For many people of a Raith Rovers persuasion, Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie at Stark’s Park just can’t come quick enough.

However, for Allan Walker, a self-confessed boyhood Celtic fan, this weekend’s reunion with the green half of Glasgow has an extra added significance.

“Everybody will be looking forward to these games.  If you can’t look forward to and enjoy these games then you shouldn’t be a footballer. It’s a massive game for the club financially and we’re going to do our best to try and win the cup tie.”

“The mood in the camp is great, the spirit is great, the morale is great.  Ever since I’ve been at this club, even through the hard times, the spirit never dies. I think that’s important.”

“From the manager right down, even from the past manager John McGlynn and now obviously with Bert, the spirit’s always been there.  It’s a good bunch of lads, a good changing room and I think that’s key as to why we’ve been in the First Division for three years now.”

On Sunday afternoon, Stark’s Park will display the ‘sold out’ signs for the first time in years.  Allan stressed how much having a big crowd will mean to the Rovers players come Sunday.

“It’s great.  I think we always do better against the so-called “bigger” teams.  I don’t know why, but we just seem to do that. The more the merrier.  It’s great for the club financially, so we’re hoping to put on a show and do as well as we can and give everyone that’s coming to the game a good day out.”

With Sunday’s cup tie now right around the corner, memories will no doubt be rekindled about the previous meeting with Celtic – the 4-1 League Cup defeat at Celtic Park back in September last year, a game Allan knows what it was like to play and to score in.

“I just remember playing a one-two with Brian and there was nothing else on so I had a shot.  I think it was Kelvin Wilson that tried to get a block in and it went over the goalie. It’s one of those that goes in the memory bank along with the Dundee goals, the Dunfermline goals.  They’re special memories. It was the third time I had played at Celtic Park.  It’s the best stadium in Scotland and the kind of place you want to play in.”

“Going there personally as a Celtic supporter, it was fantastic.  I thought the boys did really well that night, I thought we passed the ball well.  For all Celtic’s good play, it was our own mistakes that put us behind in that game.”

Last Saturday’s second 1-0 defeat of the season against Greenock Morton down at Cappielow took the Rovers to a league sequence which, since seeing off Deveronvale in the Scottish Cup Fourth Round, now reads played 8, won 1.

As with so many games this season, plenty chances were created but not taken.  The defeat at Cappielow is a game which Allan says typifies the season so far.

“I thought we played really well.  We changed the shape a bit and we looked solid, so it was good from that side of things.”

“We created loads of good chances, especially in the first half.  We had three or four decent chances but unfortunately we didn’t score.  They go up the park, get a wee break of the ball at the edge of the box and the boy scores.”

“If you look at the game before (against Hamilton), we were poor first half, then we came out and were dominant in the second half.  We were on top of the game, then we missed a penalty and they go up the park and score. That’s just the league we’re in.  The first goal is vital.  I’ve said that for years since I’ve been at this club and I think it will always be the same.”

Though he may not be a ‘20 goals a season’ midfielder, Allan certainly has an eye for scoring spectacular goals.  The deflected effort at Celtic Park may not have been a 25-yard screamer, but Allan was more than happy to recall two particular goals of his which were.

The first, an 89th minute strike in a crucial 2-1 win against Dundee at Stark’s Park in April 2011.

“We were going for the league title that year and I hit one off the underside of the bar and in. That day, I remember saying to John Baird after the game that Dundee might have just put us as the favourites in the title race.  Dunfermline had won that day, we had obviously had a tough game against Dundee and went and won it. We all thought it was going to be our year, but in the end it just didn’t turn out to be.”

The second was a brilliant 93rd minute header to rescue a point against Dunfermline in November 2010.

With the Rovers having been 2-0 down with under 10 minutes to play, Iain Williamson scored to give Raith hope but it was Allan’s memorable header with virtually the last kick of the game that saw complete chaos among the travelling Rovers supporters at full-time.

“It was probably my second favourite goal. I remember that day.  I remember it being hyped up as a big game.  I think in the first half we were 2-0 down and we hadn’t played well at all.  The manager had a right go at us then we came out and absolutely battered Dunfermline in the second half.”

“If there was another two minutes of extra time that day, I think we would have gone on to win the game.”

Allan’s football journey to Kirkcaldy is a story in itself.  Since making Stark’s Park his home in 2008, among other notable achievements, he has been part of a Second Division title-winning squad and also played in a Scottish Cup semi-final.

It is perhaps, though, being handed the captain’s armband when Grant Murray took over last summer, that means more to Allan than most accomplishments on his football CV.

“Personally, being made captain is great.  I never thought I would get it but the manager showed he had faith in me and gave me the armband.  I’m happy with that, I’m delighted.”
“I’ve been at the club a long time now.  I love this club, it means a lot to me.  I’ve been here five years.  It’s a big ask but I’m up to it and, hopefully, I can keep going and get the club up the league and hopefully as far as we can in the cup too.”

“I think there’s extra responsibility which goes with being captain, especially being that in-between with the players, the manager and the staff.”

“It’s hard if things aren’t going well, as they are now, but we’re all pulling through.  I’ve got a great relationship with the backroom staff here, I’ve worked with Paul since he’s been here, Laurie since he’s been here, Gunter (Brian Marr) and I’ve played with the gaffer the past few years and I still say today he’s probably the best professional I’ve ever played with.”

“I still think he could pull that jersey on.  For me, he’s probably our best player.”

Being Raith Rovers captain may be an accolade of which Allan is rightly proud but both he and Rovers team-mate  Joe Hamill found themselves in the same boat when Allan’s previous club Livingston had their own well-publicised financial difficulties.

“I went through two administrations when I was at Livingston – one when I was a YTS and one when I was in the first team.  It’s not nice when you see friends losing their jobs. I think the way Raith Rovers is run is perfect.  Obviously they’ll have their up and down months but I think, with getting a tie like this against Celtic and getting on TV,  they deserve it looking at what they’ve been through in the last few years.  It’s great for the club all-round.”

Allan Walker’s career may have seen it all so far but the thousands of Rovers fans who will pack Stark’s Park on Sunday hope that leading Raith Rovers to a Scottish Cup win against Celtic will be next thing ticked off of Allan Walker’s football ‘to do’ list.

written by Martin Hart

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