Robí di Lathamé was sitting back enjoying the sunshine beating down on his newly leased two-bed flat on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy. As he reflected on England once again being knocked out of the European Championships on penalties by Portugal and cracked open an ice cold beer, the vibration of his mobile phone interrupted the bliss.
He squinted at the incoming call through his sunglasses and immediately hit “answer” when he saw the caller was Raith Rovers owner John Sims. “John! How’s the Iberian sun?” di Lathamé quipped, secretly hoping Sims had spotted the next Cristiano Ronaldo on his no doubt expensive holidays in Madeira.
“Ah, hello Robí,” began an unusually glum sounding Sims. “I’ll get straight to the point. I’ve had an offer for the club from a local businessman who’s keen to invest and, with a heavy heart, I had no choice but to accept.”
di Lathamé was stunned. He’d just led Raith to an unexpected League One title win and was on the verge of planning the unlikely prospect of remaining in the Scottish Championship next season. And the club was being sold without him even receiving word that a takeover was possible. All sorts of thoughts raced through his head. Who was the new owner? Did he even have a job anymore? Was the club going to get any investment?
And John clearly knew he’d taken his young manager aback with the bombshell. “No need to worry Robí,” uttered John in his soothing Kirkcaldy twang, “I’ve spoken to the new owner and he’s most impressed with the job you’re doing. He’s assured me your job is safe and he’s also promised a little boost to the club’s finances.”
di Lathamé and Sims continued to chat for several minutes and agreed to grab a nice cold Tennent’s when Sims returned from his holiday. But the manager soon received another call from incoming new owner, Robbie McGinn.
The new Chairman explained he was injecting £110,000 to help with club running costs and seemed a thoroughly pleasant job, but Robí was still devastated to see Sims and former chairman Bill Clark leave the club.
Major rebuild required
Robí di Lathamé began the 2020/21 campaign with just 11 players in the Raith Rovers first-team squad, of which 6 were teenagers! So clearly plenty of work was needed in the transfer window.
Those efforts were aided to some extent by the sales of two youngsters, the pre-arranged transfer of Kieron Bowie to Fulham for £150k and striker Steven Ross going to Aberdeen for £200k, which the board had accepted. That, combined with friendlies against Rangers and Man United Under 23s, boosted the club’s bank balance to £600k, when it had been at -£230k at the end of the previous campaign.
However, virtually none of that went into our transfer budget, which remained at just £65k and ensured we basically couldn’t buy players and had to rely on free transfers and loans.
Six new players arrived on the day the transfer window opened. In came last season’s loan goalkeeper Ross Munro, three former Rangers youngsters in defenders Kyle McClelland and Harris O’Connor and midfielder Krystof Hampl, Ross County left-back Josh Reid, and Aberdeen midfielder Jack Chesser.
On the loan front, Rangers left-winger Simon Brady returned for a second season along with left-back James Maxwell. We also brought in Celtic defender Finn McRobb, Hibs striker Jamie Gullan and Liverpool midfielder Jake Cain.
These were about the best players available and it’s impossible to know how they stack up to the rest of the Championship. But I suspect they don’t! The new season began with Brad Spencer as Raith’s oldest player at just 24 and the only player over 22. So we may have plenty of potential but I think we’re massively short on ability.
The dumb League Cup group opened with narrow 2-1 defeats to Championship favourites Dundee and Premier League side St Johnstone, which boded fairly well. Then we thumped Montrose 3-0 away and beat Cove Rangers 2-1 with a brace from 18-year-old striker Darren Shaw who’s suddenly been thrown into the first team.
Luckily, we managed to add to our attack on the eve of the season opener as former Coventry striker Amadou Bakayoko signed on a free. And he became one of our best players, which says a lot about the quality we have.
Stepping up to the Championship
Raith’s first match at the new level of the Championship was at home to Arbroath. It wasn’t exactly a classic for the football purists to wax lyrical about and it looked to be drifting to a turgid 0-0 draw. But the game swung on a double substitute, as Daniel Armstrong teed up Gullan to score from long range in the 91st minute!
Our first defeat unsurprisingly came away to Ross County, who only nicked a 2-1 win late on. And we then did well to secure draws against Alloa Athletic and Greenock Morton.
However, a swift injury crisis left us with no fit goalkeeper at the club! So I drafted in a load of trialists, including Owain Fon Williams, Adam Legzdins and Carlos Kameni. And we eventually decided on Kameni, the 73-time capped Cameroon keeper, to come in on a temporary deal until the end of the season, when he retires. It’ll also bring much-needed experience to the squad, and peaking of which, we also brought in midfielder Danny Guthrie as a backup.
(Plus, notice the new skin, I’ve been toying with a few new ones…)
First league Fife Derby
Kameni’s debut couldn’t have been much bigger as we played host to the first league Fife Derby against Dunfermline Athletic. And his influence had a great effect as we put in a dominant performance. McRobb got things started with his first goal for the club from a Cain corner, then Spencer scored a long-range brace along with a wonderful 30-yard free-kick by Cain.
Our good run came to an end against relegated Hamilton Academicals, who had Tony Watt up front and he scored 2 and made the other in a 3-0 loss. But we bounced back superbly with a 3-1 win at home to Queen of the South led by Bakayoko’s first goal for the club and a brilliant midfield performance by Hendry. And that lifted us to 3rd in the league on 11 points from 7 games.
Losses to leaders Dundee then lowly Ayr United followed then consecutive draws with Arbroath and Ross County. But we bounced back with an excellent 2-0 win over 3rd-placed Greenock thanks to goals from Shaw and Cain.
But that was followed by two draws with the bottom two sides, Alloa and Dunfermline, then being dumped out of the Scottish Cup by Greenock. And I was beginning to get a little concerned that a slump was coming.
However, despite having our only real right-back and supposed best striker ruled out, the boys bounced back superbly as 2nd-placed Hamilton came to town. They gave us a helping hand as their goalkeeper scored an unfortunate own goal on 11 minutes but then a brilliant brace by young right-winger Jordan Elliot sealed an impressive 3-0 win.
That massive result lifted us into the playoff positions, albeit with just 15 games gone and 21 remaining. I very much suspect we won’t be anywhere near the playoffs come the end of the season, but am increasingly hopeful that this young squad has what it takes to avoid relegation.
Join us next time as we look to build on a pretty positive start to life in the Scottish Championship with Raith Rovers!