Raith Rovers

Faith in Raith broken by absurd transfer decision

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

In a history dating back to 1883, Raith Rovers have only stolen the limelight twice. In November 1994, The Rovers beat Celtic on penalties to win the Scottish League Cup. A year later, they went into half-time 1-0 up against the Bayern of Klinsmann, Kahn and Hamann.

Neither of these momentous events took place in the club’s home town of Kirkcaldy – don’t look for Raith on the map, unless it’s one depicting the historic ancestry of the Kingdom of Fife – but the fact they stand out suggest a certain level of modest slog over decades of football.

To be fair, in this pantheon of Rovers achievements there should be included the Raith side of the 1950s starring a young Slim Jim Baxter and stalwart captain Willie McNaught, worthy challengers but never winners.

For most of the intervening seasons, Raith have been second or, later, third, tier, winning seven league titles. The most recent, in 2009, has meant that The Rovers have been in what is now the Scottish Championship. In 2016, they came within a play-off of the Premier – the club hasn’t been top tier since the eventual mid-1990s.

Joining the Scottish League in 1902, Raith made the Division One in 1910 and three years later their first and only Scottish Cup final – but froze against fellow debutants Falkirk and lost 2-0.

After World War I, when scouting in the Glasgow Junior leagues, dedicated Raith director RJ Morrison spotted a young talent in Alex James. Small and sleight, playing in what would become his trademark baggy shorts, James didn’t convince the other board members when invited for a trial – Morrison dipped into his own pocket to cover the youngster’s wages.

Signed in 1922, the later four-time title-winner with Arsenal and Scottish international would spend three years at Stark’s Park, Raith’s home since 1891. He earned the club £3,000 when sold to Preston in 1925.

Relegated a year later, Raith bounced between the 20-team tiers of the Scottish League until the 1970s. High points came in 1938, and the Second Division title win with a record 142 goals, and in the 1950s. Captained by five-time Scottish cap Willie McNaught, the so-called ‘Iron Man’ who learned his football in the army, Raith made three Scottish Cup semi-finals and twice finished top five in the First Division. A 5-1 win over Rangers in 1956 is considered the high-water mark of this Raith side. 

A year later, locally born Slim Jim Baxter came into the team, and was instrumental in Raith’s 3-2 win over Rangers before heading to Ibrox for a then Scottish record transfer.

McNaught’s career-ending departure for Brechin came in 1962, at the age of 40. Twenty years later, his son Ken won the European Cup with Aston Villa.

That first season of 1962-63 without McNaught, Raith shipped 118 goals but sprang back under George Farm before he left for Rovers’ biggest rivals, Dunfermline.

Fortunes changed with the arrival of former Manchester United and Northern Ireland full-back Jimmy Nicholl as player/manager in 1990. Overseeing a professional outfit, Nicholl joined at the same time as midfielder Colin Cameron, who signed as a youth player while still at the school next door to Stark’s Park, Balwearie High. Inheriting the prolific Gordon Dalziel and welcoming another striker in young Stevie Crawford, Nicholl led Raith to an emphatic First Division title in 1993. Dalziel’s 33 goals made him top league scorer that season but Raith then struggled in the top flight.

Nicholl retired as a player but persuaded former Dundee United and Scotland centre back David Narey over to Stark’s Park. Playing 20 odd games for Raith, Narey was the lynchpin in the club’s memorable campaign of 1994-95, turning in a man-of-the-match performance in the Scottish League Cup final against Celtic. Pitted against Charlie Nicholas, John Collins and Paul McStay, Narey and former Tannadice team-mate Scott Thomson in goal kept out waves of Celtic attacks after Cameron opened the scoring with a snap shot.

All seemed lost when Nicholas pounced on a late rebound to put The Hoops ahead but a jink and cross from Jason Dair, and opportunistic header from Dalziel, tied the game. Raith’s young players kept their heads in the penalty shoot-out, Walker almost kept out a weak spot-kick from Mike Galloway then saved a fiercer one from Celtic captain McStay.

Raith followed up the shock win with the Division One title, a satisfying one point above Dunfermline. First beating Scandinavian opposition in their debut European campaign, Rovers won through to the Second Round of the UEFA Cup – to face Bayern Munich. Switching the home tie to Hibs, Raith didn’t wilt after Jürgen Klinsmann gave the Bavarians an early lead, eventually losing 2-0 on the night. 

