Roth Raivers: Part 1 – Welcome to Raith

Fledgling football manager Robí di Lathamé awakened with a start as the wind whistled around the bedroom in his traditional Bed & Breakfast. He rose from the warm bed and immediately regretted it as the brisk Scottish wind whipped against his body, forcing him to reach for his fresh new club hoodie to keep warm.

He stretched and took in the beautiful scenic view as small waves calmly lapped over the pebbles of Kirkcaldy Bay. The delicious smell of bacon and sausages filled his nostrils and he made his way towards it, where surprised eyes and silence met his appearance in the dining room of the peaceful, but busy small town establishment.

A man more akin to the warmer climes of Lisbon, Valencia and Sardinia was adorned in the colours of the breakfast diners’ beloved small-town club. And they were all eager to get the lowdown on the mysterious manager they’d just been reading about in the back pages of the Sunday morning issues of The Courier and Fife Today.

The papers, in the absence of di Lathamé’s football management career, had been filled with somewhat loose stories of supposed experience managing in Scotland. These seemed to largely revolve around a somewhat tenuous claim that he’d “managed Livingston on Championship Manager about 20 years ago,” which didn’t exactly fill the locals with confidence.

However, the 35-year-old manager, who the early-rising residents noted had a lovely head of blonde hair, had filled them with joy with his tales of his father’s rather random affinity towards Raith Rovers.

While they remained sceptical of his lack of managerial experience, they were impressed by a football career in which he was unlucky not to get an international call-up. They were also pleased by his willingness to work from the grass roots up, keen focus on youth development and his recently acquired Continental B coaching licence.

di Lathamé accepted a mug of thick coffee and tucked into a hearty Scottish breakfast of square lorne sausage, link sausages, fried egg, streaky bacon, baked beans, black pudding, haggis, tattie scones, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast while fielding questions from his attentive audience. While doing so, he began to get acquainted with some of the local media outlets, which were running stories along the lines of this:

Welcome to Raith

The new Raith Rovers manager eventually dragged himself away from the residents’ questions, showered and decked himself out in his finest blue suit to meet his new employers.

di Lathamé took another look at the blissful bay and murmured to himself “I could get used to this but it’s not quite Sardinia” as he fired up his rental car and began the short drive towards Stark’s Park. The sight of Kirkcaldy Golf Course and Kirkcaldy Golf Club a 5-iron away from his new place of employment also helped him feel more comfortable in his new surroundings.

The local media had clearly gained wind of his imminent arrival as a couple of journalists grasping Raith Rovers coffee mugs – presumably for the warmth rather than the taste – a photographer and a bloke holding a camcorder in one hand and an Irn Bru in the other had gathered in the car park. He gave them a polite wave then posed for a photo and signed an autograph on a recent programme for a young lad decked out in a full Raith kit and hastily made his way towards the stadium in search of the corporate facilities.

He was quickly greeted by club owner John Sims and chairman Bill Clark, who offered warm handshakes and beaming smiles that instantly calmed the somewhat nervous new manager. They offered him a coffee and immediately led him on a tour of the unique looking ground.

They quickly got down to business, detailing that they concurred with di Lathamé’s youth development ethos and would like for him to focus on bringing in young players that they could sell for a profit. They also explained they expected their new manager to aim for the playoffs at a minimum this season, despite talk in the media of the club finishing in 2nd place in League One.

With all of that amicably agreed, Sims and Clark swiftly moved onto the tricky issue of money. That being, there wasn’t much of it. The club currently has a bank balance of £60,000, a £5,000 transfer budget and £11,000 monthly wage budget. Furthermore, they were planning to commit just 35% of any revenue into transfer funds.

With di Lathamé looking less then impressed, the duo decided that was a good time to bring in a few local residents to give di Lathamé a taste of his new home and some insight into who Raith Rovers were. Cue two interesting looking characters kitted out in Raith shirts and scarves and armed witha snazzy Powerpoint presentation that laid out the following…

Who are Raith Rovers?

Raith Rovers are based in the Scottish town of Kirkcaldy, a town of around 50,000 people in the county of Fife – which makes it the 12th most populous settlement in Scotland. Kirkcaldy is situated on the east coast of Scotland, 11 miles north of Edinburgh and 27 miles south-west of Dundee.

Kirkcaldy has been inhabited since way back in the Bronze Age, while the first documents referring to the town date back to 1075. Its harbour made the town an important trading port for the salt, coal mining and nail-making industries in the 16th Century then later became instrumental in the production of linen and linoleum, which was central to the town’s growth through the 1950s and 1960s.

The town’s football club was established in 1883 and played at Robbie’s Park. It competed with local sides around Kirkcaldy initially, but became an innovator in the Scottish game when introducing the use of a ball in training for the first time in the country in 1921.

