foot, left foot and head. He always had a wee edge to him as well and you could tell he would go on to play in the SPL.
“The Brechin fans will quite rightly point out they were promoted that season and we were relegated but it was still a great victory.”
A heavy defeat however, recognition of sorts for Winter:
25th January, 1997 - Heart of Midlothian 5 - 0 Cowdenbeath
“This was certainly not the best result from my career but it was a great experience in the Scottish Cup at Tynecastle. In the build up to the game, the Edinburgh Evening News learned that Paul Ritchie, who was at Hearts at the time, and myself had been in the same teams growing up.
“I had started off at Hibs as a youngster and they thought it would be a good idea to have the two of us kitted out for a picture. Paul was in his Hearts kit and I put on Hibs gear.”
The picture reached a large audience with Winter saying: “I did not think much more of it until almost the entire Wheatfield Stand started giving me abuse from before the game started until it ended. It was my first experience at playing at a big Premier Division ground and I enjoyed it despite the scoreline and the attention I was receiving!”
3rd September, 1994 - Cowdenbeath 1 East Stirlingshire 1
“My first goal came during Paddy Dolan’s time as Manager of Cowdenbeath just after I turned 18 at Central Park. Paddy had been in charge at Hutchison Vale when I was a boy so it was good to score when he was there. I had been released by Raith Rovers and had a couple of Junior teams wanting to sign me but Paddy took me to Cowdenbeath as a move back to full-time football was just not happening.”
Winter described the goal as: “A long diagonal ball was played into their box and I stuck a foot onto it and put it back into the far corner. It sticks in my mind as it was a right good goal although there were not too many fans there to see it!”
Other Career Highlights
Winter stayed with the Blue Brazil from 1994 to 2004 and he then gave service to Brechin City, Dumbarton, Raith Rovers and Forfar Athletic before returning in the summer of 2009 and he has plenty of good memories from the 195 games he played in at those clubs.
Winter said: “When I was at Dumbarton, we played Celtic in the Scottish Cup and I was up against Neil Lennon, Evander Sno, Shunsuke Nakamura and Maciej Zurawski so that was quite an experience.
“At Forfar, I completed the Old Firm double by playing Rangers in a Scottish Cup tie that went out live on SKY TV. It was the only time I have been involved in a live TV game and it was against the likes of Lee McCulloch and Kenny Miller although we lost 4-0.”
The game was memorable for the wrong reasons for team-mate Elliott Smith with Winter saying: “Elliot was sent off in the second half for a horrible challenge on De Marcus Beasley. I have still got the game on DVD and I winch at the challenge. I wind Elliott up about it all the time as he is well-known for liking a tackle throughout his career.”
“I missed out on playing with Morgaro Gomis who went to Dundee United and the players say he was something a bit special but my favourite would have been Mark Yardley. He was a goalscorer and a half and he went on to play in the SPL with St. Mirren.”
Winter also praised a player from the other end of the park as he explained: “Kenny Milne was a really promising defender when he was on loan here from Hearts and it was no surprise he went on to have a good career at Partick Thistle and Falkirk.”
“This season has been a bit of a mixed bag for me as I have been in and out the team. We are by and large a young side and I am the oldest next to the Manager Colin Cameron and his assistant Lee Makel.”
On the chances of further promotion success, Winter said: “It is a good blend and everyone in the squad is fighting for the same aim and that is to secure promotion, preferably as Champions. It is a bit of a weird League and probably the hardest one to predict in the SFL as the teams are so well balanced.
“There is no full-time side having an advantage and anybody can beat anybody.”
Relationship with Cowdenbeath:
Winter’s relationship with the Central Park club goes back longer than just his playing days as he explained: “My dad was born in Cowdenbeath and I was a mascot for a game back in the 1980s when I was 6, 7 or 8. I am not sure exactly when it was but it was in the days before the old stand burned down.”
Winter’s first stay ended when he left for Brechin and it remains a disappointment that a move to full-time football never happened although he did come close in an unexpected place.
“I had a trial at Leyton Orient,” said Winter before adding, “and played for them in a Testimonial game against a Tottenham side that had the likes of Les Ferdinand and Stephen Carr in it. Moving to London would have been an experience and the Chairman down there, Barry Hearn, said he wanted it to happen however, the clubs could not agree a fee and that was that.
“Cowdenbeath always had a tie with me, maybe because of my dad, and I was lucky that there were a few Managers here that were always willing to keep me on.”
The club marked Winter’s achievement last weekend with Club Chairman, Donald Findlay, paying a warm tribute to the midfielder’s character and commitment as well as the contribution he has made to the club. A suitably engraved decanter with matching glasses was handed over to the player to mark his achievement by the club with the Cowdenbeath Supporters' Club also showing their gratitude for Winter’s efforts with a gift.
A Testimonial Committee is also to be formed to honour Winter's service with a series of events however, at the moment, he is concentrating only on clocking up the 600 mark.
Winter joked: “When I started out, I never thought I would get close to Raymond Allan’s record. I know Raymond and told him he should be safe enough as it would take me another three seasons to get near to him. If the boss wants to use me as a substitute for two minutes a game to allow me to get there, that’s fine by me.”