With John McGlynn returning to Stark’s Park for the first time after being appointed Manager at Hearts, Match Day Reporter Donald Ramsay reflects on McGlynn’s time at the Rovers …
Looking back, the sense of apathy among the Raith Rovers faithful that greeted the announcement of John McGlynn as the club’s new manager in November 2006 wasn’t exactly attributable to the perceived ability of the man himself.
At that time, the mood down Stark’s Park way was particularly grim. To paraphrase PG Wodehouse, it would not have been difficult to distinguish between the demeanour of we Rovers’ fans and a ray of sunshine.
The club, still reeling from the embarrassing – and almost ruinous – flirtation with Claude Anelka, languished near the bottom of the second division. The halcyon days of Jimmy Nicholl’s tenure were melting into the horizon, as Rovers lurched along a road marked destination wilderness.
For some of us, McGlynn’s appointment as successor to Craig Levein smacked of a Hearts old boys’ act. For others, given the perilous state of Rovers’ finances, it was simply the cheap option. However, such feelings were quickly forgotten as the new man went about his work.
Not that McGlynn immediately made grandiose promises of returning Rovers to the higher echelons of Scottish football. No, even an undeniable resemblance to Donald Pleasance would not allow us to imagine the new manager sitting in his office, menacingly stroking a white cat and threatening world domination. Rather, it would be old-fashioned hard work – blood, sweat and tears would be shed for the cause. Hardly Roy of the Rovers stuff, we thought, although we grudgingly acknowledged that would do for starters.
Dave Somerville, then Rovers’ chairman and a family neighbour in Kirkcaldy, told Dad and me that the manager’s fabled work ethic was immediately evident within the club, and, sure enough, Rovers’ fortunes soon began to take a progressive upturn. Indeed, we made it to the play-offs that season and the next, although on each occasion we narrowly missed out on promotion.
However, the following season (the club’s 125th anniversary), McGlynn led the team to the second division title. Few Rovers fans will forget clinching the title on a sun-kissed day at Hampden – I’d wager few clubs could claim to have won a league title at the national stadium.
That former Hearts striker Graham Weir was the scorer of Rovers’ title-clinching goal that day was no coincidence – McGlynn’s links with the Tynecastle club had already paid dividends, with other former Jambos such as Stephen Simmons and Robert Sloan making a significant contribution towards Rovers’ renaissance.
That night, I was fortunate enough to bump into the Rovers squad in Kirkcaldy, and the framed photograph of a beaming McGlynn and the league trophy in the company of Dad, wee brother and yours truly continues to occupy a position of prominence among the other family portraits!
The following season, Rovers consolidated their position within the first division and we savoured the bonus of a Scottish Cup semi-final appearance, the club’s first since 1963. A place in the final itself proved elusive, but for Rovers fans the occasion – Aberdeen and Dundee had been put to the sword in earlier rounds – served to remind us that our club had well and truly emerged from a dark period. Of course, we knew just how hard McGlynn had worked to get us to that point.
A year later, McGlynn came within a whisker of taking Rovers into the SPL despite a relatively modest budget, and a squad containing many part-time players – this led to his being crowned PFA manager of the year. And, talking of fiscal matters, he managed to preserve first division football for Rovers last season, despite a cost-cutting measure that saw no fewer than fifteen players released the previous summer.
I was once fortunate enough to enjoy a chat with McGlynn in his office at Stark’s Park. It was a quiet mid-week, but I found him pouring over sheets of crowd statistics and expressing concern about the financial malaise afflicting the beautiful game. Here we saw the man for what he is – a football fanatic to his core, steeped in its traditions and, like many of us, deeply worried about its future.
The Tynecastle connection was once more to the fore last season, with Jamie Mole and Denys Prychynenko popping across the Forth to weigh in with crucial goals along the way. The campaign was also boosted in the shape of loan deals with a trio of precociously talented Hearts youngsters – David Smith, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker undoubtedly galvanised the team at a point when the threadbare squad, weakened by injuries, looked decidedly vulnerable.
Given the manner in which he transformed Rovers, including a lead role in the development of a now promising youth academy, it was surprising how seldom McGlynn’s name cropped up whenever SPL managerial vacancies arose. The feeling persisted among many of we Rovers aficionados that, as our club tends to generally eschew the fawning of Scottish football’s glitterati, this in turn might serve to thwart McGlynn’s ambitions. Given his previous work there, then, it’s very appropriate that Hearts look set to reap the benefit of having astutely bucked that trend.
And so, sad though we undoubtedly are to see McGlynn depart the Stark’s Park hot seat, nobody connected with Raith Rovers would be so churlish as to deny him this opportunity. Far from it. Rovers’ loss will surely be Hearts’ gain, but we are consoled by the knowledge that the legacy of the man is the sense of pride firmly restored to our club.
How fitting it is that McGlynn’s first game in charge sees him back in Kirkcaldy for this weekend’s Laurie Ellis testimonial.
Good luck, John. Thanks for the memories.
(Gather the Raith choir, for one final rendition: ‘John, John McGlynn; he’s got no hair, but we don’t care, John, John McGlynn!’).