Raith & Yogi: The right time and right fit

John Hughes parades a Raith scarf at his official unveiling last Friday. Pic: George McLuskie
John Hughes parades a Raith scarf at his official unveiling last Friday. Pic: George McLuskie

By appointing John Hughes as manager until the end of the season, the Raith Rovers board have played the best hand available to them.

After a run of 14 games without a win, and six straight league defeats, Rovers needed an experienced coach, and a man with the presence and personality to lift the dressing room and steady the ship.

In that regard, Yogi’s track record speaks for itself.

Promotion and four consecutive years of top flight football with Falkirk, European qualification with Hibs, and a Scottish Cup victory with Inverness are just some of the highlights of his 14 years in management.

Not to mention being voted Scotland’s top manager of the year in season 2014-2015 by both PFA Scotland and the Scottish Football Writers’ Association.

He’s had his troubles too – sacked by Hibs after a poor start to his second season in charge, an unsuccessful spell in England with Hartlepool, and a fall-out with the board that brought an end to his time at Inverness.

That’s why the length of contract suits both parties down to the ground.

It gives Raith a chance to assess whether they see Hughes as the right man to take the club forward, and Hughes time to decide whether Rovers are the right club for him at a time when his stock is reasonably high.

If both marry together, results pick up, and no bigger fish come calling, then expect Hughes to stick around for the foreseeable future.

Given his most recent success at Premiership level, some may be surprised that Yogi ended up at Stark’s Park, but after eight months out of the game, the time was right for the 52-year-old to, in his own words, get the boiler suit back on and get back to work.

“First and foremost I’m absolutely delighted to be here,” he said. “Raith Rovers is a fantastic club and all through my playing and managerial career I’ve always enjoyed coming over to Fife.

“They are good people, made of the right stuff.

“They are full of enthusiasm, and when I started talking to Eric and the chairman you could see the love they had for their club and that really stuck with me.

“I’ve been out the game for a while but it’s the right time, and the right fit for me.

“After I left Inverness, I was there for two and a half years and had a successful time, I had to get back to my family and had one or two business bits or pieces to do.

“I was always keeping an eye on the game. I had opportunities to go back in earlier on, but it just wasn’t right. I had too much going on.

“Right at this moment in time, this suits me. Not just because it’s the right fit, but it’s the challenge.

“I’m taking over from two good guys that I respect in the game in Lockie and Darren, but it’s unfortunate that we’re in a results business.

“It’s my job to come in and try to galvanise the team, hit the ground running and get the best out of them.

“And if you look at my record, that’s probably my fit – getting the best out of players, getting them motivated and getting them going.

“It’s all about winning games but I like to play football properly and get it down, so I’ll be asking a lot of the players.

“I’ll try to stimulate them and make sure we’re all ready to go.”

Hughes certainly has a task on his hand to transform a team that hasn’t won a match since October, but he admitted that he was attracted by the scale of the challenge.

“I did my homework and studied the squad, and there are real good players here,” he said.

“Everybody goes through a time in their career when you’re not getting results and you lose confidence and momentum. Everybody starts hiding. That can happen in football.

“I’m not saying we’re going to win every game, but it’s my job to make sure we give it our best shot.

“I’m quite sure the boys, with a new manager, will have plenty energy in them.

“I’m going to jump on that. Can you run quicker? Can you jump higher?

“I’ll use it and get as much out of it as I can before they sit back and start putting their feet up – then it changes and I have to get into them again to keep things moving along.

“But they’ll enjoy working with me. I never hit anyone with the big stick.

“I’ll be asking them to do things on the football pitch they’ve maybe not been asked to do before, and everyone will know exactly what their job is before they go out.”

Ironically, Hughes first match in charge will see him go up against the club he played for, managed, and supported since a boy as league leaders Hibs come to Stark’s Park on Saturday.

“That’s what football throws up and I’m looking forward to that challenge,” he said.

“We’re up against the best team in the league, and I think they’ll win it, but that has to motivate you.

“I’m excited, and I hope the players get excited about it as well. I want to get off to a winning start but I’m under no illusions how tough it’s going to be.

“I was looking at the teams, players, and managers in the Championship and we’ve got our work cut out. There’s not an easy game in this league.

“My message to the players will be to keep their head down and do their talking on the pitch, and if they do that, and stick together, we’ve got a right chance.”

Born and bred a stone’s throw from the docks in Leith, where his father worked, Hughes will also bring working class values to the club – something he hopes the Kirkcaldy community can relate to.

“My dad was a docker,” he said. “I grew up around the shipbuilders in Leith.

“I was the youngest of six in the family. I know my place in life! I can remember going down there at five o’clock on a Friday and thousands of men coming past you.

“Unfortunately, those days are gone but it installed in me the values of hard work.

“They are the same values we are putting in that dressing room.

“I don’t have a magic wand – the secret of football is hard work and having good values. Keep your head down and get on with it, because football has a knack of kicking you in the backside as soon as you think you’re too big for yourself.

“Stick together and play with the working values that are in the Fife community.

“I’ve never had any airs or graces. I just put the boiler suit on and get my hands dirty and go to work.

“If it’s from 8 o’clock in the morning until late at night, if that’s what it takes to bring success, then you go and do it.

“There’s nothing glamorous about it. You can get battered from pillar to post. You’re a hero one minute, a dumpling the next. That’s part and parcel of football.

“Two good guys lost their jobs here because of results – that’s the business we’re in. But if you can learn to take the good with the bad then it can stand you in good stead.”

Hughes’ appointment has certainly chimed with Raith fans – he was the overwhelming popular choice – and has helped repair relations between the support and a board criticised for the failed appointment of Gary Locke.

CEO Eric Drysdale added: “We’re absolutely delighted that we have been able to secure the services of John Hughes for the remainder of this season.

“John is an extremely experienced manager and we feel confident that he will be able to help us improve our league position and start to take the club forward.”