Frank Connor: The man who rebuilt Raith Rovers FC and left a lasting legacy.

It is with great sadness that the club learned of the passing of former Raith Rovers’ manager Frank Connor. The Main Office at the club received a phone call from Frank’s eldest son Tom on the morning of Thursday 3rd March 2022, to say Frank had passed away at 9.30 am.

Frank Connor was born in Airdrie on the 13th of February 1936. Despite his short stature he was a goalkeeper during his schooldays. He then played junior football for Polkemmet and Armadale Thistle. He was signed by Celtic while playing for Blantyre Celtic, this was after he had completed his National Service in March 1960. He played six League Cup fixtures and made two League appearances for Celtic. He also won a Reserve League title before being released. He moved to St. Mirren before having spells in the Irish League with both Derry City and Portadown. He played in the European Cup with Derry City.

His first step into coaching came with Albion Rovers in the 1968-69 season, where as a player-coach he also played 8 times. Further coaching roles took him to Alloa, Hamilton and then to Cowdenbeath. While at Cowdenbeath, he made one further appearance at the age of 40.

Cowdenbeath was Frank’s first managerial position. He was then asked by legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein to return to Celtic Park to coach the club’s provisional and schoolboy signings in September 1977 and when Billy McNeill took over as first team manager, Frank became Reserve Team Coach, where he developed and nurtured a succession of future Scottish International players.

He then managed Berwick Rangers from 1980 until 1982. While there he signed a youngster that had been with Bolton Wanderers, current Raith Rovers’ manager John McGlynn. Frank stayed with Berwick for two seasons, before taking up an assistant manager’s role with Jock Wallace at Motherwell.

In the summer of 1983, Frank returned to Celtic once again, this time as assistant manager to David Hay. He spent two and half years in this position.

On the 21st of March 1986, Frank Connor became manager of Raith Rovers. He took the club by the scruff of the neck and shook it up – both on and off the park. The foundations he laid paved the way for the following successful years. He started a reserve team and set up a youth system that was successful.

He inherited what he said was ‘half a team’, with great talents like Paul Smith, Keith Wright and Paul Sweeney. These players credited Frank with motivating them and influencing them enough to see them all get moves into full-time football, which brought funds into Raith Rovers.

He forged a strong relationship with the board of directors to win their backing to bring in a better calibre of players. Players like Hamish McAlpine arrived, Andy Harrow and Colin Harris returned to the club. He remembered young players he had worked with elsewhere, like Ronnie Coyle and John McStay and he brought them to Raith Rovers. He signed Gordon Dalziel; he saw his natural instinct to score goals and he got the very best out of him to the club’s lasting benefit.

Frank also brought discipline and organisation to the club, he was a tough taskmaster but one who also had a great enthusiasm for the game and for Raith Rovers. Promotion out of the basement league was achieved on the last day of the season, at Stranraer, and there was a great Scottish Cup run that brought a cup quarter-final at Stark’s Park versus St Mirren in front of an 8,500 crowd.

Frank spoke of taking the next step, of going full-time and reaching the Premier League but before he got that opportunity Hearts came calling in November 1990. Joe Jordan was taking over as the Heart of Midlothian manager, and he wanted Frank to bring his knowledge of Scottish Football to Tynecastle. Jordan lost his job in May 1993.

One month later, Frank returned to Celtic once again, this time as a coach with Liam Brady. When Brady lost his job, Frank took over as caretaker manager, he was in charge for four games without losing a game, including an Old Firm victory.

On the 9th of November 2015, Frank Connor was inducted into the Raith Rovers’ Hall of Fame.

Speaking on hearing the news of Frank’s passing, current Raith Rovers’ manager John McGlynn said “Frank signed me for Berwick Rangers from Bolton. He was a great football man, a wonderful motivator and so enthusiastic. He changed the training so everyone travelled all together by bus to train in Berwick-upon-Tweed. This fostered a great team spirit. He also got the community of Berwick interested and involved with the club. I last met him at a Raith Rovers’ Hall of Fame evening”.

Frank celebrated his 86th birthday last month, and was residing in Croftbank House Nursing Home, Uddingston in his final years.

After a short illness, Frank deteriorated overnight and passed away this morning. He is survived by his loving wife Margaret, children Thomas, Margaret, Martin, Frankie, Anne, Kirsteen and Geraldine, several grandchildren and a great grandson.

Funeral details will be shared by the Connor family in due course.

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