A Hard Act to Follow
After last week’s fabulous trip to Pittodrie, we knew that the next hop would have a hard act to follow.
We need not have worried!
We chose to head to Stark’s Park, home to Raith Rovers and affectionately known by their supporters as the San Starko. This is the club supported by ex-prime minister of the UK, Gordon Brown and is probably their most famous fan that I am aware of.
During the week leading up to the game, a lovely guy by the name of Davie Hancock contacted me via Twitter and offered to show us around the club he was passionate about. He had seen our article from the Aberdeen trip and was keen to show me how Raith Rovers was a great football club and he didn’t let me down.
But first… some club history.
Raith Rovers – History
Some amazing stories and records abound at Stark’s Park, home of Raith Rovers football club. Not least of which, is their claim to be the only football club to have been shipwrecked!
After finishing the 1922/23 season third in the top tier of Scottish football, the players were taken on a reward trip to the Canary Islands to take part in a competition there. When the ‘Highland Loch’ reached the Bay of Biscay at Cape Finisterre, it hit stormy seas.
After running into a sandbank just off the northwest coast of Spain, the shout came to ‘Abandon Ship’ and the players, who had been mostly sleeping at the time, were forced to make for the lifeboats. Five hours later, they managed to make land and trudged to the small village of Villa Garcia.
At a time where Scottish tourism wasn’t something Spaniards were used to, the group would have made quite a strange sight to the local villagers, I’m sure. After five hours in lifeboats and no understanding of the Spanish language, they struggled to be understood.
Eventually, they made their way to the administrative centre of the region, in Vigo, and here is where their luck turned. The Highland Loch limped into port, having been salvaged but severely damaged. The team managed to save all their gear from the ailing ship and then joined a P&O liner bound for the Canaries. Not only did they make their way to the Canaries, but they also took part in the tournament, despite the shipwrecking drama.
British Record for Most Team Goals in a Season
In the 1937/38 season, Rovers set a record that still stands and may never be broken.
They scored an incredible 142 goals but even more incredible was the fact that 129 of the 142 came from just four players – Gilmour (35), Haywood (47), Whitelaw (26) & Joyner (21).
The Bravest Team
I’ve touched on this story before in my review of our visit to Tynecastle, to watch Hearts.
As well as the brave members of the Heart of Midlothian squad who joined McCrae’s Battalion, six Raith Rovers players also signed up to do their part in the war effort. This sacrifice has a particular resonance that touched our host for the day, Davie Hancock.
He cycled 760 miles to France to raise money as a tribute to these brave men and my cap is firmly doffed to him for making those sorts of efforts. Having met Davie and acquired a sense of his passion for Rovers, this doesn’t surprise me about him one little bit. You can read the full story here, from The Courier newspaper.
Archibald Leitch Stand
Anyone who looks into the history of football stadiums will probably have heard the name Archibald Leitch before. We have had the pleasure of sitting in two of his creations for consecutive weeks. First the Main Stand at Pittodrie and this week the unique ‘L-shaped’ effort at Stark’s Park.
The stand takes up the southeast corner of the ground, adjacent but not connected to the South Stand, and runs to the halfway line. The reason for this design becomes obvious if you look at the overhead views of the stadium. Behind this stand is Pratt Street and it runs in a diagonal direction that prevented the stand from being erected along the length of the pitch.
This season marks the centenary of the stand’s construction in 1923. Below is a remarkable photograph taken during the construction of the stand and it has been partially colourised by @JimFoy7.
See the houses on Pratt Street in the photo below. They are the direct result of the unique and historic stand that we still see today.
With all this history and more behind the club, I was looking forward to getting there and having a look around. A few people I have spoken to online who support different clubs have told me they have a lot of time and respect for Raith Rovers, so they must be doing something right!
Raith Rovers – Journey and Pre-Stadium
As is usual, when we make our trips up to Scotland, we took a bus to Newcastle and rode the train up to Kirkcaldy, the town in which Raith Rovers is based.
One ironic coincidence of note on the journey to Kirkcaldy, was when the man sat on the opposite side of the train struck up a conversation with us. Inevitably the conversation turned to the fact that we were heading to Stark’s Park to watch the Raith Rovers game. He then told us about one of his relatives who had played for Rovers as a ‘War Guest’ during the Second World War.
Apparently, he had scored twice for Rovers in a game against Rangers and the legend goes that he hadn’t a clue who they were playing against and when someone told him what he had achieved at half-time, his head went and he couldn’t play very well in the second half.
The gentleman wrote his story down for us and I promised to pass it on the people I would be meeting at the game. Life is just full of strange coincidences, isn’t it? It sounds from discussions after the game that his story checks out and the club are looking into it more now, so who knows if our chance encounter will lead to this guy being invited up to Stark’s Park as a guest one day soon. I hope to be kept up to date on that one if anything comes of it.
