Gordon Brown: Holding true to my Raith

After a vintage year for the clubs closest to his heart, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown reflects on the trials and celebrations of Fife's football fans

Friday 16 August 2013 22:39

Since 2005, the constituency I have proudly represented has been named "Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath"; but in football terms, that stands for "The Rovers" and "The Blue Brazil". Football has always been at the very centre of local life in the Fife towns and villages in which I grew up, and now represent as an MP.

The local clubs command fierce loyalties and their triumphs and disasters have been woven into the fabric of Fife over the last 120 years. Football is part of every workplace, every street, every family and growing up in Kirkcaldy it was Raith Rovers that captured my heart. Whether facing promotion in 1976 or 1993, Coca Cola Cup glory in 1994, or the legendary European games against the mighty Bayern Munich in 1995, the Rovers bug and the excitement of a packed crowd at Stark's Park have stayed with me wherever I have travelled and whatever I have done.

So, like all Fifers, I've been incredibly proud to see our local clubs put some of the beauty back into the beautiful game in Scotland this season.

The Rovers clinched promotion to the First Division as champions last weekend with a 1-0 win over Queen's Park. Cowdenbeath – despite just missing out on automatic promotion following a 2-2 draw with Forfar Athletic – still have the opportunity to fight their way out of the Third Division through the play-offs.

In football, just like in politics, there are ups and downs as you support your team. But it's living through the tough times that makes the reward when it comes all the sweeter.

After a heady time for Rovers fans in the mid-1990s, when Premier League football seemed set to stay, the club has suffered setbacks. Relegations followed the good years, the financial pressures on our small club seemed insurmountable and boardroom troubles put our future survival in doubt. But clubs built on strong local foundations survive and – in the case of the Rovers – flourish. The 2005 takeover of the club secured its future and a grassroots "Reclaim the Rovers" campaign ensured community shareholdership and representation on the board. I was proud to join thousands of other fans in buying shares and to help the Supporters' Trust that put £200,000 into the takeover.

We've never had the resources of big-city teams, but slowly we began the work of rebuilding the club piece by piece. With a visionary chairman, Dave Sommerville, at the helm, confidence returned.

This year, under the stewardship of our excellent manager John McGlynn, all that commitment and dedication was repaid at Hampden on 2 May. An eight-game winning run to the top of Division Two was capped with an 18-yard Graham Weir rocket on 47 seconds to beat Queen's Park 1-0.

Having spent hundreds of hours in the crowd during my life and seeing many of the club's greatest games, missing a league decider was an agonising experience. Even from a distance, I raised the roof when the whistle went, but victory shared with a crowd will always be the greater in the moment and the memory.

Now, of course, for Rovers fans the dreaming begins again. What will next season bring? A relegation dogfight, or a promotion crunch game in the May sunshine? How long before the Bairns (Falkirk), or Bayern, or even Barcelona are making their way along the A92 again for a showdown by the sea?

The Rovers faithful, like football fans the world over, will already be debating the future as they toast the recent past. But whatever next season brings, this year's players and coaches and backroom staff can forever be proud of what they have just achieved.

Pride and passion for the local team is little, of course, without strong rivalries to fuel it. And in Fife, we have always been blessed with local derbies to get the blood racing. Rovers against East Fife, Rovers against Dunfermline Athletic, Rovers against Falkirk are all league and cup fixtures that can define a season.

Next year, as Raith swap their Division Two derby with our East Fife neighbours for the Division One battle royale with Dunfermline Athletic, another Fife classic could be taking shape.

Life for Cowdenbeath FC has often mirrored life for Raith Rovers. A strong season here, followed by years of lower league football there. Promotion to the First Division in 1992, followed by a long drought of 38 winless league games.

Mixu Paatelainen's Division Three title win in 2006, the club's first in 67 years, followed a year later by relegation. Cowdenbeath's is the seesaw existence of a battling local club. This season, their battle will go right to the wire. Last weekend they were held at home to a 2-2 draw by Forfar Athletic and so now they can't catch Dumbarton for the Division Three title. They will have to settle for the play-offs, with all the angst and strain that brutal process puts on players and fans. My thoughts are with manager Danny Lennon and his squad, along with the hundreds of supporters willing them on.

Victory for Cowdenbeath in the play-offs would put two Fife sides in Division One (Rovers and the Pars), and two more in Division Two (The Blue Brazil and the Fifers (East Fife). The area will be alive with derby rivalry again in the new season.

Of course, Fifers know that one day all four clubs will meet regularly as top sides in the Premier League, but for now as local community football rebuilds its strength across Fife, we will celebrate our clubs for what they are achieving... and hope our own club does that little bit better than the rest!

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