Brian Viner: Brush with fundamentals of Scottish game leaves Anelka poorer, wiser... and wetter

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It was reported this week that Claude Anelka, brother of Nicolas, had quit Raith Rovers after a troubled tenure as director of football. The report took up just a few lines, and was buried deep in the sports pages of only the most switched-on newspapers - eg this one. And yet it both caught my eye and whirled my mind. Nicolas Anelka's brother ran Raith Rovers? The same Raith Rovers so often cited as the quintessence of Scottish football? The very club, indeed, said to encapsulate the cheerful ignorance of Scottish football which prevails south of the border, exquisitely manifest in David Coleman's celebrated observation following a notable Rovers win: "They'll be singing in the streets of Raith tonight."

It was reported this week that Claude Anelka, brother of Nicolas, had quit Raith Rovers after a troubled tenure as director of football. The report took up just a few lines, and was buried deep in the sports pages of only the most switched-on newspapers - eg this one. And yet it both caught my eye and whirled my mind. Nicolas Anelka's brother ran Raith Rovers? The same Raith Rovers so often cited as the quintessence of Scottish football? The very club, indeed, said to encapsulate the cheerful ignorance of Scottish football which prevails south of the border, exquisitely manifest in David Coleman's celebrated observation following a notable Rovers win: "They'll be singing in the streets of Raith tonight."

Raith Rovers, as Coleman now knows, is located on the coast of Fife in the tough industrial town of Kirkcaldy, pronounced, preferably with a grimace and maybe a bit of phlegm rolling around in the mouth, "Kirk-oddy". There might be an area of Birmingham called Aston, and a part of Liverpool called Everton, but no bit of Kirkcaldy is known as Raith. The word "raith" is gaelic, meaning "raised ground". It was also the name of the local nob's estate.

Twenty years ago I used to play snooker at a social club in Kirkcaldy; not that there was anything overtly sociable about the place. Behind the bar there was a Desperate Dan lookalike who would chin you as soon as serve you. Rose, I think her name was.

The club was owned by, or at least named after, Kirkcaldy-raised Jocky Wilson, the two-times world darts champion. These days, I'm told that Jocky lives reclusively in a cramped Kirkcaldy council flat, one wall dominated by a vast, lifesize picture of him in his multi-chinned pomp, winning the world championship. I phoned him a couple of weeks back, to ask if I could pay him a visit, talk about old times. But Kirkcaldy's most famous son declined, saying that he wasn't well enough. Shame.

I am aware, incidentally, that there are those who would name the great 18th-century economist and philosopher Adam Smith as Kirkcaldy's most famous son. But could Adam Smith close a match by landing a double 19 in front of a baying crowd, fortified only by six or seven pints of Tennants? I doubt it.

At Jocky's club we always knew who Mr Kirkcaldy was. I had some wonderful times in there, cueing up with a bunch of regulars whose hearts were as big as their accents were impenetrable. Most of them were Raith Rovers fans, so heaven knows what they made of Claude Anelka's arrival this summer, not to mention the 15 or so Frenchmen he brought with him, who have proved to be about as effective on the football pitch as old Jocky - and I'm not talking about Jocky in his heyday as a highly-tuned athlete, either.

Raith Rovers - the club that produced Alex James and Jim Baxter, two men who would stand a good chance of getting into a British all-time greats XI - have not won a competitive match, home or away, since March. From their last 10 League matches they have gathered just a single point.

Diehard fan John Litster, who knows more about Raith than just about anyone else alive, points out that the blame cannot be heaped entirely on Anelka's shoulders. He was merely a by-product of the mismanagement that has dogged the club for a decade or more, including one year which yielded a loss of £1.5m. "You couldn't burn money that quickly in Kirkcaldy," John assures me.

Apparently, Anelka had been looking for a British club to invest in with some of the money he had made as his brother's agent, and chose to sink £160,000 into Raith, with the promise of more to come, boldly proclaiming that he would turn the club into "the third force" in Scottish football.

People who know the Scottish football scene always snigger when they hear someone uttering that "third force" stuff. This week Anelka left Kirkcaldy £160,000 poorer, a little bit wiser, and doubtless also colder and wetter.

Poignantly, it will be 10 years next month since the greatest day in the 121-year history of Raith Rovers. On 27 November 1994, they somehow contrived to beat mighty Celtic, on penalties, in the League Cup final at Ibrox.

That miraculous result propelled them into Europe, and they made it through several rounds of the Uefa Cup, on the way beating the champions of the Faroe Islands, no less, before being knocked out by Bayern Munich. But, gloriously, at half-time in Munich they were ahead. According to Litster: "There's a photograph on the wall of every house in Kirkcaldy of the half-time scoreboard: Bayern München 0 Raith Rovers 1."

Every house in Kirkcaldy except one, that is. On Jocky Wilson's wall there's no room.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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