1997 - Raith Rovers' great summer of upheaval

Raith Rovers are well used to moments of upheaval and chaos, but, the summer of 1997 was extraordinary.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 26th July 2018, 12:53 pm
Updated Thursday, 26th July 2018, 12:57 pm
Raith Rovers 1997 takeover
Raith Rovers 1997 takeover

Between April and the end of June the club endured relegation, sacked a manager and saw various consortiums appear in a bid to take over from chairman, Alex Penman, who wanted out.

The fans were left scratching their heads as rumours abounded in between updates on deals which seemed to be finalised only to unravel, leaving the club in a state of limbo.

It started in April when Iain Munro made the long walk from dug out to dressing-room after a 5-0 thumping at the hands of Motherwell confirmed relegation.

Jimmy Nicholl Stark's Park

The board invited him to resign. When he declined they handed him his P45.

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Jimmy Nicholl’s Stark’s Park story

And amid this upheaval, the the spotlight switched to the boardroom and an apparent buy-out bid with former hero Jimmy Nicholl as the front man.

Up for grabs was the shareholding of Mr Penman, but it turned out to be anything other than straight forward.

As Willie Gray quit and left the boardroom, the un-named consortium behind Nicholl claimed an initial offer of £250,000 had been made – something the chairman’s lawyer, the late Ron Mckenzie, disputed and added that “any claim to the contrary was false.”

He also poured scorn on the lack of identity of the bidders, but Nicholl seemed un-deterred, hinting at a revised offer by the end of the week.

He even suggested the sacked Munro, a good friend of his, would be back as part of the coaching team.

By the following week, with no second offer tabled, Nicholl said he was no longer part of the deal, but kept his options open in terms of a return to Stark’s Park.

And then the saga went international... via Yorkshire!

Enter one Stuart Baxter, son of ex-Raith boss Bill, and coaching in Kobi, Japan.

Baxter was linked with pretty much any and every football job in Scotland back then, and was happy to chat about what might be, while all the time also expressing an interest in a role with Grasshoppers Zurich in Switzerland.

Baxter, a former Buckhaven High School pupil, said his people were “a very large company looking to get into British soccer” although, by his own admission, Zurich appealed more than Kirkcaldy. Can’t think why ...

The rumour machine also chucked in the name of Willie Johnstone, former Scotland winger turned Kirkcaldy publican, as a possible new chief. He confirmed an interest but went into no detail – and even Hyundai were rumoured to be behind one of the bids. They had their hands full building their factory on the edge of the M90 at Dunfermline.

Now relegated and managerless, the fans were no further forward in knowing where the club was going.

To stir the pot further, enter a Leeds based group – H & N Sports And Entertainments, which included FIFA licensed football agents, looking to take over a club.

They said an offer had been tabled and were talking of long-term investment with Rovers being the best of three options before them.

Just to really shake up the fans, the free transfer came out – and the list included goalkeeper Scott Thomson, Coca Cola Cup hero.

And then came new owners, Jersey-based GZS Eurocapital Holdings, who lasted about as long as a substitute with a hamstring injury.

Led by Stirling-based Peter Nicol they planned to re-instate Nicholl as manager, only to see the take-over end when Mr Penman’s lawyer said the deadline for payment had come and gone.

The club was back up for sale – and there was another mystery bidder which turned out to be Edinburgh businessman, Bob Jamieson.

Alas, his consortium didn’t deliver – the stumbling block seemed access to funding - and so the chairman and GZS danced once more.

By mid-June he was able to declare mission accomplished. Nicholl was the manager, A deal with GZS was in place … despite reports Mr Jamieson had informed people that he was the new owner.

In came Gavin Watt as MD, while Steve Currie was the new commercial manager, and Jimmy Nic was in the dug-out. Well, yes and no.

When Peter Nicol’s financial affairs hit the headlines, the whole GZS sale hit the floor faster than Jurgen Klinnsman diving in the penalty box.

Directors Charles and Cant and Bill Shedden, who’d held the fort amid the upheaval, both resigned, and in came Kirkcaldy lawyers, Nigel Ford and Willie MacGregor who joined Mr Penman and Jeanette Penman on a four-person board.

But there was more.,

By June 27 Nicholl and Penman had buried the hatchet, and the Irishman was back as manager.

After two failed bids to sell, the chairman then did a deal with Alan Kelly, the Dundee businessman behind Kelly Copiers.

Mr MacGregor left the board, Mr Ford stayed on, and the chairman sold up, bringing to an end a summer of upheaval, and three years at the helm which had delivered promotion, cup glory, a European dream, and brand new stands.