Jock McStay has long learned to live in the shadow of someone else. On Monday night, however, he will step out into the light and be celebrated in his own right. For someone about to turn 50, it feels like the closing of a chapter.
McStay’s name will be forever attached to two people: until 16 April 1994, it was Paul McStay, his talented international midfielder cousin. After that date, of course, it was Duncan Ferguson.
Cousin and victim. He was defined by these terms. Now he is preparing to be inducted in the Raith Rovers Hall of Fame, McStay can afford to chuckle at this fate.
“In the Raith Rovers player profiles in matchday programmes, it used to be: Jock McStay: cousin of Celtic’s Paul’,” he recalls. “Duncan Ferguson did me a favour because after that it was Jock McStay: victim of infamous head-butt…”
Despite McStay’s lightness of tone, there is a serious side. While Ferguson won an FA Cup winner’s medal with Everton, in the 13 months that followed the head-butt, which occurred during a game between Rangers and Raith, McStay joined and then was freed by three different clubs: Falkirk, Portadown and Hamilton Accies. It was in Portadown where he was warned to get out of a bar, “or I’ll finish what Duncan Ferguson started”.
He felt like a pariah. But what hurt most of all was being abandoned by Raith, where he had become such a dependable, and popular, right-back.
In seven seasons at Stark’s Park, he played in 262 league games out of a possible 293, scoring 20 goals from full-back. He also won a First Division title winner’s medal in 1992-3, hence the Hall of Fame award. Legendary former manager Frank Connor, who signed McStay from Motherwell in 1987, is also being inducted at the ceremony at the Adam Smith theatre on Monday, as is the late Joe Baker, who played for Raith at the end of his career.
McStay’s induction seems particularly timely. As recently as August, Ferguson was himself honoured with a testimonial by Everton, at which 35,000 fans sung his name. McStay deserves his place in the sun every bit as much after enduring unwarranted pain and rejection.
Ferguson went on to suffer as well; he was finally sentenced to three months in Barlinnie in 1995. By the time McStay was forced to stand up in court and reluctantly help incarcerate a fellow professional footballer, he was described in reports as a painter and decorator first and professional footballer second, having by now joined Clydebank.
Intensifying his regret at leaving Raith, the season following his release turned out to be historic, when, 21 years ago this month, the club won the Coca Cola Cup on penalties against Celtic. Even now many still assume McStay played that day. It’s an easy mistake to make; he is included in the squad photo taken at the start of that famous campaign.
Of course, a McStay was involved at Ibrox that afternoon – Paul missed the decisive penalty. McStay looked on with other Raith fans from behind the same goal where Paul’s kick was memorably saved by Scott Thomson, his delight tempered by knowing a member of his own family had to endure such agony.
But then Jock had suffered, too. He suffered from missing out on such a glorious day in the club’s history. It is still hard to register that, with a testimonial in the offing and having been promised a new contract, he was let go on the eve of the 1994-5 season – literally the day before the campaign started.
It isn’t hard to draw a connection to the head-butt affair. Some accused McStay, a Celtic fan, of feigning injury. McStay depicts Raith’s successful manager Jimmy Nicholl, a former Rangers player, as being particularly unsupportive.
Having been reassured a new contract would be waiting for him to sign on his return, McStay went on the club’s tour to Ireland. But the day before the start of a season in which Raith won the league again, he heard the news he was not being kept on.
“My heart went out of football; I had loved my time there so much, and it just was not the same elsewhere,” he says now.
He cringes at the memory of a Christmas night out with Clydebank when he was trying to force himself, and others, to have a good time: “We were out in some restaurant in Glasgow; Clydebank were a pretty boring bunch compared to the Raith boys. I went to the bar and said: ‘22 aftershocks please’.”
He was longing to be back in places like Jackie O’s nightclub, plugging in to the rare bond that existed between the Raith players and fans at the time. But the glitterball had already shattered. Try as he might, he couldn’t put the pieces back together again.
He had six more years in Scottish league football after leaving Raith, mostly spent in the bottom two tiers.
While he remains bitter about the role of Kenny Clark, the referee who claimed to have missed the head-butt incident, triggering a long and protracted legal process, he has sympathy for Ferguson.
“He was like me, just a kid from a council estate,” he says. “But no one realised what I went through. No one stuck up for me.”
He is at peace now, however. He has worked for the maintenance department at Celtic Park for eight years, which makes up for not signing for the club he supported. But it’s Raith who you suspect are his first love now, even given the way his time ended there.
When he learned the fans had voted him into the Hall of Fame, at a Raith Rovers golf day in the summer, he couldn’t hold back the tears.
“My dad used to come straight from the night shift at the pits to watch me at Rovers,” he says. “Football has changed now, for the worse. Players nowadays won’t experience what we experienced. Drinking with the fans, a wee sing-song.”
McStay never sought the spotlight. But it found him anyway when he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a cut lip to show for it. On the stage of a theatre in Kirkcaldy in two days’ time, the healing process will be complete.