Why lifelong Raith Rovers fan Niall Russell had to leave media officer role at club he loves

Niall Russell working for Raith TVNiall Russell working for Raith TV
Niall Russell working for Raith TV
Lifelong Raith Rovers supporter Niall Russell has revealed why he reached the agonising decision to quit as the Kirkcaldy club’s media officer after eight years.

Dalgety Bay resident Russell, 52 – who has been replaced in the Raith post by Grace Fowlie - told the Fife Free Press: "It was a very emotional decision to quit my Rovers role.

“The main reason I’m stopping doing the job is because I’m head coach for my 13-year-old son William’s football team Bayside Colts FC, based out of Pitreavie but they’re a Dalgety Bay team.

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“We start at under-15s in the Fife Football Development League Division 2 next season and in Fife that means that games will be played on Saturdays with an 11am kick-off, playing teams as far afield as Crieff, Perth, Cupar, Methil, as well as at Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy.

Niall Russell with his son William, whose football career he can now focus on fullyNiall Russell with his son William, whose football career he can now focus on fully
Niall Russell with his son William, whose football career he can now focus on fully

"If we had an away game and Raith Rovers were playing that day, I couldn’t be in two places at one time so it would be impossible to keep doing my Raith job.

"At the end of the day it was a straight choice between developing my football team or filling my time with Raith Rovers stuff and ultimately what was going to give me more satisfaction was Bayside, because I will be developing people and helping them develop as adults.

"For the last six years the Bayside games have been on Sunday mornings and afternoons. But I always knew these kick-offs were being changed and I would have to make a decision on what to keep doing and Bayside won, but it was the right thing to do.”

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So Russell – who currently works from home as an operations manager for Pro-Weld – can now devote his weekends to watching Raith as a fan and also overseeing the exploits of his boy William, a striker who has scored over 50 goals this season.

Niall Russell on media duties for Raith RoversNiall Russell on media duties for Raith Rovers
Niall Russell on media duties for Raith Rovers

Russell had started doing voluntary work for Raith in 2012 – initially helping write reports and assisting the club’s media team on matchdays – before taking on the main media officer role four years later during Raith McKinnon’s one season as manager, when previous media officer Ally Gourlay left the role after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

"Ally was a Rovers man through and through,” Russell said. “He was the biggest Rovers fan out there and helped the club initially as a volunteer and then as an employee for about four years.

"He had been involved since was in his early 20s doing everything with the team and helping out with training.

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"Ally was a good friend as well. I knew him for a couple of years before stepping up to help him and he was an all round good guy, everyone loved him.

"When he got the sad news that his cancer of the esophagus was untreatable, he very kindly picked me as his replacement.

"I don’t know why he picked me out of the chorus, but when he asked me if I would be interested in stepping in I was more than happy to do so because Rovers are my team. I think he saw me as a safe pair of hands and wanted to hand on the role to someone who was a committed supporter, who was going to be reliable and would represent his legacy well and carry it on in the same way he’d been doing.

"Ally was a good guy and I wanted to help him out. It was big shoes to fill.

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"He got on particularly well with Ray McKinnon, which made it particularly sad he left.

"When I had done the voluntary work at Raith I had tried my hand writing match reports and helping on matchdays, everything apart from photography. And that in turn got me involved with the Raith TV guys, doing some camera work and then eventually commentating with Davie Hancock, people who remain firm friends to this day.”

The commitments of his media officer role at Raith meant that Russell was regularly working from 11am to 7pm on matchdays, having already worked for a few hours during the week dealing with local and national press, TV and radio.

"It was roughly a 12 hours a week commitment,” he added. “If it was a live TV game you could safely add on another eight or 10 hours, because then you had meetings with other clubs, safety briefings, these things are amplified and magnified when it’s live on TV, as we were quite a lot last season.

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"My wife Tamsin has always been fully supportive of my love of the Rovers and she’s been fully behind me to ensure that I’m able to volunteer.

"With family commitments and work commitments as well, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her support. There’s not many wives would allow their husband to go to every single match every season for a number of years.

"She’s been very supportive, as have my kids William and Isabella, 16. On Saturdays, Tamsin and Isabella do their own thing and William and I do our own thing, so it works well.”

When asked what the best and worst things were about his media officer gig with Raith, Russell replied: “I would say it was feeling part of something that was at the forefront of lots of people’s minds.

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"Whilst I wasn’t on the pitch scoring the goals or playing for the team, I was helping the club in other ways.

"And when things were going well, it was a great feeling.

"Even when things weren’t going well, you knew you were involved in something where you were doing the right thing for your club.

"The only down side was that people always expected me to know everything that was happening at the club, who we were signing, what wages they were on, what transfer fees we were paying.

"Whilst I knew some of that, I wasn’t able to share it. It did get a wee bit tiresome, people asking things like: ‘How much is Dylan Easton getting?’ I don’t know that, I don’t care either!”

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Russell was born in England and spent his early years living in Yelverton, Devon, but, aged seven, Niall’s dad Robert’s Royal Navy posting took the family to Rosyth and it wasn’t long before young Russell was regularly at Stark’s Park watching the Rovers with his grandad Victor Phillips.

While the on-pitch entertainment was memorable, Niall’s recollections of crowd members are also vivid!

He said: “I was hooked on watching Raith straight away because the football was exciting and there were guys around you drinking and smoking. The first game I ever went to was at Christmas so everyone had a half bottle on the go and I thought that was normal!

"My dad being away with the navy meant that there was no point in him getting a season ticket.

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"I didn’t start going to games regularly until I was 14 when I was able to go on my own. I went on the train because we lived in Ladybank.

"I have never actually lived in Kirkcaldy, to my eternal shame!

"As things moved onto Raith’s glory years of the 1990s under Jimmy Nicholl, I was at university in Dundee – where I got an HND in Hospitality Management – but I still came down every second Saturday for games.

"And then after graduating I moved down to London for 10 years, working in bars and restaurants before moving into retail and IT training for Selfridges. So I had quite a big range of experience but at all times I was a Rovers fan first and foremost.

"When I came back to Scotland in 2005, I started going to games regularly again.”

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