WHEN, as a little girl, Val McDermid first visited “the San Starko” – as she affectionately refers to Stark’s Park, Raith Rovers’ home ground – and experienced the unique terracing thrill of “a cold bum and pie dripping down my sleeve”, she could never have envisaged that by the age of 60, hers would be one of the most prominent names associated with her beloved football club.
A career as an award-winning crime writer, in which she has sold more than 11 million books worldwide and had her work translated into 30 different languages, however, has elevated the Kirkcaldy wordsmith to “celebrity Rovers fan” status alongside her fellow author, Ian Rankin, Coldplay’s Guy Berryman and, of course, the former prime minister, Gordon Brown,
“The greatest impact is in China because the highlights have been shown on Chinese TV”Val McDermid
The name McDermid was already held in high esteem in the Fife town long before Val’s writing ability hoisted her into the public domain, with her late father, Jim, renowned as the man who unearthed the great Jim Baxter in his role as a Rovers scout. Now his daughter is carrying on the family name’s proud link with the club.
Five years ago, Val opted to sponsor the away end of Stark’s Park and have it named the McDermid Stand in memory of her father. A year ago, she agreed to become the club’s main kit sponsor. This link-up was such a fruitful one for both parties that next season’s Rovers shirts will again be adorned with her website, valmcdermid.com.
“The sponsorship worked well for me last season,” she said. “We got a lot of publicity for it in the first instance because I don’t think a writer had ever sponsored a football team before. We were on BBC Breakfast, we were in print and we had the New York Times on the phone. It was funny because they clearly don’t really understand fitba in America. The reporter said to me ‘So, if another club came along with a better deal, would you take it?’ I was like ‘No!’ They didn’t understand it’s a tribal thing.
“But where I’m convinced it’s had the greatest impact is in China because the highlights have been shown on Chinese TV. I’m sure all these Chinese folk are going ‘What is this valmcdermid.com?’ and checking it out on the internet. I’m published in Chinese by the elegant People’s Publishing Company! I couldn’t quantify the sponsorship in book sales but everything that puts you in front of people has an impact.”
Where previously it was mainly her readership who would take an interest in her, McDermid is finding that, through her increased involvement with Rovers, she has now become more prominent among the football fraternity. “The one thing I have really noticed on a personal level is a lot more men come up to me in the streets than they used to,” she explained. “It used to be women readers who came up but now it’s guys saying, ‘I don’t support your club, but I think what you’re doing is great and I’m reading your books’. You come across Raith fans in all sorts of strange places. I encountered one in a restaurant in Barbados who came up to me and we started chatting.”
McDermid’s exposure in football circles was boosted by the calibre of clubs her team encountered in last season’s Championship. Her maiden campaign as sponsor coincided with Hearts, Hibernian and Rangers – three of the biggest clubs in the country – operating in the second tier. She is delighted that Rovers will again be locking horns with the latter two next term. “It was definitely helpful to have the bigger clubs in the division because you get more media coverage,” said the 60-year-old. “The sponsorship is a combination of sentiment and commercial sense and I think it has worked out for everyone. I think we will get the benefit of Rangers and Hibs in the division because they bring a tremendous support which is handy for our coffers but also for our players to come up against top-class opposition.
“The more our opponents spend, the better it is for us because it stretches our guys and tells them a bit more about their game. As a writer, I’ve always said I learn from reading other books and sometimes you learn more from a bad book than a good one. It’s the same in football, if you lose a game sometimes you’ll learn more than when you win the game because you have to go home and forensically analyse where it’s gone wrong. That’s where you learn. If our opponents strengthen then we’ll either beat them and that’s fantastic or we won’t and we’ll learn from the process which is also fantastic.”
In addition to being a stand and shirt sponsor, McDermid, now Edinburgh-based, was invited to join the Rovers board when the popular Turnbull Hutton, who has since passed away, stepped down from his role as chairman last November. While proud to have such a prominent role, the writer has no desire to go the whole hog and start running the club. “It’s good to be part of the direction of the club but I have to say I don’t love board meetings,” said McDermid. “I’m self employed and I haven’t had a job for nearly 30 years. I’m not used to sitting in a room having to be polite and not always saying exactly what I’m thinking. I don’t have the time or expertise to be chairwoman – I’m happy to leave that to other people and support and snipe from the sidelines.”
As a director, McDermid was involved in the process that led to Ray McKinnon being appointed manager last month. She is enthused by the outlook the 44-year-old former Aberdeen, Dundee United and Raith midfielder brings to the club. “We were all involved in the final stages of appointing the manager and I was very impressed with him at the interview,” she said. “He talked very well, and with great enthusiasm and clearly knew his stuff.
“He’s really positive and he’s got all these ideas of bringing youth players through. Attitude is the one thing you can’t instil. You can help someone get the right players and help with training and facilities but you’ve had it if the attitude isn’t there. Everything I’ve seen about him has impressed me and I’m looking forward to an exciting season with some really good new signings to add to the core of the team.”