42 Grounds: Ground 20: Starks Park – Raith Rovers

As the daylight hours get shorter and the temperature drops, it is tempting to spend evenings indoors, in the warmth. My time frame for visiting 42 grounds doesn’t really allow for that, however tempting that may have been

If Scottish clubs are serious about attracting fans, I wonder why they persist with midweek winter games. I understand that they have to get games played, but Raith Rovers v Ayr United on a Tuesday night towards the end of November seems like poor planning.

As much as home fans should be the priority when planning fixtures, it seems slightly unfair that Ayr fans are being asked to leave at almost exactly 5 o’clock, and even at that, hope traffic works in their favour.

There have certainly been worse examples. I remember going to watch Stranraer v Ross County in a league game on a Tuesday night around 10 years ago.

That doesn’t change the fact that such a move disadvantages some people that would happily pay for the product. Not many businesses would make a decision which would make it harder for potential customers to give them money. Of course football works differently from normal business, loyalty is almost guaranteed.

This isn’t a criticism of Raith Rovers. They have to play the game and if it’s the only date that suits then it has to be done.

However at times in Scottish football scheduling decisions are taken without any consideration for fans.

At the same time, perhaps we should be grateful that such a game gives an alternative to the Champions League and its often meaningless group stage games.

Tonight’s match, in the context of the wider season, was not meaningless. Raith Rovers occupy fourth, the final playoff spot for promotion. They started the season well under Gary Locke, but they have fallen away in recent weeks.

Ayr United started the season slowly, but they had a period of good form to pull themselves up the table. I would imagine that most Ayr fans would have been delighted to be told they would be 10 points clear of the bottom of the table in November, and they would be delighted if they could finish in their current position (seventh) at the end of the season.

Raith are one of the bigger clubs in the Championship. They have had periods of great success as well as some fairly recent lows.

They have won two national cups. The first came in 1994 when winning the League Cup against Celtic. This was a real giant killing and one which is still mentioned fairly regularly when discussing cup shocks. This victory also saw them qualifying for the UEFA Cup where they would eventually lose to Bayern Munich, although not before providing an iconic Scottish football photo, with a scoreboard showing Bayern Munich 0 – 1 Raith Rovers.

They also won the Challenge Cup in 2014. This was also a shock, although arguably less so. It was hard not to be happy when watching the emotion of the players and fans on that day and the celebrations that followed. That’s exactly what the Challenge Cup should be about.

Recent history hasn’t been entirely positive for the Rovers. Claude Anelka is a name that likely sends shivers down the spine of the Starks Park faithful. There are great accounts written of his time with the club, a wonderfully farcical time. The club were then plunged in to various periods of uncertainty and dropped as low as the third tier. However, they seem to be back on track now and have had successive seasons of improvement in the Championship.

With a former Prime Minister as a fan, regular references in various media to “dancing in the streets of Raith” and even the influence of God in persuading a player to sign for the club, I’m sure there has been plenty of excitement in supporting Raith over the years.

The stadium is huge. There are two modern stands behind the goal with the potential to hold a good number of supporters.

I sat in the Turnbull Hutton Stand, named after a man of great integrity and a champion for the smaller clubs. It is an aging stand, with bucket seats and wooden planks running along it. It feels like a piece of footballing history, in the best possible sense. Tonight there were home and away fans sharing the stand, which made for a decent atmosphere with plenty of back and forth.

There is a fourth stand but it was closed to fans tonight.

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A view to the home stand behind the goal, and the unusual corner of the main stand.
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The identical home stand behind the opposite goal. Empty tonight.
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The fourth stand which was empty tonight.

The game started in a fairly tame manner, but it burst in to life when Joel Coustrain smashed a long range shot in to the top corner. Not a bad way to mark his first league start for the club.

The game changed when Raith captain Kyle Benedictus was sent off with a second yellow card. He could have few complaints about the sending off which had looked inevitable from the moment he received his first yellow card.

After that the home side sat back and allowed Ayr to put pressure on them.

The away side came close when poor defending almost led to an own goal. From the resulting corner the ball hit the crossbar with a slight touch from the outstretched Kevin Cuthbert.

In the second half Ayr were even more dominant.

There was a clip doing the rounds of a missed sitter in the fourth tier of Serbian football today. Kevin Nisbet produced a similar moment when he scooped a cut back over an open goal from a few yards out. Those highlights will be worth watching and who knows, the clip might go viral in Belgrade.

Paul Cairney was sent off shortly after. His attempted professional foul when Rovers were breaking would not have looked out of place in a rugby match. The Ayr fans might well complain but it was excessive and potentially dangerous.

That didn’t affect the flow of the game too much. Ayr continued to press and found space in dangerous areas. However they lacked a final ball or cutting edge.

With a few minutes left to play it looked as though Raith were going to hold on. As fans started to leave I decided to head off to make sure I caught my train home.

As I walked down the road I heard the roar of the Ayr fans as they scored to make it 1-1. Next time maybe I’ll stay just a couple of minutes longer…

This was an entertaining game for a neutral fan. Raith sat back and invited pressure which they didn’t really have to. In the end it was a draw but having led for much of the game it will feel like a defeat for the home side.

They got a point though, and although they might have wanted more, it could prove valuable as they look to secure a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

Raith Rovers 1 Ayr United 1

Attendance: 1241

 

 

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