Roth Raivers: Part 23 – Real Madrid v Raith Rovers

Robí di Lathamé was enjoying a delicious, undoubtedly extremely expensive glass of Rioja deep in the bowels of the majestic Santiago Bernabeú. And he couldn’t help but reflect on how quickly things had changed.

Seven years ago, on Saturday 3 August 2019, his reign as Raith Rovers manager began with a 1-1 draw in front of 1,186 people at The Penny Cars Stadium in Airdrie. Now, fast-forward to Tuesday 3 November 2026, he and Steven Gerrard sat in the manager’s office at Real Madrid, fresh from seeing the two sides go head-to-head in front of 79,504 people (of which just 80 made the trip from Kirkcaldy).

And you might expect that Madrid manager Gerrard was secretly delighting in his Galacticos waltzing to victory. But oh no, this Raith side is made of far sterner stuff than that.

The growth of Raith

Raith Rovers has well and truly transformed from a club dwelling in the lower reaches of Scottish football to one of the most respected and reputable clubs in the country that’s now worth a whopping £68 million.

Not only has the club managed to finish above an Old Firm side for the first time, to finish second in 2026, it’s also won a European trophy! Led by English manager Robí di Lathamé, Raith’s stature in the game has significantly increased after its impressive performances in the Europa Conference League. Not only is the club now the third-most reputable in Scotland but it also ranks 46th in Europe, ahead of the likes of Atalanta, PSV, Sporting Lisbon, Lille and Athletic Bilbao.

di Lathamé therefore thought he had grounds to have a quick chat with McGinn about the potential for even better youth facilities. McGinn, despite his manager’s pressing advances, declined and di Lathamé accidentally leaked the news to the press. Suddenly, an email arrived in his inbox announcing that new youth facilities were under way, along with an interesting news story quoting him as saying “I thought we shared similar visions for the club but leaving the youth setup as it is will only set the club back.” Nice.

However, given the ongoing lack of viable permanent signings in the transfer market, more investment in facilities to improve youth recruitment is increasingly necessary.

Maximising the loan market

The pre-season began with one of our players winning a cap for Scotland for the very first time in this save – which, as a team finishing second in the league, seems fairly ridiculous. Nonetheless, that man was goalkeeper Alex Simpson in a World Cup warm-up game against South Korea. Hero!

Qualifying for the Champions League has done amazing things for the squad value, including boosting long-serving captain Dylan Tait to a midfielder worth £10.75 million and Stewart Fleming, signed for £150,000, to £9.75 million!

We managed to extend loan deals for Leicester left-back Joshua Willis for a fourth season, Man United’s right-back Godwin Uzeh and Spurs’ Callum Wigley for third seasons, and Celtic’s Niall Quinn for a second season before the previous season ended.

And we added to the lengthy borrowing list with a sixth season for striker Ryan Cassidy – which has to be some kind of record, six consecutive loan spells with one club! He was joined by several more loanees from English clubs in impressive looking midfielder Colin Rebello and three full-backs Dennis Adams, Matt Booth and Phil Fitzgerald.

Is this squad good enough for the Champions League? Nowhere near! Is it good enough to compete with Celtic? Highly unlikely. Anyway, I’m sticking with last season’s formation to begin with this season, although I have contemplated a defensive 5-3-2 for tough matches. But this is how our first eleven lines up:

In other news, Celtic bought Odsonne Edouard back for £44 million, having sold him to Man United for £32 million in 2020 before he moved to Chelsea for £54 million in 2023. How the other half live!

A solid start

We began the 2026/27 campaign at Ross County with both full-backs suspended and captain Tait injured. And we struggled to a 1-1 draw in which Cassidy’s brilliant header was cancelled out immediately.

That was immediately followed by an interesting offer of a job as Croatia manager. Flattering, but I wasn’t interested in international management.

We also had a 1-1 draw in our second match at home to Aberdeen, in which Cassidy equalised and got injured, we missed a penalty and had a late goal ruled out for offside. Then another tight affair saw Willie Binnie redeem his penalty miss by banging one in to seal our first win of the season 1-0 at St Johnstone. And we started badly at Dundee, going in 1-0 down, but a rollicking sorted the boys out as Wigey equalised 23 seconds into the second half. A Willie Binnie penalty then Philip Cohen’s first of the season eased us to a 3-1 win.

