Roth Raivers: Part 21 – Challenging For Titles

The amazing rise of Raith Rovers has seen the Kirkcaldy club go from Scottish League One to European football, to Scottish League Cup winners in 2025, to sitting at the top of the Scottish Premiership moving into 2026.

Robí di Lathamé’s efforts as manager saw the Raith Rovers fans instill him as an icon, while chairman Robbie McGinn became a member of favoured personnel. di Lathamé joins Gordon Dalziel, Colin Cameron, Jimmy Nichol, Shaun Dennis, David McGurn and David Narey as club icons. However, he has some way to go to catch club legends Willie McNaught, Willie Penman, Murray McDermott and Bert Herdman. Strangely, the only current player to have made their preferred list is Stephen Kelly, who spent one season on loan with us.

The manager’s efforts saw the board offer him another new contract, having only signed his previous one in June 2024, which bumped his wages to £7,500-a-week until 2028.

Strong start to 2026

2026 got off to a flyer as we welcomed Rangers to town and claimed our second victory – and second in succession – over the Old Firm. Cassidy put us ahead on 15 minutes with his 22nd goal of the season, Glen Cranston got sent off on the hour mark but we held on for a famous 1-0 win. And that put us top, two points clear with a game in hand.

And we swiftly racked up three in a row with wins at Falkirk and Hearts, which took us to 13 league games unbeaten and 20 in all competitions. But the great run ended with a 2-0 defeat in our game in hand at home to Dundee United. Then a 2-0 loss at Celtic saw us relinquish the league lead.

That spawned a run of six games and all of February without a win. But we bounced back to beat Hibernian 1-0 with a Willie Binnie injury-time goal then thumped Greenock Morton 4-1 on a ‘fan day’ that brought in a bumper crowd of 11,100, with Mark Frost scoring a brace and Glen Cranston getting two assists that tied our all-time assists in a season record of 15.

Having scored 22 goals in 26 games, Ryan Cassidy had gone 10 games without scoring – which seems to happen to my in-form strikers a lot on FM. However, he got back to form by opening the scoring at home to Aberdeen before Binnie and Cranston goals sealed a big 3-1 win.

Celtic then drew at Motherwell before we faced a trip to Ibrox for which we ridiculously had five players on international duty, including our goalkeeper, two centre-backs and both left-wingers. Good one FM. But we somehow managed to hold firm and deny Rangers, earning a 0-0 draw.

That kept us one point clear of Celtic, who had a game in hand, ahead of our final game before the league split. And, it ensured that Raith Rovers qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history as we were a huge 20 points clear of Hibernian in fourth!

Title challenge?

The Scottish league split means you’ll always have a difficult final few games of the season, as you have to play all the other sides in the top six. Celtic won their game in hand and we won our final game of the regular season, which saw us two points behind them and two ahead of Rangers.

I wasn’t confident heading into the split, but we began it by getting out first ever win over Rangers. We kept a second successive clean sheet at Ibrox and big man Binnie scored the only goal of the match on 31 minutes.

We then lost 1-0 and should have conceded more at Hibernian, and we looked like heading for a dull draw at home to Aberdeen until Cassidy raced onto a long ball and slotted home to seal a vital win late on.

That teed up an outside title decider as Raith went away to Celtic – which seems absolutely ridiculous to say! Although it does seem a little unfair we had to play Rangers and Celtic away in the post-split. We put in an amazing defensive effort to repel Celtic’s 34 shots to our mere one and claim a 0-0 draw. That effectively handed the title to Celtic BUT also nearly confirmed second place.

That sent us into the final day knowing a big win could win us the league but, more realistically, a point would seal second place. Tait gave us a great start with a 25-yard screamer then Frost sealed the win with a brilliant solo goal. But Celtic won 2-0 at Aberdeen, which sealed their 13th title in the last 14 years and and 41st in total (behind Rangers’ all-time record of 55).

However, the win sealed the highest league finish in the entire history of Raith Rovers as we finished in second and claimed a Champions League place! What an amazing achievement, considering we spent exactly zero all season and have the smallest salary in the entire division!

Europa Conference League knockout stages

Having the reached the final of this competition last year, there was some level of expectation. And we got what turned out to be an easy second knockout round draw – having skipped the first round – against Nantes.

The first leg was away first and, somewhat strangely, they deployed 35-year-old Giorginio Wijnaldum up front! Even more strangely, they switched him to centre-back late on. Regardless, we won 1-0 with a goal from Binnie. An we sealed qualification with a solid 2-0 home win against a poor Nantes side.

We then got Villarreal, who we faced in the group, in the quarter-final. We were away first and claimed an impressive 0-0 draw in a very boring match. In the preview of the home leg, I had one of those moments where you think “Raith vs Villarreal, this is ridiculous,” and that feeling was confirmed as we undoubtedly put in the best performance of this save to thump them 4-0. Cassidy scored after 14 minutes, they had a goal disallowed around the hour mark, and we kicked into overdrive late on as Cassidy wrapped up his hat-trick.

For the second season in a row we got a familiar foe in the semi-final as we faced Dundee United, who are 7th in the Premiership. We dominated the home first leg and Cassidy and Binnie gave us a 2-0 lead to take to Dundee.

We were looking good at half-time in the second leg but conceded two goals in two minutes to suddenly be level on aggregate. I instantly made two changes, laid into the lads, went more attacking and it worked, as one of the subs Higgins scored to put us in the final for a second successive season!

Second European Final

Raith made the final of the Europa Conference League for the second season in a row, and this time around it was an all British affair as we took on Bournemouth.

It wasn’t looking great as Bournemouth took the lead with a brilliant free-kick by Lovro Majer. However, we struck back with an even better solo wondergoal from right-winger Mark Frost.

The second half was a drab affair, which took us into an even worse extra-time, which meant a penalty shootout would decide the Europa Conference League in 2026. Binnie and Majer scored, Wigley and 36-year-old Daley Blind and missed, then Cranston, Philip Billing and Cassidy scored, before Cristian Manea missed Bournemouth’s fourth. That gave Godwin Uceh the chance to become a club legend and he did, slamming home to hand Raith their first-ever European trophy!

What a season this has been! And what a save this is generally. We’ve gone from League One to the Premiership, into Europe, won Raith’s first European trophy, and taken the club into the Champions League. Amazing! Plus, the various winnings this season have taken our bank balance over £20 million for the first time, which means the club is in a very solid position financially.

Join us next time as we look back on another amazing season in Scotland with Raith Rovers.

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