Raith are in my blood – I want a positive future

Stark's Park - Kirkcaldy - Fife - 'Raith chairman Bill Clarke - 'credit- Fife Photo Agency
Stark's Park - Kirkcaldy - Fife - 'Raith chairman Bill Clarke - 'credit- Fife Photo Agency

When Bill Clark joined the Raith Rovers board last October, little did he know that just seven months later he would be stepping into the hot seat.

But while the chairmanship may have come as a surprise, Bill is anything but a reluctant club figurehead. Far from it.

In fact, it is a role he is relishing getting his teeth into.

“I never expected to be in this position at all, never mind as quickly as this,” he said.

“We were taken a bit by surprise that Alan Young stepped down as suddenly as he did.

“We had a board meeting a week past Monday to discuss what the structure would be going forward, the finger was pointed at me, and I said, ‘okay I’ll do it’.

“It’s a huge challenge, but my whole life has been about challenges, and I don’t think it’s insurmountable.

“I’ll give it everything I’ve got.”

Bill certainly has a background which qualifies him to lead the club.

An Honours graduate from Edinburgh University, he has had a highly successful career in education, including posts as rector of Galashiels Academy, HM Chief Inspector of Schools (Scotland) and Director of Education in Islington, inner London.

He has also been a consultant on leadership, management and improvement planning to governments in Australia, China, Hong Kong and the USA.

He now aims to bring his wealth of skills from the world of education into running the football club.

“A lot of it is man management and interpersonal relations, which I hope I’m strong on,” he explained.

“When you’re dealing with 74 head teachers, for example, that is a challenge, because they don’t aways have the same view, and they all want a share of the money.

“There are enough similarities in this job, apart from the fact that this is voluntary and unpaid – that’s the one drawback!”

In a detailed first interview with the Press following his appointment, Bill broke his role down into four key challenges, the first of which is simply to win promotion.

“The first challenge is to get back into the Championship because it costs us money to be down in League One,” he said.

“We came so close, and that was a huge disappointment. I was sitting in tears up in the stand after the Alloa game.

“The second challenge is to recruit players. We’ve let quite a number of players go, because we just felt they didn’t quite measure up to what we were looking for.

“With a smaller squad, we’ve got to have the right players, and that’s not going to be easy. Without lowering our horizons, the supporters need to appreciate that it might be even tougher this year than last.

“We won’t have Ayr breathing down our necks, but I know a number of clubs in this division are strengthening and offering terms to players which are Championship level.

“There’s going to be challenges coming from quarters that spectators don’t expect. That’s the market we’re in, and it’s not an easy challenge.

“The days where the differential between full-time and part-time was quite wide – they’ve gone.

“Some teams in our league are spending a lot of money to recruit part-time players, who then also have time to do another job, which means a much bigger income.

“For established players in the last few years of their career, that is quite an incentive.”

The third challenge, Bill explained, and perhaps the most important, is to protect the club’s investment in youth development, something he has a keen interest in having worked closely with Craig Easton since becoming a director.

With the SPFL set to scrap the Development Leagues in favour of Reserve Leagues next season, the club has a decision to make over what it intends to do with its own Development Squad.

There is also uncertainty over the position of Easton, who is holding talks with Dundee United over a possible move back to the club he spent eight years with as a player.

Mr Clark explained: “The third challenge is to make sure that we don’t lose all the youth development that we’ve been building up over the last two years.

“We’re looking at signing a number of our youth players up to the first team squad, and it will be the one squad.

“It means some of them will be getting promoted earlier than they might have done, but by the same token, some may find that they are not part of the scenery next year, but that’s the way it has to go, because the fourth and final challenge is getting this club on a sound financial footing.

“There’s enough economic, finance and banking experts around the board to try to get us into that position so I’m taking a lesser role in that and concentrating more on the football side and working with Barry Smith and the coaches.”

Bill hopes that whatever guise the club’s youth development takes next season, that the 100 or so fans who currently contribute to the club’s Player Development Fund will continue to do so, and that more will be encouraged to sign up.

“Nobody should get the idea that because the under 20s league has gone that we’re going to abandon young players – that’s not the plan at all,” he said. “It’s the opposite, in fact, because we’re going to give them more opportunities, quicker.

“We’ve got a plan A for Craig Easton staying, and a plan B if he goes. They are very similar and it’s aimed at giving the boys who are capable a chance to step up maybe sooner than they might have.

“Fans are often saying we should bring more of the Development Squad into the team. Well, there’s going to be quite a few of them getting their chance this year.

“I hope that people will continue to support the Development Fund and I’ll be making sure that the money goes where it’s supposed to, and doesn’t get swallowed up in anything else.”

Bill describes himself as a “died in the wool” Rovers fan stretching back to the 1950s. Born and bred in Dysart, he was a regular at Stark’s Park in his childhood before his career took him across the globe.

“I used to stand with my father over where the little pie stall was in old Railway Stand for years as a wee boy,” he explained. “It’s in my blood. I’m not a Johnny-come-lately, at all.

“People might think that because they’ve not heard of me before. I read a thing on Facebook saying, who is Bill Clark? I’ve been all over the world but I’ve always been a Raith supporter, it’s in my blood.”

After the failings on and off the pitch in the past two seasons, it will be reassuring to fans that a fellow supporter with a distinguished background has shown a willingness to invest his time – and money – following last year’s investment in the club.

Bill added: “We’ve reflected on what’s happened in the past, we’ve taken it on board, this is now about looking forward and planning for a positive future for this club and its community. That’s really what I’m here to do.”