What a fantastic story!
We changed trains at Edinburgh Waverley and made the now familiar crossing of the Forth rail bridge. No matter how familiar It gets, it never ceases to be something that draws your eye as you cross, though.
After changing trains at Waverley, it takes a further 45 minutes to arrive at our destination. We missed our original planned connection due to the train into Edinburgh being a few minutes late. Despite this, after a quick text exchange to let Davie know, he was still there waiting to greet us as we arrived. His daughter Molli and wife Linzi were with him and after introductions, he drove us to a local bar for a quick drink and to meet a few of his friends and colleagues.
After arriving at the Novar Bar, the normally Raith Rovers clientele was outnumbered by the town’s ‘fans’ of the Glasgow clubs. This was due to the Glasgow derby being shown on TV and it’s indicative of the stranglehold these two teams have on Scottish football.
Raith Rovers are a Championship team and are more than capable of rising back up to the Premier League with a bit more backing and support. This makes it sad to me because so many people spurn their local clubs for a shot at glory hunting with teams from miles away when their own town has a perfectly good team to get behind.
It reminds me of when I was a kid when everyone supported Man United or Liverpool at school and hardly anyone supported the local teams. That has changed a lot in England since then and I hope the same can become true in Scotland. Glasgow’s population is more than big enough to support their teams, whereas towns like Kirkcaldy are not. At least, not when a large part of that population is giving their support to out-of-town clubs.
Interestingly, one of the facts I was told over the course of the day, was that Raith Rovers are one of only a select few teams to have beaten both Rangers and Celtic in cup finals.
Davie introduced us to some of his friends and colleagues, including Jim Clark, who is one of the two voices that come over the PA system at Stark’s Park. The other was Johnny McDonald, who we met later on. While Mrs Hopper got the drinks in, I was introduced to a few of the locals and sat talking with them about the club.
Hopefully, they could all understand my Staffordshire accent!
Mrs Hopper and I often cause confusion when we tell them that we live in the northeast of England, what with my Staffordshire accent and Mrs Hopper’s clearly American accent.
I noticed a superb painting on the wall behind where I sat, depicting one of Raith Rovers’ most famous games. It shows cameos of the games at both Easter Road (Hibernian’s stadium was used for the home game) and the Olympiastadion in Munich, where Rovers were beating the mighty Bayern 1-0 on their own patch. Although they eventually lost 2-1, Raith Rovers were credited as having given Bayern their hardest match on the way towards eventually lifting the (then) UEFA Cup (now the Europa League.)
The then Bayern manager, Otto Rehhagel, said the games against Rovers were “the toughest we endured during the competition”.
This is the original painting, although there are printed versions out in the wild too. As far as I could tell, there was nothing protecting the painting (glass etc), so I’m relieved that at least nobody can smoke in there anymore.
Having finished our drinks, we set off on the short journey to the stadium and were soon pulling into the car park, which lies in the shadows of the McDermid (North) Stand.
Davie led us in through a gate and we got our first glimpse of the ‘San Starko’.
To the right of us is the Railway Stand, the nearest part of which, houses away supporters (today at least), to the left is the famous old Turnbull Stand and directly ahead is the South Stand, where the majority of the home support sits. Behind us is the McDermid Stand.
The playing area is another example of a 3g synthetic surface.
From here we walked towards the area where Davie works (voluntarily) for Raith TV.
Rather off the cuff, he mentions covering fifteen seasons, around 600 games with at a guess 500 as a commentator. “It’s just what we do, fans helping fellow fans support and maintain links to our club, everyone wins”
Along with the rest of a tight-knit group of supporters who give skill, time and dedication to the task, they facilitate interviews and features with players and managers. Live broadcast output has changed post covid where the service provided much-praised streams worldwide. I’m sure this was financially important but for supporters of home and away teams the quality seems to have held attachments when they couldn’t be in the stands.
Regulations mean the video is now an overseas provision only, though live audio comms home and away are provided. The club open this up for free to season ticket holders which is a valuable addition to their ongoing support.
This is where we were introduced to Johnny McDonald, who is the team mascot’s stadium tour guide and match day announcer on the pitch side duties.
Johnny, like Davie, was another really nice guy and we were allowed to latch onto his tour with the team’s mascot for the day. This involved a look around the famous old stand, which includes the boot room, player’s area, manager’s office and boardroom. With it being so close to match time, obviously, the dressing rooms and manager’s area were out of bounds but it was still neat to see backstage and the highlight was the boardroom, where there were plentiful stories about the items kept in there.
