Death or glory? Raith’s future hangs in the balance

It was a candid comment of the sort we’re not used to in the inane realm of post-match interviews. Asked whether the target for next season is promotion, John McGlynn, architect of Raith Rovers’ season of over-achievement, refused to gloss over the grim predicament facing the club.

The practiced tone of upbeat, football-manager-speak noticably fell away as the likeable McGlynn responded: “Now that’s a different story, now we’re talking about something completely different. Raith Rovers Football Club are now in a really bad situation.”

Rarely do you hear such undisguised pessimism in the rhetoric of football, but there was worse to come.

McGlynn explained his negativity by stating that the loss of local rivals Dunfermline from the First Division – and the inevitable arrival of the poorly supported Hamilton from the SPL – means a major loss of revenue, and a subsequent cutback in the club’s budget for players.

Gazing into the void, McGlynn continued: “I’m afraid that eh… promotion…”

There followed a pitiful “huh” that dismissed that notion as fantasy, before he added, matter-of-factly: “If we’ve done what we’ve done this season and we have to cut then you’d have to think that next season is going to be a difficult season.”

McGlynn’s dose of realism came after Raith slumped to a last-minute defeat at home to Queen of the South, in the same moment that Dunfermline fans were staging a pitch invasion after their team’s victory over Morton sealed the title. In truth, the business was concluded a week earlier at East End Park, a painful loss which finally killed off Raith’s gallant promotion push.

Undoubtedly, it’s been a remarkable season for Rovers, in which John McGlynn has taken a very ordinary group of players and a very small squad to the very brink of the SPL. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, especially in the 19 games since the victorious New Year’s derby (won 8, drawn 4, lost 7) – and the falling away of Falkirk and Dundee have undoubtedly helped our cause.

Dunfermline only came charging back in the final months after buying three quality players in the January transfer window, and while you can’t take away from their triumph, as a Raith fan the sense of gloom is only hardened by the realisation that this was our best chance to get back up, and perhaps the only chance we’ll have for the foreseeable future.

McGlynn’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Scotland boss Craig Levein has already sung his praises, and tonight he was named manager of the year by his peers at the PFA Scotland awards. The big question is whether he chooses to cash in his chips and take the SPL or English job he deserves, or see out his contract at Stark’s Park. I’m sure most Raith fans would wish him well if he does choose to move on this summer, as the suspicion is that he has taken the club as far as he can.

Speculation aside, what hope can Raith fans cling to for next season, after such a brutal assessment from our own manager?

Well, we’ll have to readjust our ambitions in the short term. A mid-table finish, or anything above a relegation scrap, is surely going to be the target. We have a core group of dependable, professional players, a first class manager (at the time of writing) and a strong fanbase that has been galvanised by the thrill of the chase this season, myself included.

The aim for next season has to be security; to make sure that we avoid a bounce factor that could send the club hurtling back to the dark days of Second Division football.

Football fans are notoriously short-sighted. And, miracles aside, promotion next season is not on the cards.

But the following campaign, or the one that after that, who knows?

When he joined Raith in November 2006, McGlynn had a five-year plan to get the club from the third tier of Scottish football back to the first. He’s worked wonders, but perhaps it’s time to draw up the next five-year plan.

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