Raith Rovers boss Robí di Lathamé came into the summer of 2023 on the back of a string of successful few seasons as a football manager. Having navigated Scottish League One at the first attempt, he’d then won the Championship after two seasons then led the side to a mid-table finish in the Premiership.
The club’s growing reputation was seeing several of its young prospects grow with it, to the extent that some of the biggest clubs in the UK were sniffing around – leaving di Lathamé concerned they may be sold from underneath him.
And his concerns were well-founded as he received a call from club owner Robbie McGinn on the morning of 16 July. “Ah, Robí, we have some really big news to discuss,” McGinn revealed after the niceties had been done with. “As you know, we’ve had plenty of interest in Billy Doig over the last few months, and we’ve finally done a deal that we think couldn’t be turned down.”
Said deal saw the 19-year-old striker, who’d signed from Curzon Ashton for £28,000 in January 2022, join English giants Tottenham Hotspur for a huge club record deal of £10 million. Arsenal and Man United also had deals accepted by the board, but Doig chose Spurs. That more than quadrupled the previous record sale of £2.3 million from Regan Hendry joining Watford.
This deal could be an absolute game changer for the club, potentially bankrolling us for up to the next three seasons or so.
Also leaving the club were a host of players including striker Darren Shaw, right-back Liam Smith, winger Daniel MacKay for a further £200,000. Those transfer fees will go some way towards funding the building of the new stadium, for which the club is now committed to paying £190,000 per month in loan repayments.
Attempting to strengthen
Raith’s attempts to rebuild weren’t exactly helped by the money from the Doig transfer, as most of it went straight into the club coffers.
They were helped by the return of three familiar faces from last season with centre-back Zach Medley, midfielder Jake Cain and, eventually, Ryan Cassidy all joining for another season on loan. The squad was further bolstered with more loan signings in Brighton midfielder Charlie Higgins, and another familiar face in Celtic winger Armstrong Oko-Flex, who we had on loan way back in season one.
But two cash signings did arrive with plenty of high potential to boot. Left-winger Oliver Higgins comes in for £400,000 from Hearts while right-winger Mark Frost comes in for £100,000 from Leyton Orient.
Left-back Josh Reid was ruled out for up to eight months with a broken leg in the final week of pre-season, which forced the club back into the loan market to snap up Leicester’s Joshua Willis, who looks a shrewd rushed signing.
Potential is the key word for the squad that Raith have built, with at least 20 players at the club with at least 4.5-star potential. The hard part is just going to be trying to realise it! Furthermore, the oldest player at the club is goalkeeper Ross Munro, who only turned 23 in April (four months ago).
But here is the starting eleven at the beginning of the season:
Tough Premiership kick-off
Raith’s second season in the Premiership didn’t have an ideal start as our first game was away to champions Rangers. However, we took a surprising lead through academy product midfielder Alan Bayliss’ free-kick and first goal for the club, they got level soon enough but should have had James Tavernier sent off. Sure enough, we then had a player sent off in the second half and Rangers eased to a 3-1 win.
But the season got going with a solid 2-0 win at home to Dundee United, with Oko-Flex converting a penalty then Cassidy scoring an absolute screamer. New captain Dylan Tait had started the season well and was at it again as he opened the scoring after 40 seconds at Dundee, then laid on a Cain screamer that won goal of the month and sealed a massive 3-1 win.
Our strong start to the season continued with a 0-0 at Hibernian then defeating their city rivals Hearts 3-0 with Doig’s replacement Marc Parkinson – who arrived for £2,500 from Chorley two years ago – scoring twice. Then a 4-1 thumping of Ross County, thanks to another Tait goal and Cain screamer as well as young striker Marc Roscoe’s first league goal, took us above Rangers into second in the league!
The good spell ended with a 3-1 loss at Aberdeen but we earned a narrow 2-1 win at home to Livingston then went to Motherwell and won 2-0 thanks to Oli Higgins’ first for the club and another Cain screamer. The midfield duo of Cain and Tait – which I’d never tried before this season – seems to be working an absolute treat, with Tait in particular becoming a very good player at this level.
We swiftly racked up three wins on the bounce as substitute Roscoe scored late to edge a 1-0 win at home to St. Johnstone. The following day, Rangers lost 1-0 at Livingston, who were sitting nicely in mid-table having narrowly avoided relegation via the playoffs last season. And that teed us up for a second vs. top home game with Celtic. Ridiculous!
And we came really close to upsetting the still unbeaten Celtic. Cain put us ahead with a brilliant free-kick, only for Celtic to get level just after half-time then scored a 90th minute winner – because of course they did.
Potential cup glory
We’d breezed through the customary early season Betfred Cup aka League Cup group then came through an exciting 3-2 second round win over Hearts, in which Tait scored and their former winger Oli Higgins assisted two. Then we edged past Falkirk 1-0 to tee up a semi-final against Hibernian, while the Old Firm contested the other.
That took Raith to Hampden Park, which saw the entirety of Kirkcaldy take the road to Glasgow for the second time in this save. Only 26,000 people turned up, so our gate receipts were minimal, but we put in a great performance nonetheless.
Parkinson turned home on 25 minutes then Cain stepped up to score another free-kick just after half-time. And we held on for a solid 2-0 win, which would see us return to Hampden for the cup final! And our opponent there will be Celtic.
Join us next time to discover if Raith Rovers can continue their strong start to the Ladbrokes Premiership and how we fare in the Betfred Cup Final!