DOWNGRADE it all you want but this Ramsdens Cup final always had the potential to be fairly notable. Raith Rovers, who once flirted with the undersea world of ghost galleons, sunken doubloons and the dead man’s chest, were on a quest for a silver pot.
Rangers, winners of 62 cups in their time but recently losers in knockout to Forfar Athletic and Queen of the South, were trying to remember what would be required to lift the 63rd.
The once-shipwrecked, nearly-busted Rovers were hoping to complete what their most famous fan Gordon Brown had dubbed “the sequel” – a double triumph over the Old Firm following their vanquishing of Celtic in the League Cup 20 years ago. Rangers, meanwhile, might have allowed themselves to think they were on a hiding to nothing. Win this tiddly trophy and the reaction might have flitted between “So what?” and “So you should have done”. Lose it and they were sure to suffer no little ridicule.
Well, it was Raith’s day. A late, late goal in extra time, sending the Fife contingent into dancing-in-the-streets delirium. At the final whistle the Rangers hordes booed their team and some chucked away their scarves. The Raith players threw their manager Grant Murray into the air, as is traditional, and the stadium resounded to Daydream Believer. Cheer up Ally McCoist, oh what can it mean? “We can only win what we are in”, he’s said of the competition’s modest status. And only lose, too.
Before kick-off, on Easter Road itself, it was just like old, pre-administration times. If you could remember Rangers away-days. An army of red white and blue, womenfolk in matching synthetics, the young swinging bottles of ginger. This was what Govan invasions of Leith used to be like, and here they were again, back at a ground where they always loved to make a frightful racket, and one they knew so well. “Left, aye left, then straight doon. Naw, left!” A fan on the phone was directing his pal in a car. Maybe some really had forgotten.
Raith fans got the Famous Five Stand; Rangers had the rest. Raith fans were so excited to be in a final they cheered the placing of the team’s training cones on the turf. The Rangers lot unfurled a ginormous crest and a stand-length banner: “Place the victory crown on the pride of Glasgow town.” Raith fans taunted: “You’re not Rangers anymore.” This brought forth The Sash.
The Rangers faithful were first to have something to properly cheer about. After two mis-hit passes under absolutely no pressure Ian Black managed a sweet connection from the edge of the box, Lee Robinson saving. Then Bilel Mohsni headed over from a good position. Raith were stuck in their own half where they conceded a fair few free-kicks, but if these were early nerves they didn’t linger. The Stark’s Parkers, in a lovely retro white strip with two blue bands across the chest, weren’t overawed and the Rangers legions were quiet.
Black was soon back to his wasteful ways, overegging a set-up on the edge of the box. Then Raith’s captain Jason Thomson surged from his own half in a highly promising manner only to zip his pass out of play. An unfortunate trend was developing.
We had to wait for the 41st minute for the best moment. Steven Smith was fortunate to win a free-kick 20 yards out but his left-foot strike was angled for inside a post until Robinson fingertipped it away. But overall: fairly notable? Really dull. At half-time the PA demanded we leave the stadium owing to an “emergency situation”. Was there a risk of a football match breaking out? The final could be fairly notable in other ways as long as Raith were to prevail.
The last time they beat Rangers was in far-off March 1970, a 2-1 victory in the old First Division with the winner being scored by Brian Cooper, who told me before the re-match: “I took the ball off John Greig and hit the ball over Gerry Neef from 20 yards. It was a great moment. I was 19 years old. And to be honest, by the time I’ve finished talking to you, the distance could have extended to 40 yards.” This was what the Rovers needed yesterday and as the hour-mark approached they were definitely in the game. But when Calum Elliot dispossessed Ricky Foster he couldn’t emulate Cooper from a tight angle. Rangers were first to change things with two quick substitutions as Raith continued to have good moments.
From a Callum Booth cross Grant Anderson leapt at the ball even though he was far from goal, on the edge of the box no less. On this pitch two months ago he scored with a stupendous back-header to remove Hibs from the Scottish Cup. This attempt was even more audacious but he failed to get a connection.
Nicky Law was prominent for Rangers but with little effect. Anderson, not put off by his earlier failure, horsed forward and was blocked. Substitute Fraser Mullen’s free-kick led to the ball ending up in the net, but was offside. The thought occurred: was this almost as bad as the League Cup final or even slightly worse?
Not quite so poor, thanks to Raith’s willing runners in Booth and Baird, although Robinson had to produce his third excellent stop to thwart Law. Then Mohsni wasted a glorious chance and almost uprooted a post with his kick of frustration.
Extra-time. The final was heading the way Jimmy Nicholl, ex-Ranger and Raith’s hero boss from ‘94, had wanted it to go. The full 120, then penalties and “let’s see who’s the bravest”. The second half of the 90 had been a considerable improvement.
Who was going to be even braver so we could ditch penalties? Cramp was taking its toll. Then another Raith attack, a stramash, substitute Greig Spence’s shot was saved by Cammy Bell, and Baird made his most telling burst to hammer home. Fairly bloody notable, I’d call it.