The highs of Munich ... to the Highland League

Davie Kirkwood slots home a vital penalty winner for Raith Rovers against Kilmarnock, 5/3/97 (score 2-1 for Raith Rovers)
Davie Kirkwood slots home a vital penalty winner for Raith Rovers against Kilmarnock, 5/3/97 (score 2-1 for Raith Rovers)
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DAVIE Kirkwood was part of the iconic Raith Rovers squad that caused one of the biggest cup shocks in Scottish football history.

Now, the Wick Academy boss is hoping to mastermind another huge upset, by dumping his former team out of the Ramsdens Cup on Saturday.

Kirkwood played for Raith during the glory years of the 1990s, and collected a League Cup winners medal as well as featuring in the famous European ties against Bayern Munich.

He also started his coaching career at Stark’s Park, taking charge of the youth team after hanging up his boots in 1999.

“I have great memories of my six years at Raith,” Kirkwood told the Press.

“It was a fantastic club to be part of. Right from the chairman, Alex Penman, all the way down it was a real team effort.

“Everybody got on with each other - and although we trained hard it was always a great laugh.

“You couldn’t not have a laugh with Jimmy Nicholl as manager. Every day was a new adventure, and he hardly ever picked the same team twice.

“He chopped and changed the starting 11 depending on who were playing against, and that kept everyone in the squad involved.

“I remember I hadn’t played for a few games, but he brought me back into the team for a game at Somerset Park - purely because I had a good record of scoring there.

“As it turned out, I scored, and we won the game 1-0.

“It was the first time Rovers had won in Ayr for something like 15 years.

“It was good management. Jimmy looked at players who had lucky grounds and certain connections to places, and picked his teams accordingly.”

Career

Kirkwood started his playing career in 1983 with East Fife where he made over 100 appearances before being signed by Graeme Souness for Rangers.

He only featured seven times for the Ibrox men before moving onto Hearts and Airdrie, where a contract dispute led to him being transferred to Raith for £75,000 in 1994.

Injury meant Kirkwood’s involvement in the famous Coca-Cola Cup run was restricted to one substitute appearance in the semi-final win over Airdrie.

He missed out on a place in the cup final squad, which defeated Celtic on penalties, but he recalls the day fondly.

“Both myself and Danny Lennon got injured and didn’t make the squad for the final,” he said. “There was a bit of despair over missing out because I’d played in a Scottish Cup final with Airdrie and I knew what the occasion would be like.

“I travelled to the game with the squad and still felt part of the day, and it was a roller-coaster game to watch.

“A lot of people thought it would be easy for Celtic because it was an SPL team against First Division opposition.

“But we had quality players like Stevie Crawford, Dave Narey, Shaun Dennis and Gordon Dalziel so I always knew we’d be in with a chance.

“When it goes to penalty kicks it becomes a lottery but fortunately Scott Thomson came through for us.”

The following season saw Rovers enter the UEFA Cup for the first time, and Kirkwood featured in both legs as Raith took on the mighty Bayern.

“I’d played in Europe a few times before with Rangers and Hearts but the Raith games against Bayern were special occasions,” he said.

“It was a bit flat at Easter Road to be honest because we weren’t able to play the game at Stark’s Park.

“But to play in the Olympic Stadium in Munich was an incredible experience. We thought there would only be a small trickle of Bayern fans, but there were thousands of them at the game.

“When we went 1-0 up at half-time we knew they’d come back at us in the second half, but we had a great chance to go 2-0 up, which Tony Rougier put over the bar. If that had gone in things could have been a little different.”

A knee injury that plagued Kirwood throughout his career finally forced him to reture in 1999 but he stayed at Raith for a further season as under 19 coach before cut-backs led to a parting of ways.

After taking on coaching roles at various senior clubs, Kirkwood eventually ended up at Ross County where he spent five years as head of the club’s youth academy.

He left the post in 2011 and a surprise job offer from Wick would take his career even further north.

“I was going to take a break from the game but within three hours of leaving Ross County I got a phonecall asking if I would be interested in becoming the new manager of Wick,” he said.

“I didn’t know much about the Highland League so I took some time to think things over and look at the structure, then decided to go for it.”

Competitive

Last season was Kirkwood’s first as a manager and he steered Wick to an eighth place finish in the notoriously competitive Highland League.

“It’s been an absolute adventure,” he said. “The first half of last season was a bit of a who’s who for me trying to find out about other teams in the league, but we did better in the second half.

“I was disappointed to finish eighth because I believe we could’ve finished higher. We’ll be looking to do better this season.”

Kirkwood is confident that his team can cause a shock on Saturday.

“The Highland League is a very good standard - and it’s getting better all the time,” he said.

“It’s not all about money, but there are more financial rewards in the Highland League than there are in the some of the senior leagues so we can attract a good standard of player.

“I’d be disappoitned if my team didn’t give Raith a hard game.

“I don’t set my teams out to nullify the oppositon, so first and foremost we’ll be going out to win the game.

“Because I spent most of my career at Raith, it makes it extra special.

“It’s a club I still have feelings for, and I’ve attended a few club functions and given away a couple of prizes for auctions.

“I still keep in touch with a few of the team and I occasionally have Ally Gourlay pestering me as well!

“It’s a club I’ll always look out for.”