Fife Free Press Group editor Allan Crow reflects on the momentum and hurdles of a cup triumph
One of the joys of putting the recent Hall of Fame show together was the opportunity to watch the footage of the 1994 cup final all over again. As if we ever need an excuse ...
I also spent time in the archives of the Fife Free Press where every copy of the newspaper is preserved in bound volumes, dating back to 1871. It’s where the history of Kirkcaldy comes alive.
It’s impossible to read the reports without smiling - well, you know what’s coming! - or watch the highlights with Jock Brown’s sturdy commentary without punching the air in sheer delight. If there was a town called Raith, we’d still be dancing in the streets …
Raith’s cup journey of ‘94 had many landmarks en route to that day at Ibrox. The goals, the red card, the dramatic penalty saves - they are all burned in our memory banks.
But the story, which began in Dingwall, had more than a few ‘’if only’’ moments - split second decisions and moments which could have changed the script dramatically for Rovers’ fans - as well as markers which, with hindsight, were hugely significant.
Go back to Dingwall and that August evening.
Rovers won easily, but it took a half-time kick up the backside from Jimmy Nicholl to get them motoring to a 5-0 result, and by then they’d ghosted round the first ‘’what if’’ moment.
Sixty seconds from half-time and with the game at 0-0, striker Jamie Macpherson was clean through on his own, but Scott Thomson stopped his net-bound shot with his legs.
But what if he had scored?
It was a save, a turning point, that County boss Bobby Wilson, a great Raith servant in his own right, reflected on thus: ‘It could have been all so different, but that’s football.’’
Then come two huge steps, both made off the pitch.
In late August and again at the turn of September, boss Jimmy Nicholl added to his squad, and brought vast experience to his dressing-room.
In came Ian Redford, fresh from a stint as player-manager at Brechin City, and the former Rangers, Dundee and Dundee United midfielder was quickly joined by the defensive rock of Dave Narey.
‘‘He’s there to organise things and make sure the young lads around him, get their positioning right,’’ said Nicholl.
One other possible player move. Tucked away on the back pages of October was a note that Queen of the South had been mooching around striker Gordon Dalziel with a view to signing him. but had been officially ‘’warned off.’’
Unthinkable surely for the club to part with their top scorer of eight seasons standing?
Too right - even Daz shot down the speculation.
Narey made his debut in the cup tie against Kilmarnock - Raith’s second stepping stone to the final. Rovers won 3-2, but there was another ‘’if only’’ moment as Killie sub Bobby Williamson - a future manager at Rugby Park and Hibs in his own right - came on and forced a huge double save out of ’keeper Scott Thomson before Rovers could secure the tie.
Again, imagine if he’d scored, and levelled the game ...
Again, there was a moment in the St Johnstone quarter-final when hearts jumped into mouths and no-one dared to breathe.
Midway through the second half, and with the tie still up in the air, Saints’ striker Peter Davenport saw a stunning shot crash off the bar. Two inches lower and it was in the net, and this tie may well have gone down a different route.
And then there’s that epic semi-final which couldn’t have delivered more twists and turns in the hands of a team of scriptwriters.
And just when Raith fans thought they’d seen and heard it all, up pops Charlie Nicholas to put Celtic ahead in the final at Ibrox.
Jock Brown’s famous commentary for that day will be remembered for his ‘’unthinkable surely’’ line, but it contained one more stand out line. As Nicholas wheeled away to celebrate, he said ‘’and Nicholas has surely now won the cup for Celtic.’’
Football games, particularly cup ties, thrive on such moments. They change the momentum of matches, spark fans into roars of support or struck them silent in dismay.
Every one of them formed part of the journey from Dingwall to the that ‘’thinkable’’ moment at wrote a whole new chapter in the history of the club and Scottish football.
>> This article first appeared in our Raith Rovers’ Hall of Fame supplement.