After it was announced that influential playmaker Regan Hendry was bringing his time at Starks Park to an end, Rovers volunteer (and Stadium Announcer) Jim Clark penned this tribute to the midfielder. Photos by Tony Fimister:

“He brought grace, flair and elegance to the pitch, as well as creative and intelligent passing. He combined outstanding passing range, vision, anticipation, technique, close control, and dribbling skills. A selfless team player, he usually played in a free central role, but was also capable of playing in a more withdrawn position as a deep-lying playmaker, due to his ability to dictate the tempo of his team’s play in midfield, orchestrate attacking moves, and create space and chances for teammates.  A tactically astute player, he also possessed good decision-making, and a good understanding of the game.”

All the above was written about Juan Roman Riquelme, one of the best-loved players in the history of Boca Juniors with whom he won 11 medals while being named Argentinian footballer of the year on four occasions and twice being a finalist for FIFA World Player of the Year.  If you take the time to read that opening paragraph again, it could easily apply to Regan Hendry who has taken his leave of Stark’s Park.

I’ve been watching Raith Rovers for just over 30 years now and I would be happy to make the claim that Regan has been the best player to wear our jersey this century, and is certainly up there with many of the legends who were part of our successes in the 90s. He brought a sense of style to the team unlike any other player.  From the earliest sightings when he came in on loan from Celtic as a 19-year-old, back in January 2018, there was a sense that we had picked up a player who had something special about him.  He showed a maturity and composure well beyond his age, playing a significant role in the second half of a season in which we came up just short in the race for the First Division title.

Most of us probably thought we had likely seen the last of Regan after the play-off heartache against Alloa, and so it was a huge coup when John McGlynn persuaded Celtic that his development would be best served with a return to Stark’s Park for the first half of season 2018/19.  Sadly, he picked up a serious knee injury at Forfar just four weeks after signing. The fact that Rovers again came up short in the play-offs had many fans at the end of the season wondering ‘what if Regan Hendry hadn’t picked up that injury?’.  The answer wasn’t far off…..

To the delight, and I would say surprise, of most fans, the club announced on 28 May 2019 that Regan Hendry was our first recruit of the close season, on a two-year deal, following his release by Celtic.

I say surprise, because, even on the basis of seeing him in less than 20 games during his loan spells, it was clear that he was capable of playing at a higher level than SPFL League One, and indeed it was reported that we had beaten off competition for his services from other clubs.

Regan’s first season as a fully designated Rovers player brought him a league winners medal and, ultimately, a Challenge Cup winners medal.  He was named as the Fans Player of the Season for his consistently outstanding play, culminating in a Man of the Match effort in front of the BBC Alba cameras at Firhill in the semi-final against Partick Thistle, including a goal and subsequent celebration that will never be forgotten.

His performances last season in the SPFL Championship continued to be of the highest quality.  He was very much at the heart of the management’s aspirations to play a passing game at all times and in all areas of the park, with most of our best moves flowing through him at some point or other, whether he was orchestrating things from just in front of the back four, ghosting his way through the midfield with the ball at his feet, or when he was finding an unseen pocket of space in which to pick up a pass from a teammate and keep things flowing.

In short, he was an absolute joy to watch and, to coin the cliché, worth the admission fee alone.

The sad thing is that, as Rovers fans, we have been restricted to seeing most of his best stuff via a television or computer screen and that we haven’t been able to give him the full-throated appreciation from the stands that his efforts have merited.

It was, if truth be told, an inevitability once we were out of the race to reach the SPFL Premiership that Regan Hendry would move on at the end of his contract.  He leaves with the best wishes of all Rovers fans who, for the second successive season, voted him as Player of The Season, and who took huge pride in him making the shortlist of the best player in the Championship alongside three others who have numerous caps for their countries.

He will, one day, make a return to the Stark’s Park pitch as a player. Who knows, he might even return to Raith for a fourth spell before his career ends. I have absolutely no doubt that, no matter the occasion, the day he steps back onto the Stark’s Park pitch will see him cheered to the rafters as we get the chance to offer our personal thanks to a very fine footballer and one whose career, at the age of 23, has many more bright days ahead.

A future candidate for the Raith Rovers Hall of Fame?  I wouldn’t bet against it.

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