That gave us some confidence, which we took into a 0-0 draw at home to Rangers and 3-0 win over Hearts, in which Binnie bagged a brace. And the defensive strength continued in a tight 1-0 win over Motherwell decided by a Mark Frost long-range strike.

That strong spell of form took us into a first game of the season against Celtic. I’d just won the September manager of the month, which saw their manager Neil Lennon launch yet another unnecessary attack on me, claiming I “didn’t deserve it.”

I printed his comments, stuck them on the dressing room wall, and it worked. Frost scored again in a first half we dominated but Celtic pulled themselves level in injury-time. Another Binnie penalty put us ahead again, only for Scott McTominay to score a beautiful curled effort. But we had the last laugh as substitute Kevin MacPherson scored a last minute winner. That put us level with Celtic at the top of the league and unbeaten after eight games.

We again left it late and twice came from behind before Dylan Tait’s late goal sealed a 3-2 win at Greenock Morton. We kept the good form going, including a 4-1 win over Yaya Touré’s Ross County, before finally losing our first game of the season at Rangers in early December.

A mini injury crisis forced us to move Wigley into an unfamiliar right-wing position. But he scored in a Champions League game (see below), then scored in successive league games as we bounced back to beat Dundee 2-0 and Motherwell 1-0. But wouldn’t you know it, he then got injured as we hosted Greenock Morton and were saved by a Tait wondergoal. But we threw that form away with a shocking performance to lose 1-0 at home to struggling Dundee United.

That teed up a Boxing Day cracker as we visited leaders Celtic. We went behind early through Scott McTominay, but Binnie bagged a penalty and we remained pretty tight to keep Celtic at bay. We threw on Cohen for the struggling Cassidy and he delivered with a late penalty to seal a huge 2-1 win!

And 2026 closed out with an impressive 3-0 win at Hibernian, in which Cohen bagged a brace and midfielder Glen Cranston assisted every goal. Amazingly, that took us above Celtic to the top of the league as we headed into the winter break, with 47 points from 21 matches,

Another League Cup Final

We again breezed through to the Betfred Cup semi-finals, where we took on Celtic. Things weren’t looking good as they took the lead with the first shot inside four minutes, but we immediately fired back with a beauty of a strike by Rebello. A classic ensued as Cassidy scored a second equaliser then Oliver Higgins’ first goal of the season nicked us a winner!

We again took on Hibs in the final, having beaten them in last year’s, but this time around we put in a weak display. Cranston put us ahead with a brilliant free-kick mid-way through the second half, but we immediately conceded an equaliser then allowed them to score a late winner.

Heading to the Bernabeú

Surprisingly, our second place finish in the league took us straight through to the Champions League group stage. That alone earned us £13 million, which boosted our bank balance to £31 million.

We were of course in the fourth pot, so a tough draw was guaranteed, and it doesn’t get much tougher than Chelsea, Real Madrid and Hertha BSC. But, for the first time in history, Raith Rovers will be playing at the Santiago Bernabeú and Real Madrid will be coming to Raith!

Raith’s first-ever Champions League game was at home to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. And we played pretty well, holding Chelsea but creating very little until Callum Hudson-Odoi converted a rebound in basically their only attack of the second half. However, it saw our first stadium sellout and earned a record £400,000 in gate receipts. We then lost 2-0 at Hertha.

And that set up the visit of Real Madrid, managed by Steven Gerrard and a club with no fewer than 20 players who earn more than we pay our entire squad (£98,000), to Raith Stadium! And, if we had any chance of qualification, we had to win it. But that didn’t look likely, especially as Madrid dominated the first half and scored at the end of it, then nothing happened in a drab second half and we lost 1-0. So still no Champions League goal scored, but there’s absolutely nothing to regret here.

And that didn’t look likely going into a game at the Bernabeú. However, we again defended magnificently and resolutely to earn a 0-0 and our first-ever point in the Champions League. At Real Madrid. Amazing! However, that did, unsurprisingly, knock us out of Europe.

We then lost 3-0 at Chelsea, but did finally score a Champions League goal through Cohen in the final game at home to Hertha. But we conceded in injury-time goal to lose 3-2 and ensure we finished on zero points.

Join us next time as we look to take the Scottish title challenge to Celtic and Rangers!

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