Raith Rovers media officer and Former Players’ Association chairman, Ally Gourlay, on landmarks and magical memories
Scott Thomson stood on the line, his eyes fixed in steely concentration.
In the Govan stand, 11000 people held their breath in hopeful anticipation, many of whom had found religion at this very point. Even Billy Graham had not managed to convert as many non-believers in one place, as the multitude of Raith fans looked upwards and prayed that there was indeed a God, and furthermore, that he sat high on his throne wearing a Rovers scarf.
I was one of those eleven thousand. The noise around me was deafening. In our stand, the Rovers faithful roared in unison, getting behind their goalkeeper, willing him to make the save which would put an end to 111 years without a major trophy, while the other three sides of the ground raised the decibel level to get behind their captain – Paul McStay – ‘The Maestro’ – and one of the most cultured footballers our proud country had ever produced.
Thomson had emulated young Brian Potter’s semi-final trick by throwing the ball in the air to his opponent. Whether it had successfully put off Airdrie’s Alan Lawrence enough to give Potter the psychological edge, and in turn pull off a remarkable save was open to conjecture, but in this split second Thomson thought it was a good enough trick to try again.
If it had un-nerved Paul McStay then it didn’t show. He calmly placed the ball, confidently moved back eight paces and began his run.
If the noise had been deafening before, then it seemed to be ramped up another few thousand decibels to the point where you felt you ears were about to explode.
The Maestro reached the ball, and struck. Thomson in the Raith goal had, at first moved a little left, then changed direction.
The noise around me started to dissipate, then fade, the people around me became a blur, until I stood there alone, the only sound audible being that of my heart pumping and banging like a bass drum.
The deafening heartbeat seemed to slow down as I was rooted frozen to the spot. It seemed an eternity between thumps of the heart pumping blood around my veins.
Suddenly the surrounding isn’t Ibrox. As I stand still the only sound to be heard is that of my heart beating slowly yet forcefully and I’m aware that I’m standing in the old enclosure at Stark’s Park.
I’m seven years old on a Wednesday night in March 1970 and Brian Cooper has just dispossessed Rangers skipper John Greig and fired home the winning goal in a famous 2-1 victory, and I’m jumping up and down while my Dad ruffles my hair.
I glance to my right to see Colin Sinclair complete his hat-trick against St Johnstone in a thrilling 4–3 Scottish Cup tie which precedes a good natured pitch invasion. As the pitch clears I see Malcolm Robertson twisting and tormenting Dunfermline’s international full back Willie Callaghan as Rovers dump the Pars out of the Scottish Cup.
Joe Baker’s five goals against Berwick Rangers in 1972, Davie Hunter’s free kick at Alloa which results in the first promotion I’ve seen. The agony of last day relegation in 1977 when Morton edge us out 4–3.
I watch as Murray McDermott rolls the ball to Gordon Pettie who begins a breath-taking solo run from full back, through what appears to be every Berwick Rangers player before slotting the ball in at the Beveridge Park end. Andy Harrow’s header against Clyde which puts us back in Division One.
Allan Forsyth’s penalty kick to put us 2–0 up against Hibernian as we appear to be heading towards the Premier League. Ian Ballantyne’s hat-trick in a 6 – 0 win over Dunfermline on New Year’s Day 1983. Final day heartbreak at Meadowbank as we’re relegated in 1984.
The silence remains as Keith Wright scores five in a 9–2 win over Stenhousemuir. I feel the isolation as I watch, with the other 253 people, a 4-1 win over Stranraer.
Suddenly I look on as I persuade a Stranraer fan to part with his radio, placing it on top of the dug out as Rovers finally clinch promotion on the last day of 1996/87. Colin Harris sitting down in the middle of the park as England internationals Terry Butcher, Graham Roberts and Chris Woods waste time desperately clinging on to a 0–0 draw in the Scottish Cup a year later.
With my heart still thumping, I watch Martin Nelson’s wonder goal as Raith dump Scottish Cup holders Motherwell out of the League Cup, seven goals as Rovers destroy St Mirren on the opening day of the 1992/93 season. I slowly turn around to see Peter Hetherston and Jock McStay behind me in the director’s box.
The enclosure is packed full as they parade the First Division trophy, the first Championship title since 1949.
Ally Graham’s hat trick at Dingwall, Colin Cameron’s hat trick against Kilmarnock. Danny Lennon’s goal at St Johnstone to put the quarter final tie out of reach for the Perth men.
It has to be a dream. Rovers don’t get into cup semi-finals. I’ve seen quarter finals against Celtic, Kilmarnock and St Mirren but never a semi-final.
I see Scott Thomson rushing out of his box and taking a step back before thwarting an Airdrie attack, only for him to be sent off for handling outside the box. Brian Potter makes the crucial penalty save from Alan Lawrence to send Rovers into their first major final since 1949.
Suddenly the scene shifts bringing Ibrox back into focus as I relive Stevie Crawford’s opening goal and the sheer joy when Daz netted the equaliser, and now I’m looking down. Still the only sound is of my beating heart, as I look all around to see a frenzied packed Ibrox but I can’t hear any sound, only the sound of that heartbeat.
Scot Thomson changes direction and it seems an eternity as he goes down to his right, slowly going down until I hear the thud of body and gloves behind the well struck McStay penalty. And then the biggest roar I’ve heard in my life from 10,999 other people all around me.
Uncontrollably I started crying like a baby, while jumping up and down excitedly, like that wee boy at the Rangers game 24 years earlier. Rovers have won the League Cup. RAITH ROVERS have actually WON the League Cup!
I’ve just witnessed history being made, and experienced something that generations of Raith fans before me have been unable to. And what’s more, we’re in Europe ... we’re in bloody Europe now!!
Ten years earlier a national newspaper featured a cartoon strip about the Devil, and how he had to pay a high price to secure a soul – that price being Raith Rovers playing in Europe, and as surely as life mimics art, here it was for real!
As Gordon Dalziel lifted the trophy, the tears continued to fall. I had heard about tears of joy before but never had I experienced them quite like this. I had to wonder if it was all a dream, when I would wake. Would the alarm clock go off?
This is how it all happened for me. Time really did stand still in the split second that it took for Scott Thomson to save Paul McStay’s kick, and all those memories did indeed come flooding back. I know you will all have your own experiences of that very same moment, some similar, some different.
Memories of relations who took you to your first game, and were no longer here to witness this historic moment.
Twenty years have passed in the batting of an eyelid. We can all remember the occasion like yesterday.
The journey through to Ibrox, the scenes at night when it seemed Kirkcaldy was one big Mardi Gras party. These are the things dreams are made of, and when dreamers dare to dream then nothing is impossible, and oh!
What a dream that was!!