Alex Penman inducted into Raith Rovers’ Hall of Fame

Raith Rovers Hall of Fame 2017: inductee Alex Penman, with  former Scotland internationalist, Willie Johnston   (Pic: George McLuskie)
Raith Rovers Hall of Fame 2017: inductee Alex Penman, with former Scotland internationalist, Willie Johnston (Pic: George McLuskie)

Every fan has stood on the terraces and dreamed about owning their team.

Alex Penman did just that, and was at the helm for Raith Rovers’ greatest successes – promotion, Coca Cola Cup and into Europe.

He also delivered the two new stands to make the ground fit for Premier League football, and it all came, remarkably, within a very short period of time.

The route to the boardroom began when Alex sponsored the Fife Cup, one of the oldest, but smallest of competitions. He brought all four of the Kingdom’s senior teams together for a weekend of football.

A fan since his days as a nipper, Alex had, in common with many Fife businessmen, sponsored games, and gradually his interest grew.

‘I grew up in Cardenden. My mum was a cook and my dad was a miner.

‘’He wasn’t greatly into football – he’d watch games on TV – so it was my Uncle Davie, who became a traffic warden in Kirkcaldy, who introduced me to Rovers.

‘’This was in the days when buses left Bowhill on a Saturday and took us to the games – and then we’d be in a 10,000 crowd to see Raith play teams like St Mirren.

‘’The atmosphere back then was fantastic – you’d swap ends at half time, and you really didn’t see any trouble. Everyone went to enjoy the football.’’

Like most kids of his generation, Alex played the game too.

‘’We played at Eastbank with the under 16s, 18s and then 21s,’’ he recalled.

‘’We were winning leagues and cups, and we got to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup but lost 2-1 and I got carried off!

‘’I was the right back, and those were the days when teams only had one sub which we’d used. Five minutes into the second half their right winger went right over my leg, so that ended my game.’’

‘’As a kid it was great fun to play – we’d go to Stark’s Park for training in the original 200 Club - but I was never good enough to play senior.’’

As a successful businessmen and a fan, Alex joined the Rovers board in October 1990, and it was his investment and support behind the scenes that led to the club’s greatest successes.

Promotion was secured at Firhill – tenants Hamilton Accies, rather than Partick Thistle, were the opposition – the Coca Cola Cup was captured amid incredible scenes, and the new stands went up in record time.

‘’The Premier League meant a minimum 10,000 seat stadium,’’ said Alex. ‘’We had to do it. We started at the end of one season – the diggers came in the day after the last match and started work straight away. We had them done for the start of the next season . The construction was amazing.

’’Barr were building stadiums everywhere and had a good track record. They produced the plans, the council were great and not have been more helpful, and we had the Football Trust backing as well - Tiny Wharton was the president and we got on really well with him.

‘The old shed went, and we got two new stands in place, and we also added a smaller one along the railway line.’’

With Stark’s Park fit for purpose off the pitch, the successes on it continued as the club took off on a remarkable European adventure and enjoyed full houses for the biggest Premier League games.

‘’The cup was superb – a really special day for everyone,’’ said Alex.

‘’Promotion was also huge because it took us into the Premier League – it let us play in the top tier and generate more revenue through bigger gates.’’

And then came Bayern, the giants of Europe.

Rovers had already made it through two early rounds before their remarkable head to head with one of the biggest clubs in football.

The picture of the scoreboard at the Olympic Stadium showing Rovers leading is part of Scottish footballing history – a moment frozen in time for every single fan of the club.

That came in the second leg after Rovers welcomed Bayern to Scotland, and played them at Easter Road, home of Hibs.

That match gave Rovers a full house and massive TV coverage.

‘’There was no TV money for the early rounds, but by the time we got to Bayern there was a league table.

‘‘If you drew a German team it was £500,000, a Spanish side was £400,000, Italian £350,00 and so on.

‘’There were four German teams in the draw, and three had come out. Bayern came out the hat first so we spoke straight away to Uli Hoeness and offered to switch it to Kirkcaldy!

‘‘ I knew we’d then get the TV money – and it was a lot of money for Rovers’’

With Jimmy Nicholl leading the team, and the town, on a magical journey, Alex was a key player from the start.

Now ‘’90 per cent retired’’ he continues to support the club. They remain part of his DNA.

‘’Rovers is still the first result you look for.’’

He now takes his place in the Hall of Fame; a fitting recognition for the successes on and off the park under his stewardship.