JIM Baxter, Scotland’s greatest ever footballer, is to be the first inductee in a new Hall of Fame at Raith Rovers.
The iconic internationalist will take centre stage at a gala show at Adam Smith Theatre on Monday, May 21, with all proceeds going to the club where his glittering career began.
The evening will feature VIP guests from the world of football and many local dignitaries as they pay tribute to ‘Slim Jim’ and savour once more his most memorable matches.
Ticket details will be announced very soon - and given Baxter’s global reputation and iconic status, the organisers are looking for a full house to give the new Hall of Fame the best possible launch.
It is envisaged that Baxter will be the first of many inductees as the Hall Of Fame becomes a regular event in the sporting calendar, and the aim is to open it up to fans and supporters’ groups to put forward their own nominees.
The inaugural event is being organised by a group of local businessmen and Gordon Brown MP, and has been endorsed by the board of directors at Raith Rovers as part of the ‘Rally Round Rovers’ campaign.
The committee comprises Alistair Cameron, of ACA Sports, Willie MacGregor of MacGregor Solicitors, Matt Lawson, of AKSL Consultancy, and Allan Crow, editor of the Fife Free Press.
Launching the Hall of Fame event on Monday, Mr Brown said: ‘‘I very much welcome the plan to install Jim Baxter as the first Rover in the club’s Hall of Fame.
‘‘I worked with others to create a statue in Jim’s honour in Hill of Beath - so near to where he went to school, where he first played football and first worked down the pits. The inauguration ceremony for the statue was a famous day for Fife.’’
Mr Brown, a lifelong Rovers fan, also has memories of watching ‘Slim Jim’ playing for the Kirkcaldy club.
‘‘I saw him in the team that started with the names ‘Drummond, Polland , Mochan, Young, McNaught, Leigh and, of course, Johnny Urquhart,’’ he said. ‘‘I do hope we will be able to have Jim’s sons, Alan and Stephen, with us on the evening along with some great names from the world of football.’’
The organisers are currently drawing up a list of VIP guests to appear on stage and share their memories of Baxter at the very height of his game - more details will be announced in the coming weeks.
It was Baxter’s iconic status within the game that made him the clear choice to be first into the Hall of Fame.
Alistair Cameron commented: ‘‘There are many great Rovers players - and teams - to be honoured, but Jim’s reputation is global.
‘‘In launching the Hall of Fame we wanted to make it open to all fans to come along and be part of what promises to be a fantastic night - that’s why we have gone for a live show on stage rather than a gala dinner.
‘‘We’re indebted to the staff at the Adam Smith Theatre for their invaluable support and look forward to announcing our special guests.’’
Matt Lawson said: “It’s an honour to be involved in a tribute to someone who is recognised as Scotland’s most iconic footballer worldwide.
‘‘Apart from the quality of the guests who will be involved on the evening one of the most attractive features of the Hall of Fame function is the fact that it will be priced at an affordable level”
Allan Crow, Press editor, added: ‘‘The ‘Rally Round Rovers’ campaign has already generated £10,000 - and we hope this event will be a major fundraiser.’’
Willie MacGregor said: ‘‘The Hall of Fame is a great idea. In the coming years fans can decide which Rovers’ greats deserve to be added and allow much needed funds to be raised for the club at the same time.’’
A player whose performances could have been set to music
THERE isn’t a Scotsman who hasn’t seen the grainy black and white footage of Jim Baxter playing keepie-uppie at Wembley.
There cannot be a Scotsman who hasn’t thought ‘’I wish that was me’’ as they watched him wind up the newly crowned world champions on their own pitch.
Pure genius and sheer gallus - Baxter at his very, very best.
Ask anyone in football and they’ll tell you how he hated training. Truth was - he didn’t need to.
Baxter’s performance in that legendary 3-2 win of 1967 was so good it ‘‘could have been set to music’’ said Sir Alex Ferguson
Blessed with a talent beyond any of his peers, Baxter was an artist - stylish, swaggering, cheeky, and impossible to pin down.
He once described his approach to football thus: ‘‘Treat the ball like a woman. Give it a cuddle, caress it a wee bit, take your time and you’ll get the required response.’’
You won’t find that in any coaching manual ...
Baxter was one of a generation of players howked from the coalmines of Scotland.
He was discovered playing for Crossgates Primrose by Rovers’ scout, the late Jim McDiarmid, father of author Val.
He scored on his debut against Airdrie in 1958, netting the opener in a 4-0 win, which the Kirkcaldy Times - a sister paper to the Fife Free Press hailed as ‘’the seal on a performance full of promise and intelligence.’’
A memorable game against Rangers - Raith rallied from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Ibrox - effectively sealed his move west.
Three league champions in four seasons followed, along with three Scottish Cups in a row and four League Cups - plus 34 caps for Scotland.
The stats are impressive but still don’t fully explain the impact he had on the beautiful game both with club and country.
His decline has been widely charted - two liver transplants by the age of 55 and gambling debts reckoned to run well into six figures - and his death aged just 61 in April 2001 robbed the nation of a true sporting icon.
Since then Baxter has been inducted into the SFA’s Hall of Fame and in 2003 a statue was erected in his honour in Hill Of Beath,.
Now it is Kirkcaldy’s turn to formally honour one of the world’s true footballing greats.
Monday, May 21, promises to a night to celebrate and recall the life and times of ‘Slim Jim.’
We shall never see anyone like him again.