Having seen the numerous photographs, pennants and stories backstage, we made our way to have a look at the graphics pinned to the inner concourse of the South Stand. Photographs lined the walls detailing some of Rovers’ history, including all the stories listed above and more. These make a great tribute to the club’s past and fans in that stand will hope to be a part of more history unfolding before them, with each coming season.
The club shop is also located in the South Stand. I’m not sure if the away fans have access to club merchandise. I know some fans like to collect things like pin badges from clubs they visit, so if there isn’t anything available for visiting support, maybe this is something that could be made available alongside programme sellers. Just a thought to be considered by the club’s decision-makers.
At this point, I would like to give a shout-out to Oscar ‘Ossie’ McDonald, Johnny’s son. At thirteen years of age, I would make a hefty wager that he is the youngest electronic scoreboard operator in Scotland. If you know differently, please let us know in the comments.
Raith Rovers – Stadium Gallery
The Italian Connection
You may have noticed among the photos above, a flag located on the Railway Stand that bears the phrase “Stregata Da Una Fede”. This translates directly from Italian to ‘Bewitched By A Faith’.
Why Italian? Why Bewitched by a Faith?
Both are good questions and both can be answered by Davie because he is directly responsible for them. Following a spell of watching Football Italia back in the ’90s on Channel 4 (they should bring that back!) Davie was looking for a team to get behind and he found the answer via an ex-Rovers player. Joe Baker, who had also played for Arsenal and Hibs, was at the Turin-based club, Torino. They also had rivals playing in black and white stripes (Dunfermline Athletic are the fierce rivals of Rovers) in Juventus, so it was the perfect match.
For about 15 years now, fans of Raith Rovers and Torino have visited each other’s stadiums on a regular basis and Torino fans even donated money to Rovers when they needed it most. They have played fans challenge matches both in Kirkcaldy and Torino. A 7-a-side tournament between local sides, Torino and fans groups including Arsenal, Hibs and Sunderland has taken place on the anniversary of the Superga air disaster. The victors win the Joe Baker Shield, which was originally presented by Joe’s widow.
From this Raith Rovers now has an officially recognised fan group through Torino FC, called ‘Scozia Granata’.
The phrase ‘Stregati Da Una Fede’ comes from Torino’s ‘Ultras Granata’ and was chosen out of respect for their Italian counterparts. It was used with special permission from the Torino Ultras who would never allow just anyone to use their mottos.
Raith Rovers – Pre-Game Videos of Stark’s Park
Raith Rovers – The Game
Having thanked Johnny for the tour we made our way to our seats in the Turnbull Stand. Technically we had designated seats but because there were plenty of empty ones to choose from, we decided to sit closer to the South Stand where the main bulk of the home support was situated. This meant we were in the _ section of the L-shape, and the south end of the stadium.
As with many of Archibald Leitch’s designs, there were pillars holding up the roof of the stand (the same was true last week at Pittodrie) and these can be frustrating when the action is taking place directly behind the pillar. Overall though, I have to say it was a great place to watch a game of football and the pillars aren’t enough of a distraction to detract from the overall view.
The game began with the backdrop of Rovers not having beaten Inverness in 28 straight games, with their last victory being a 2-1 win away in the old Scottish Division One, back in October 2000.
You didn’t come to this article to read a match report, so I will waste no time in saying that we couldn’t bring the home team any luck and that miserable run against Caley continued to 29 without a win after today’s match.
There will be street parties in Fife when they finally beat Inverness!
This game was a great example of winning the possession war being meaningless if you don’t take advantage of the chances created. Rovers dominated the possession stats with 64% of the game in their favour. Rovers kicked off the first half attacking the end housing the home support in the South Stand, and they had chances to take the lead early on.
Inverness defended deep to begin the game and Rovers pushed forward. It was Caley though, who had a big penalty claim turned down in the 10th minute after a shirt pull in the box was deemed ok by the referee. In the 23rd minute, Rovers fans held their breath after some good play by Jamie Gullan, who chipped the ball up and over a defender, ran onto the bouncing ball and lobbed his shot over the Inverness keeper but agonisingly, just past the post.
Gullen had to leave the field with an injury shortly after and was replaced by Connor McBride.
The next two big chances of the half both fell to Dylan Easton. The first was a shot from fifteen yards out that went just over the bar at the half-hour mark. His second chance, eight minutes later, resulted in a good save from Ridger in the Caley goal, who palmed the shot from the angle of the penalty area away for a corner, at full stretch.
In the 43rd minute, Rovers had a big penalty shout of their own turned down after Robbie Deas bundled over an attacker but was adjudged not to have committed an offence by the lenient referee. Personally, I would have given both claims as a penalty for each side.
There were two bookings in the first half and the second of these, for Caley’s number 8, David Carson, could easily have resulted in a red. Carson was shown a yellow and proceeded to try and pick a fight with anyone nearby. His intent, I’m sure, was to get at the person he held responsible for getting him booked but in my view, he was very lucky not to receive a second yellow for his petulant antics.
