BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
NEW Raith Rovers chairman Bill Clark admits he wept as he watched their promotion bid collapse in Kirkcaldy.
However, he is determined to deliver tears of joy to Rovers fans this time next year.
Raith were condemned to another season in League 1 as Alloa Athletic claimed a 2-1 win at Stark’s Park earlier this month, with the Wasps progressing 4-1 on aggregate before seeing off Dumbarton in the play-off final to ascend to the Championship.
The consequences were immediate. Within an hour of the full-time whistle, chairman Alan Young had taken ‘full responsibility’ for the failure and resigned his post. Last week Clark, previously the company secretary at the club, was named his successor.
While a daunting challenge, the role is a huge honour for the man who grew up in Dysart and he is determined to guide Rovers back to where they belong after missing out on the title by one point this term.
“It was a very difficult afternoon against Alloa,” he recalled. “In fact, I was in tears afterwards, I’ll admit to that. I’m as big a supporter of this club as anyone else sitting in the stand and it was a painful defeat.
“What people have tended to forget, however, is that one goal in the final league game would have seen us go up as champions, ahead of a very good Ayr United side, and the picture would be very different. It was the breadth of a post that cost us.
“But we are ready for the challenge of building again over the summer to ensure we have a team, with new faces and some old faces, that is ready to push for promotion.”
That title push will be led by manager Barry Smith after Clark emphasised the need for continuity at the club.
The former Dundee and East Fife boss was their fourth different manager in two years when he was appointed last summer, following Ray McKinnon, Gary Locke and John Hughes.
“We need a bit of stability at the club, it is too easy to simply sack the manager, shift the blame and get rid,” he said honestly. “You are not guarenteed that whoever you bring in will be any more successful – a number of clubs have experienced that.
“It’s a challenge for Barry. He took us so close this season, that I think he deserves the opportunity to see what he can do next season.
“He has worked well with the squad of players we had and we are confident he will work similarly well with the squad we have at the start of next season.”
That squad will look very different after the club confirmed the exits of 12 players this week, with the likes of Greig Spence, Bobby Barr and Kevin McHattie the headline names among those departing.
Clark is adamant that, despite the financial restrictions of life in the third tier, Smith will be backed in his bid to rebuild the squad at Stark’s Park
“There is a very limited budget to do the business required and the last two seasons have cost us dear,” Clark continued.
“Coming down from the Championship was costly and the same applies for the campaign which has just come to an end. Nevertheless, there is investment there and we are optimistic.
“There were a number of players who had big reputations and did not deliver this season, particularly up front. So a number of new players will come into the club and we will support Barry in that regard.”
Clark, a Scottish FA referee up until 1994, adds wryly of his background ‘I know what fans think of referees, so I’ll not be mentioning it too often’. However, it is his pedigree in the education sector which is perhaps more pertinent.
Clark served as Rector of Galashiels Academy, Chief Inspector of Schools for Scotland and Director of Education in Islington, London – and after a career defined by his work with young people, he has assured supporters that Rovers’ faith in kids will continue.
The return of the Reserve League will require their academy ranks to be streamlined, while head of youth development Craig Easton has been linked with Dundee United, but the club which produced David Bates, Ross Callachan and Lewis Vaughan remain committed to developing talent.
Jamie Watson and David McKay are youngsters expected to make their mark next term.
“We don’t quite know the shape our youth programme will take, as the SPFL are getting rid of the Development League for a Reserve League this summer,” he continued. “However, I want to assure all supporters that we will still be committed to bringing through young players.
“That will be obvious when they see our squad next year. There will be a few names that have come through our ranks. A few have come through already and there are a few more in the pipeline.”
Meanwhile, with work beginning on Rovers’ £650,000 synthetic pitch this week, Clark finds further cause for cheer.
The project is being funded by Stark’s Park Properties Ltd, the company run by Rovers’ majority shareholder John Sim, and will not impact on the football club’s finances. However, it is hoped the project is the start of something special.
“John [Sim] has to be commended for that level of investment to help Stark’s Park become a 21st Century stadium with a state-of-the-art 4G surface,” added Clark.
“We hope it will be a community facility eventually. It will start slowly this season – with Raith Ladies and potentially a local walking football team. That will gradually open up to local teams in the community
“However, the most important thing is to get a winning team on that new pitch! That is ultimately my job, working with Barry.”