The new football season is, as ever, hotly anticipated as new Rovers manager Ray McKinnon continues readying his squad for the upcoming Championship season.

 Season 2015 – 16 also marks the 40th anniversary of the promotion campaign of the mid-70s, and the 20th anniversary of Raith Rovers first foray into European competition.

 To mark these significant anniversaries in Raith Rovers history some of RRFC’s official website volunteers have trawled their memory banks (and the archives) to bring their recollections of 7 memorable seasons and matches to life…..

The first article of the 7 was penned by Senior Match Reporter Shaughan McGuigan:


As the spring of 1975 gave way for summer, it appeared that not for the first time, Raith Rovers were in something of a state of flux. A new manager, a new league set-up and an underperforming squad of players, meant that expectations for the up-coming term were hopeful, rather than expectant.

What unfolded however, was both dramatic, tense, and at times frustrating, but as the 40th anniversary of that special season nears, it’s as good a time as any to look back on the record breaking events of the 1975/76 season.

It was a season of upheaval within the Scottish game, and for the first time, football would be played out over three divisions, rather than the two larger leagues which had been the staple look of Scottish football for decades.

Disappointingly, Raith would be starting the season in the bottom tier, after the previous term had witnessed the team fail to impress under firstly, George Farm, and latterly, Bert Paton. With the top six teams in the old Second Division, moving to play in the new-fangled First Division, and the remainder to ply their trade in the third tier, Rovers bog standard home form and terrible away results, saw them finish in 13th position. With the Bay City Rollers, Bye Bye Baby dominating the charts, Raith said farewell to Bert Paton, who resigned with a handful of games remaining, and his replacement, Rovers third manager of the campaign, was former Cowdenbeath boss, Andy Matthew.

Matthew, a denizen of Kirkcaldy was respected as a manager, though he was highly regarded for his man-management ability, as well as having an eye for a player, rather than as a coach or tactician. Unusually, he failed to sign a single player during the close season, working instead with the squad that was left over from the last faltering campaign. With the reserve team disbanded however, eight players were released, to trim a wage bill that was regarded as too high for the bottom rung.

The small playing squad meant the team was largely unchanged during the season, with the starting XI a fine mix of skill, brawn and experience.

One of Raith’s finest ever custodians, Murray McDermott was in goals, with two Browns, Jim and Billy at full-back. To those who are only familiar with coach and manager Billy Brown, you may be surprised to learn that his luxuriant long hair, meant that he had an air of a Californian surf-dude about him in the mid-70s.

Captain, Brian Cooper was complimented at centre-half by Jim Taylor, and slightly confusingly, Raith had a third Brown, Tom in the middle of the park, alongside Donald Urquhart. On the wings were Ronnie Duncan, and the supremely talented, Malcolm Robertson, whilst up-front, were Gordon Wallace and Bert Graham.

BACK ROW: John Hislop, Tom Brown, Brian Cooper, Jim Taylor, Murray McDermott, Davie Cairns, Bert Graham, Davie Hunter, Chris Dempster, Billy Brown
FRONT ROW: Willie Benvie (Coach), Malcolm Robertson, Donald Urquhart, John Jobson, Andy Matthew (Manager), Gordon Wallace, Ronnie Duncan, Jim Brown, Bob Methven (Trainer)


Despite his reliance on well-kent faces, Andy Matthew was confident in his team’s abilities, laying out his intentions in an interview with the Fife Free Press,

“Judging from what I saw in the last couple of matches, we have got not too bad a side, and in fact, many teams which aren’t as good as us, have finished above us in the league. Our task must be promotion at the end of the season, and I am confident I have a nucleus of a side good enough to do that.”

Matthew would get a good idea to judge just how good his team were in the League Cup section, which preceded the start of the Second Division campaign, after Rovers were lumped together with three sides from the division above, in Montrose, East Fife and St. Mirren.

Disconcertingly, Malcolm Robertson, a key player for the side was reported as missing before the start of the season, with Matthew admitting that he hadn’t even met the player yet, although that was put down to illness, rather than a desire from the player to wrangle a move from Stark’s Park. Still, the feeling persisted that Robertson would soon be on the move.

Rovers gave a good account of themselves in the League Cup, topping the table after three games, but defeats to East Fife and Montrose meant that the almost traditional Preliminary Round exit occurred, as Raith finished third in the pool.

Still, it galvanised the confidence of the side going into the new season, where it was hoped that unlike the two previous campaign, the team would hit the ground running. In the two former seasons, Raith had picked up just nine and 10 points respectively from their first dozen encounters. Even in the days of two-points-for-a-win, they were meagre returns, effectively ruling the team out of a promotion challenge by October.

There were positives and negatives to take from the opening day, 3-3 draw with Stranraer at Stark’s Park. The entertaining nature of the game was one huge positive of course, as was John Heap’s own-goal, although probably not for him, with the midfielder somehow managing to render a shot past his own goalkeeper from 35-yards. There were understandable concerns about Raith’s defending however, with all three of the Stair Park’s team coming from corners.

After the match, the worrying and persistent rumours over Robertson became reality, with the brilliant, tempestuous winger placed on the transfer list. His availability tempted the Bury manager, Bob Robertson to Stark’s Park a fortnight later for Raith’s first win of the season, a 2-0 victory over Stenhousemuir.

The Press reported that the Bury boss was quizzing supporters before the start of the match, asking one young fan who Rovers best player was, a question he assumed would be answered by the name, Malcolm Robertson. “Murray McDermott.” Replied the fan

“What about Robertson?” enquired his namesake, Bob.

