Raith Rovers’ goalkeeper crisis was finally resolved at the 11th hour yesterday as the club overcame a dramatic turn of events to land Slovakian stopper Pavol Penksa.
The 31-year-old was due to arrive in Kirkcaldy on Sunday and train with his new team mates ahead of his debut against St Mirren last night, a match which Rovers won 2-0 to end a run of 17 games without a victory.
However, his passport and other documents were stolen at Bratislava Airport just before he was due to fly, with the ‘keeper forced to book alternative travel arrangement at his own expense in order to save the move from collapse.
Penksa finally arrived on Monday evening, meaning he had just one day to train with his new team mates before matchday, while the club had just 48 hours to complete all the paperwork and obtain international clearance in order to avoid a repeat of the farcical episode at Ayr United last week when striker Ryan Stevenson had to go in goals.
Rovers fans were understandably worried by the lack of signing news as the big match approached, however, the deal was finally pushed over the line and announced around six hours before kick-off, to the relief of exasperated Raith chief executive Eric Drysdale.
“Ever since last Tuesday night we’d been looking at potential targets,” he said.
“There was several options on the table which were being pursued at the same time and Yogi decided that he wanted to focus on Pavol.
“Steps were taken to book his flights and he was due to fly in on Sunday morning. However, a bag which contained his passport was stolen at the airport, so he obviously couldn’t fly.
“He managed to get himself an emergency passport, but had to go via Vienna and Brussels into Edinburgh, and he eventually arrived on Monday evening.
“It’s a pity that he didn’t get another training session with the guys on Monday but in the circumstances there was nothing we could do about that. Thereafter, there was still lots and lots of red tape with an international transfer, but we pushed it through with great help from the SFA and SPFL.
“We were very well aware of the concern among fans, but given the complexities, and the previous deal with the Celtic goalkeeper falling through, we were not in the business of jumping the gun.
“Only after every ‘i’ had been dotted, and every ‘t’ had been crossed, could we announce it.”
Penska went on to keep a clean sheet in his first start, but Drysdale admitted that the goalkeeping situation over the past week and a half has been the toughest he has faced in his time with the club.
“I’ve been doing registrations at the club for nearly 19 years and this has been the most acute crisis that we have faced in that time, and the most complex of issues that we’ve had to try and resolve,” he said.
“When we said after the Ayr game we would have a ‘keeper in for St Mirren, we didn’t realise how hard it would be to get the chosen one in.
“We got there in the end and here’s hoping he plays a blinder. He’s a big lad and extremely professional in his attitude. It’s what Yogi wanted - experience rather than have to rely on a youngster.
“We believe we’ve got a good goalkeeper on our hands and he’ll be playing for his future contract as well. He wants to stay in the UK.”
Rovers also completed the signing of 18-year-old Australian goalkeeper Rory Brian on amateur terms, meaning he can play in the Development League, but is currently ineligible for first team action.
“He’s a cracking young goalkeeper,” Drysdale said. “It’s just a pity that the rules don’t allow him to play for the first team this season, but he’s a good one for the future.
“We’re still at least four weeks away from getting one of the injured goalkeepers back so we are still vulnerable. I’ll be speaking to the manager again to see what we can do.”