PERCHED on his roof in the New Orleans sun, Steve McAnespie’s thoughts were a long way from Ibrox. Eleven years after helping Raith Rovers stun Celtic to win the Coca-Cola Cup, he was stranded when Hurricane Katrina struck in the middle of the night, in August 2005.
McAnespie, 41, with just two elderly neighbours for company, was eventually rescued after three long days and nights.
“The storm hit in the late afternoon but the levee broke around three in the morning,” he said. “I was in bed and had ear plugs in because the wind was around 120mph and it sounded like someone was trying to rip the roof off the house.
“I was trying to get some sleep but not getting any when the water crashed through my patio window into my bedroom and all hell broke loose. It rose about 15 feet in the space of five minutes and I swam for my life.
“During the day it was 110°F and it dropped to 30°F so the swing in temperature was horrible. I ended up getting sun stroke because I had just dived out of my window wearing shorts and T-shirt. It was touch and go, it really was.”
Katrina claimed more than 1,800 lives but McAnespie was saved by helicopter. “Once they got me off the roof, they flew me about 60 miles to a local college where they were basing people,” he explained. “I then spent three or four weeks in Atlanta with friends because the water was still up to my roof. There was nothing to go back for.”
When he did eventually return, his life had been washed away. “I lost everything and it takes a while to rebuild and get your life back in order.”
One thing not lost was McAnespie’s winner’s medal from Raith’s famous victory. It was safely stored thousands of miles away in Kilmarnock with his parents but now hangs proudly on his wall, framed alongside his strip. McAnespie remains in New Orleans, coaching at Chicago Fire Juniors.
The right-back started his career at Aberdeen but failed to break into the first team and spent a year in Sweden with Västerhaninge.
“[Raith manager] Jimmy Nicholl had been in touch when I left Aberdeen but I went to Sweden,” McAnespie explained. “He got back in touch again after my season there and we managed to work things out.”
Within months of joining, Raith had embarked on what would prove to be a fairytale cup run, culminating at Ibrox on 27 November, 1994. “We were getting into the later rounds and winning on penalty kicks and it was one of those things that just rolled for us.”
After Raith took the lead in the final through Stevie Crawford, Celtic pulled level through Andy Walker before Charlie Nicholas put the Glasgow giants in front with six minutes to go. But, just two minutes later, Gordon Dalziel nodded home the equaliser to send the match into extra time.
McAnespie scored Raith’s fourth penalty in the shootout before Celtic captain Paul McStay missed his side’s sixth to send the cup east to Kirkcaldy. But Raith were not finished there and clinched the First Division title in May. “That gets lost in the wash, it should get more attention,” he said.
Winning the Coca-Cola Cup earned Raith a crack at the Uefa Cup but McAnespie’s European adventure came to a rather abrupt end after victory over Icelandic side Akranes.
“Jimmy told me at the airport on the way back from Iceland that Bolton had made an offer and the club was accepting it.
“The team we had at that time was achieving some great things and I wanted to be part of it but the money that the club got [£900,000], I had to be mindful of that.”
McAnespie played a handful of games in the Premier League as Bolton suffered relegation from the Premier League before bouncing back. He later had spells with Fulham, Cambridge and Partick Thistle before crossing the Atlantic.
“I had friends over here and I came over and had a look around at the facilities. Once I’d done that, I was sold.
“I love working with the younger kids and seeing them break into the first team. At some stage I would like to come back home and take a manager’s job and when I do I think I’ll be better for having been here and done the coaching.”
And, as Raith prepare to face Celtic in the Scottish Cup tomorrow, McAnespie admits that taking the reins at Stark’s Park would lure him from his dream life in America.
“It would be one of the few jobs that would entice me home,” he confirmed. “It’s not one of the biggest jobs in the world but it means a lot to me and is very close to my heart.”