Smith exit lifts lid on strained relations at Raith

Stark's Park - Kirkcaldy - Fife - 'Raith v Forfar -'Manager Barry Smith at full time -'credit- Fife Photo Agency
Stark's Park - Kirkcaldy - Fife - 'Raith v Forfar -'Manager Barry Smith at full time -'credit- Fife Photo Agency

Raith Rovers are on the hunt for a new manager following the sudden departure of Barry Smith.

In a shock move, the 44-year-old handed in his resignation on Tuesday, bringing to an end his 15-month spell in charge of the Kirkcaldy club.

The timing of Smith’s departure – three days after an excellent 4-0 home win that moved the club joint top of the League One table – lifts the lid on difficulties behind the scenes, with a combination of factors believed to have led to his decision.

While Smith himself has made no comment, Press sources have indicated that the manager felt undermined by a perceived lack of support from the board, and what he felt were mixed messages over his budget, which left him unable to follow through on offers made to players.

There have also been suggestions of a fall-out regarding the handling of a recent £15,000 donation from the supporters’ groups towards a new player.

Raith chairman Bill Clark admitted that relations between the board and the manager had been strained at times, but the club had been caught off guard by his decision to quit.

“It came as a total shock to me and the rest of the board,” Clark told the Press.

“If he doesn’t want to be here, we really had no option but to accept his resignation.

“It has been a difficult relationship at times over the last 15 months, but a relationship is a two-way thing. It’s not entirely the board’s fault.”

On the subject of the fans’ donation, Clark added: “It’s correct that the supporters’ club’s have provided money and my understanding was that over the weekend he was pursuing the signing of another player.”

Clark, who replaced the outgoing Alan Young as chairman in the summer, refuted any suggestions that relations had deteriorated in recent weeks.

“This is a board, and myself especially, who stuck with him through hard times at the end of the season when people were calling for his head,” he said. “Even at the start of this season when we lost to Cowdenbeath and Cove Rangers in the cup, there was no intention or possibility that he was going to be sacked at that time.

“We’ve been right behind him, despite a lot of supporters thinking we should have got rid of him.

“I told him my personal view was that he would win the league for us this season and I would like to see him as our manager in Championship. I repeated that to him several times.

“Anyone contacting us about the job will find we’re not a difficult board, and I’m certainly not a difficult chairman to work with.”

Smith had been working under tight financial constraints, but Mr Clark indicated that his budget was agreed before the season started.

“He has put together a good squad,” he added.

“It’s a small squad but the budget he has got is one of the biggest in this league, and he agreed the size of squad at the start of the season.

“He had no problems with it, and said he thought he could win the league with that squad.

“And he still believes that because he told me yesterday he thinks the squad can win the league no matter how thin it was, and we had been hoping to add to it over the weekend.”

Smith’s surprise exit follows back-to-back wins, with the 10-men comeback to claim a 4-3 victory over Airdrie last weekend viewed as a turning point in the season.

“The timing would suggest there have been problems, but he’s had the backing of the board,” Clark said. “We’ve now got to pick these boys up and take them forward to win the league this season.

“We’re in a good position but the manager resigning after five games when top of league leaves us in a tricky situation. We need a bit of time to sit down and think about this.”

Clark added that the club has already received applications for the manager’s post, but that the focus for now is purely on Saturday, with assistant manager Kevin Cuthbert to take charge for the Irn-Bru Cup fixture at Ross County.

“We’ve had a number of applications in already but we’re still in the early stages of considering how we go forward,” Clark explained. “We’re still talking to Barry, but I don’t know what the outcome of those talks will be. All we’ve decided so far is that Kevin will take the team on Saturday. We’ve not looked beyond Saturday yet.”

While Smith was unable to guide Raith to promotion, he leaves behind an undefeated home league record, as well as the best win percentage of any manager in the club’s recent history.