Nostalgia: A landmark day in Raith Rovers’ history
The scenes of celebration which followed are part of the club’s folklore.
Frank Connor’s role will go down as one of the most important in the club’s history.
He took the club by the scruff of the neck and shook it up-both on and off the park.
When he took over the management of the team after the unsuccessful period of Bobby Wilson, he had sounded out various contacts about the team and he told the board he was inheriting half a football team – he was referring to players such as Paul Sweeney, Paul Smith, Craig Robertson, Billy Herd and Keith Wright, who comprised nearly half of a side languishing near the bottom of the league.
He forged a strong relationship with the board to win their backing to bring in a better calibre of player.
With the signings of Hamish McAlpine, Andy Harrow, Colin Harris and later in the season Gordon Dalziel he improved the team. He also brought in some of the best young players from the Fife junior scene with both Glen Kerr and fans’ favourite Stevie “Bingo” Simpson signing and going straight into the first team.
Paul Smith moved to get full-time football with Motherwell with Andy Harrow, in-exchange plus £15,000, returning to Stark’s Park before the season started. Keith Wright was sold to Dundee in early December for a fee of £50,000.
Frank also brought discipline and organisation back to Stark’s Park. He was a tough taskmaster but one that also had great enthusiasm for football.
The league season was to start and finish at Stranraer.
On August 9, 1986 Rovers drew 1-1 at Stair Park. The following Saturday saw them beat Ayr United 5-0 with Harrow scoring a hat-trick at home.
Up until the turn of the year Rovers won only eight of their league games, drawing 10 and losing two.
During the season, they also had a great Scottish Cup run that took them to the quarter-final. Vale of Leithen were beaten 4-0 in the Second Round, before a great 1-0 win away at Dumfries with a Colin Harris winner.
Peterhead were next up and, after a 2-2 home draw and 3-3 draw at Peterhead, Rovers won the second replay 3-0 Gayfield, Arbroath. Premier League St. Mirren came to Stark’s Park for the quarter-final, won 2-0, they went on to win the cup.
Some saw the exhausting cup run as distraction that may derail their promotion push.
Other teams in a competitive League raised their games for the visit of Rovers, and came to Stark’s Park with a morale boosting draw in mind. Rovers had led the League from November 15 until February 14 but then a run of six draws in seven games seemed to scuppered their promotion chances.
Come the final day, the league positions were
1. Meadowbank Thistle 53 pts (+30 goal difference)
2. Ayr United 52 pts (+22)
3. Raith Rovers 50 (+26)
4. Stirling Albion 50 (+21)
Meadowbank were away to Alloa, and Ayr were at home to Stirling Albion.
As the Rovers’ team and supporters travelled to Stranraer, most of us travelled in hope rather in expectation.
Rovers endured a very nervous first half hour and were behind after only four minutes, Gordon Dalziel latched on to a Hamish McAlpine clearance to equalise in 32 minutes, but the news coming from Somerset Park was good –Stirling had scored twice in the first 21 minutes.
It was a different Rovers team which emerged in the second half. They scented promotion and tore into the Stranraer team, scoring three goals in a blistering seven-minute period. The game was over as contest and now everyone’s attention was focused on the game 42 miles away in Ayr.
Ally Gourlay had commandeered a large portable radio and positioned it on top of the away dugout, and everyone around listened to ‘West Sound’ radio station’s live commentary of the Ayr-Stirling game.
Former Rovers’ loanee goalkeeper Andy Graham, playing for Stirling, saved a penalty, Ayr then pulled back a goal, before Stirling made it 3-1.
Ayr scored again with 14 minutes to go, meaning another goal would see them promoted. Graham produced heroics to pull off save after save to prevent them equalising, which had the listening Rovers’ fans gasping.
The final whistle blew at Somerset Park minutes before the game ended at Stranraer prompting Frank Connor to do his jig of delight.
The referee’s whistle brought a good-natured pitch invasion by the travelling Raith Rovers support and a great celebration with players.
Rovers were the Second Division’s top scorers, scoring 73 goals and they only suffered three league defeats all season.
Frank Connor gave Raith Rovers their self-respect back and put them on a path to success.