That brought to an end a first half that really should have seen the home team in the driving seat but chances were spurned and they would pay dearly for that in the second 45.
Half-time – Raith Rovers 0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0
At half-time, we were treated to some music by the Ingolstadt oompah band from Germany. Ingolstadt is twinned with the town of Kirkcaldy and regular visits and exchanges take place between the two.
The half-time entertainment involved Roary the lion mascot and lots of coloured balls being thrown onto the pitch by the younger children. One of the Raith Rovers club legends, Peter “Silky” Hetherston, joined Jonny on the pitch to be with Roary and the kids who were having lots of fun judging by the high-pitched yelling from the other corner of the South Stand.
The oompah band played on through all of this and as Peter Hetherston left the pitch, he was encouraged to take the baton away from the band and he briefly led the Rovers fans in clapping along. After this, the drummer took out a bullwhip and proceeded to show off his technique and brute strength by cracking it in time to the clapping of the Rovers fans.
Amazingly, HoppersGuide.com were also given a shout-out over the PA system and I have to say it felt like the red carpet had been rolled out for us by this fantastic team of volunteers that offer their services to the football club. Davie was quick to dismiss this thought when I said that to him pre-game and said “This is how all visitors to the club are and should be treated, it’s how this club works”.
What a fantastic outlook and it’s easy to see why those people dotted around the internet have told me they have respect for this club.
The Second Half
Caley had come into this game on a poor run of form, having lost their last three and having been knocked out of the cup by Motherwell. This was definitely a winnable game on paper for the home side, but bogey sides don’t care about current form and the second half was mostly Caley, in terms of real chances.
However, it was Easton for the home side again, with the first big chance in the 54th minute. His shot from the edge of the area landed on the top of the net.
From here on in, Caley took control.
On the hour-mark, a move down the left resulted in Inverness’s Daniel Mackay cutting into the box along the byline and being hacked down for a stonewall penalty to the visitors. The resulting spot kick was confidently dispatched by Scott Allardice, who sent the keeper the wrong way.
0-1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle!
Caley was looking the better side at this point and despite those possession stats I mentioned, it was they who looked the likeliest team to score the second goal of the game.
That is how it turned out but we had to wait until the second minute of injury time for it to happen. With Raith Rovers pushing forward, they were caught on the counter and with a three-on-one move the ball was squared past the lone defender, across the box for the onrushing Billy McKay to slot the ball home.
Full-time – Raith Rovers 0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2
Attendance – 1,745
Entrance Fee – £20.00
Programme – £3.00
Raith Rovers – Match Highlights
Raith Rovers – After the Game
After clapping the players from the field, we made our way to the opposite end of the Turnbull Stand in the hopes of catching the team to say our thank you’s to them before we left. I’m happy to say that we caught Davie, Johnny and Jim all and thanked them for their wonderful hospitality. We would have liked to stay longer and have a post-match drink with the guys but we had to be at Kirkcaldy train station for 17:24 and it is about a mile to the station, so we had to be on our way.
We negotiated a fairly straight run-through to the train station and arrived with five minutes to spare before our… cancelled… train was due to arrive. This was annoying but not important in the long run as our train back from Waverley wasn’t until just after 7 pm. Not that Scot Rail knew, or cared, about that.
It’s funny how they always claim a shortage of drivers and staff for cancelled trains, despite plenty of trains going in the opposite direction!
Anyway, public transport gripes aside, the rest of the journey went well. We caught our connection at Edinburgh on time and were back in Newcastle by 20:45. We then made a leisurely walk to catch our bus home at 21:05 and were in our town at around 21:55, just in time to pick up our pre-ordered pizza and chips before they close at 22:00.
All in all, what a fantastic day and I hope the volunteers at Raith Rovers know that they were very much appreciated for treating us so well and I hope the club continue to appreciate what they have in this team of dedicated people.
Thank you again to Davie, Jim and Johnny and everyone else who made us welcome in Kirkcaldy!
And for us?
Onto the next… Arbroath here we come! (Hopefully!)
6 thoughts on “Raith Rovers, Stark’s Park – Hopper Tales #32”
Thanks, John! Much appreciated.
I’m a Raith fan and everything u said and everything u experienced from the Team there is how everyone is and should be treated. The volunteers are a credit to the Rovers and make the club the community club that is should be..
I agree Scott but not every club does this, so Rovers should be proud of the team of volunteers that make their club so welcoming.
That’s an excellent review and a great read. Glad to hear that you were treated well and made welcome, I’m not surprised though the guys are all very dedicated and great at what they do.
Thank you for the positive feedback and for taking the time to read it, Bill! Raith Rovers have an excellent behind the scenes team.