Malcolm Robertson – “He’s no’ bad”

“He’s no’ bad.” was the rather muted opinion.

Despite Robertson grabbing the second goal of a perfunctory win, no offer was forthcoming from Bury. Either the winger had failed to do enough to impress on the day, or perhaps Bob Robertson was just put off by the young supporter’s less than enthusiastic assessment.

Raith would win or draw their first five matches, but conceded eight goals in the process, leading Matthew to ponder if a move for a defender was required. Clydebank were next up, and the Bankies, a full-time outfit had won their opening five matches without conceding a goal, although they’d concede their first, and drop their first point against Raith at Kilbowie in the first weekend of October.

Clydebank were one of the few club’s to film their matches for training purposes, with the Press labelling it “either a tremendous innovation or flashy gimmick, depending on your point of view.”

What wasn’t in doubt was that this Raith side were imbued with a grit and determination to eke out results, especially after going behind, although the frustrating tendency to concede first, was leading to far too many draws. There was little flow or cohesiveness to the side in those opening months of the season, with fans in two minds if they should be happy with the fight-backs, or disappointed that perceived lesser sides were earning a share of the points against the team from the Langtoun.

The Press described Stark’s Park as “the Second Division’s gift shop for points.”, and were particularly scathing after a 1-1 draw with Brechin City, meant that the side had drawn eight of their first 13 league fixtures,

“This was a sad spectacle, Brechin City, yes, Brechin City, a team which always struggles, no matter who or where they play, come to Kirkcaldy and go home with a point.”

It does seem a slightly harsh summary of proceedings, and not just on the Glebe Park side. At that point, with half the truncated 26-game season completed, Raith were in second place in the table, and unbeaten, although the bulging draw column was certainly hampering their progress, with five points between themselves and a similarly unbeaten Clydebank, with Alloa third on goal difference.

Legendary goalie, the late great Murray McDermott

The belief that Raith Rovers could kick on in the second-half of the campaign received a blow though, when Malcolm Robertson was sold to Ayr United. The aforementioned schoolboy may not have been his biggest fan, but the mercurial Robertson had been something of a shining light for the Kirkcaldy club since signing from Penicuik in 1971. His nine goals in the current campaign, took his total to 65 in four-and-a-half seasons for Raith, a figure made more impressive, considering his starting position of wide midfield. His last game, somewhat inevitably considering the run Rovers were on, was a 0-0 draw with Forfar Athletic. By that stage, the organisers of the Littlewoods Pools must have been sick of the sight of them.

Their first game, minus their most prominent outfield player could barely have been any tougher, a home fixture against table-topping Clydebank, a side who hadn’t even conceded a goal on their travels up until that point. That all changed in the 84th minute, when a John Hislop goal sealed both points in a 1-0 win for Matthew’s men. Something seemed to click into place at that moment, be it confidence, or a different game plan, with the over-reliance on Robertson no longer an option, but the fluidity that had been missing all season, was suddenly there in abundance.

Rovers would go on to win nine consecutive matches, including three in the Scottish Cup against Peterhead, title-rivals Clydebank, as well as First Division Arbroath. The run allowed them to bump Clydebank from the summit of the table for the first time, but as the prospect of a title, and a full league season unbeaten loomed into view, the inevitable happened, when the BBC cameras arrived to film the last unbeaten side in Britain against Queens Park.

The Spiders pulled off a surprising 2-0 win against a disjointed looking Rovers team, a victory that was more eye-opening as the amateur side hadn’t won an away match all season up until that point. Rovers bounced back with a 3-1 win at Stranraer, but there was a feeling that the damage may already have been done in terms of the title.

They then lost 2-1 to Montrose in the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup, a match in which goalkeeper Bobby Reid made his 300th appearance for the club. That he would reach this milestone was impressive enough, but more so when you consider that not only was he no longer a player, he was actually a director, and his 299th appearance had been back in 1972. With a flu epidemic rife amongst the squad, and Murray McDermott one of its victims, Reid offered to don the gloves as the club had no back-up ‘keeper on its books. He could do nothing about the two goals that Montrose scored on the day, as Raith bowed out the tournament in unfortunate circumstances.

The final slip-up was a 0-0 draw with East Stirling at Stark’s Park, with the Shire’s goalkeeper, Tom Gourlay twice saving a Jim Brown spot-kick. It was an incident that unusually, inspired the match reporter in the Fife Free Press to prose, with the summary including this poem,

The crowd they christened him fatty,

But wow, did he drive them batty,

Two penalty saves and umpteen besides,

Made the fans and the players quite ratty.

It was the final dropped point of the season, and three consecutive wins, climaxing in a 1-0 triumph on the final day of the season at Recreation Park against Alloa, thanks to a 64th minute free-kick from Davie Hunter, guaranteed promotion, and actually returned Raith to the top-of- the-table, by a point, albeit Clydebank had a game-in-hand, and a superior goal difference. The Bankies 0-0 draw against Alloa the following weekend, meant Raith could celebrate promotion, but no Second Division title win.

It was a remarkable volte-face from the ramshackle nature of the previous campaign, especially when you consider that it was achieved with virtually the same group of players. As such, and quite rightly, huge credit was afforded to Andy Matthew for the achievements, and although their tenure in a difficult second flight was a short one, he would again play a role in Raith gaining promotion during the 1977/78 season, before stepping up to join the Raith board in January 1978.

Who knows, if Ray McKinnon’s current Raith Rovers side can even come close to emulating Andy Matthew’s achievements, on this, their 40th anniversary, you’d imagine one-or-two supporters may be suitably motivated to celebrate through the medium of verse, limerick or haiku.

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