At the Olympiastadion, Rovers took a surprise lead before half-time when a free-kick from Daniel Lennon deflected off the head of Andreas Herzog. Raith’s 45 minutes of Eurofame ended with a defensive slip that allowed a Bayern equaliser, and a scrappy second goal soon afterwards.

Months later, Raith lost Nicholl (plus Dair and Crawford) to Millwall and dropped from the Premier for the last time to date. While able to revamp Stark’s Park – Bayern were gracious enough to play a curtain-raising friendly – the club then slumped down to the third tier in 2002.

Behind the scenes, Glasgow property developers were eyeing up Stark’s Park for its valuable real estate. As disaster followed disaster on the pitch – Claude Anelka, brother of Nicolas fielded bargain-bin compatriots from across the Channel, with inevitable results – a fan-based campaign generated a community buy-out of the club in 2005. Smoothing the wheels was then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, a lifelong Raith fan.

Winning the third-tier Second Division in 2009 – with average crowds of 2,000-plus, three times more than most of the league – Raith returned to second-flight football.

Gates have stayed relatively healthy, boosted by occasional league games with Rangers and recent ones with Dunfermline. Finishing fourth in 2016, Rovers made the play-offs but a return to the Premier after 20 years was never on after Hibs scored two early goals in the away leg of the play-off. For 90 minutes at Stark’s Park, though, Raith had held back the Hibees and even gained a surprise 1-0 aggregate lead in the tie. Hope springs eternal – and brings 5,000-plus crowds to Stark’s Park for rare play-off games.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Stark’s Park, San Starko to tongue-in-cheek locals, owes its neat, modern appearance to a single penalty save. When Scott Thomson blocked Paul McStay’s spot-kick to win Raith the League Cup in 1994, it qualified the club for the UEFA Cup, and a money-spinning tie with Bayern Munich. After Raith allocated funds to the rebuilding of the North and South Stands behind each goal, the record German champions came to Kirkcaldy to play (and lose) a curtain-raising friendly.

Later named after the father of author Val McDermid who was a Rovers scout, the North Stand accommodates away supporters – numerous for recent visits by Rangers, Hibernian and Dunfermline. The South Stand is the home end.

The symmetry becomes somewhat skewiffy along the sidelines, where the main stand, first built from proceeds of the sale of Alex James to Preston in 1925, barely reaches as far as the halfway line. As if to compensate, it fills one corner behind the south goal. Opposite, the Railway Stand has long been out of use, although the half of this side nearest the McDermid Stand can be given over to an overspill of away support should occasion demand.

Capacity is an all-seated 8,000-plus, depending on how much of the ground is being used.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

Stark’s Park is about a mile south of town and Kirkcaldy’s bus and train stations. There is no public transport, only a school bus service on weekday afternoons.

taxi (see Kirkcaldy transport) from town should cost £5. Otherwise, it’s a 15-20min walk from town down Abbotshall Road, past Beveridge Park and the rugby club. After the park, the road becomes Pratt Street, with the ground on your left 300 metres along.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

There are two match-day ticket outlets, the main office for home fans by the main stand and a kiosk behind the North McDermid Stand for away supporters.

For most matches, it’s an across-the-board admission price of £15. Accompanied under-16s are charged £5, unaccompanied 12-16s £8. Seniors pay £8, students and jobseekers £10 if the game is non-ticketed.

For big-name fixtures, such as the visit of Dundee United in March 2017, prices rise to £20, £10 discounts. In these cases, the ticket office opens at 12.30pm, 2.5hrs before kick-off, and 2pm for away fans.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

There’s a match-day club shop in the home South Stand, just big enough to display a selection of home (navy blue) and away (red/white) kits, scarves, club ties and beach towels.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s no bar at the ground – even hospitality packages in the Raith Suite require guests to pay for beer.

Many supporters meet at the main Raith bar in town, The Novar in Nicol Street, at the south end of the centre under 10min walk from Stark’s Park. Its walls a pictorial history of the club, framed and occasionally autographed, the Novar offers TV football, superior pub food (haddock, steak pies, curry) and friendly beers.

Towards the ground, the bar at the Kirkcaldy Rugby Club is handy as a pre-match swiftie for away fans. As you’re walking down from Kirkcaldy station, the rugby pitch is at the end of Abbotshall Road – turn right into Balwearie Road just before the railway bridge. As kick-off approaches, walk back under the railway, then veer right into Pratt Street, continuing for 6-7min until the ground appears on your right.