Raith Rovers’ highest-ever league finish saw them come third in Scotland’s top tier in 1921/22. The following decade, Raith set a British record haul of 142 goals in 34 league games as they won the 2nd Division – a record that still stands to this day.

Raith’s greatest footballing achievement is winning the League Cup (now the Betfred Cup) in 1995. They beat Celtic on penalties in the final, which saw the club play in Europe for the first time in its history in 1995/96 and eventually got knocked out by eventual winners Bayern Munich in the third round. In the same season, the club finished 6th in the Scottish Premier League.

They also won the Scottish Challenge Cup (now intriguingly named the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup) in 2014, beating Rangers 1-0 after extra-time in the final. Other major honours include winning the Ladbrokes Championship on five occasions, most recently also in 1995 – and League One in 2003 and 2009.

The future of the club was under threat in 2005/06, when property developers threatened to sell their stadium to build houses on it. But fans united to secure a local future for the club and, on 30 December 2005, a community buy-out assisted by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown completed a takeover.

Raith play at the 8,867 capacity Stark’s Park, which sounds a bit like a stadium for a Game of Thrones family but is in fact a proper classic old football ground built way back in 1891. The club has excellent training facilities and good youth facilities but only average youth recruitment.

Rovers’ strongest rivalry is with Dunfermline Athletic, who are situated some 14 miles west, while their traditional derby is with East Fife, which is 8 miles east of Kirkcaldy. Cowdenbeath is also a traditional rival, with the town just 9 miles to the west.

Meeting the Raith squad

As the residents were finishing up their fascinating insight, di Lathamé spotted a couple of big lads sneak into the room. Clark explained that the first-team had gathered to meet their new boss and club captain Kyle Benedictus and vice-captain Iain Davidson, who was rocking a rather snazzy barnet and was actually two weeks older than his new manager, would take him to meet them.

di Lathamé gave them both firm handshakes and listened to what they had to say about the club. Kyle explained he’d been at the club for four years having come through the ranks at Dundee and felt he and Iain had a great partnership at centre-back. While Iain proudly claimed he was a no-nonsense defender heading into his 13th season with Raith who likes to wind up opponents and argue with officials, which di Lathamé firmly respected.

The captains’ first port of call was to introduce the club’s newly signed star player, who was even older than Davidson. 36-year-old striker Steven MacLean had just come in on loan from Hearts having previously played for the likes of St Johnstone, Plymouth and Sheffield Wednesday amongst others.

Lurking behind him eagerly were a couple of excitable looking 21-year-olds in midfielder Regan Hendry, who’d just signed from Scottish giants Celtic after two loan spells, and left-winger Daniel Armstrong. They were also keen to make a strong point about the only other Englishman in the room being 23-year-old midfielder Brad Spencer.

Sitting to one side was a chap that di Lathamé instantly recognised by name. Iain introduced the young man as Lewis Vaughan, and the new manager recalled many a happy afternoon seeing the striker’s name pop up when banging in goals on Soccer Saturday – and then got a laugh out of all the lads recalling Jeff Stelling’s “Roth Raivers” gag. However, Vaughan being seated was explained by the striker missing the first few months of the season with a cruciate ligament injury.

The two captains then led di Lathamé over to a group of young lads drinking Irn-Bru and eating sherbert Dip-Dabs. These were the club’s hot prospects, the duo explained, a big group of lads aged under 23 that comprised more than half of the first-team squad.

They swiftly introduced Kieron Bowie, who already has a £150,000 transfer arranged to Fulham next summer. While 17-year-old midfielder Dylan Tait and striker Steven Ross are said to be great prospects who are looking to get some game time this season. While 20-year-old right-back Jamie Watson also has decent potential.

Squad concerns

di Lathamé returned to meet Sims and Clark, who were already half-way through pints of Tennent’s in the bar. di Lathamé, checking his watch to see it was only 10am, reluctantly accepted the offer of a swift cold one as the pair explained a few more details.

Worryingly, the squad has 20 players whose contracts expire next summer (2020), most of which only just signed new deals. The new manager decided this probably wasn’t the time to mention that this contradicted the objective of minimum two-year deals for first-team players that the board had just set him. Nor was it the time to question why the club only had one left-back and a massive lack of coaching staff.

Robí di Lathamé was shown to his surprisingly nice looking new office, fired up his new laptop and began life in charge of Raith Rovers.

His first task was to meet Personal Assistant Sofia Donaldson, who he immediately asked to file job adverts for a coach, physio, head of youth development, sports scientist and director of football. He then began the mountain of reading about the players, tactical approaches, scouting options, training tasks that press officer Ross Duncan and assistant manager Paul Smith – who, di Lathamé noted, had played for both Raith and Dunfermline – had kindly left on his desk.

Join us next time as we set about building up to the start of Scottish League One with Raith Rovers!

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