Well that’s it. 42 grounds, 5778 miles, 109 pies, 12 red cards and 119 goals. 9 months of skooshy cheese, terrifying mascots and snow blindness. From that glorious opening weekend of warm sunshine and excitement to the crushing ferocity of a winter that didn’t really abate until March - we done it the hard way. The snow of Aberdeen in December, the high winds and rain of Arbroath in January and the sheer grey coldness of East Fife in February will live long in the memory as pivotal moments in the mission, the moments when we knew if we survived those we could survive anything.
In all honesty the adventure had been threatening to peter out over the last few weeks with a run of mediocre matches but everything came together for an unforgettable weekend finale. It all began on Friday with an excellent article in the Herald of our exploits which was followed in the evening by a second appearance on the Friday night football radio show ‘Footloose’. After the show we had the pleasure of Stuart Cosgrove’s company for an hour or so in the BBC bar where we discussed all things football. It was a wonderfully surreal start to the weekend and heightened all the more when Jamie came face to face with presenter Catriona Shearer, a girl whom it’s fair to say he has a soft spot for.
We woke to a rather grey and drizzly Saturday morning but headed off in good spirits in anticipation of the final match. Once off the M8 the drive was rather pleasant as we wound our way down country roads through Auchertool to the ground on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy. After the customary photo shoot outside the stadium (where we were oddly again recognised) we took our seats armed with the final steak pie and Bovril of the season.
Stark’s Park is an oddity of a ground. There are two impressive enough stands – both single tiered and all seated – which are situated behind either goal. In addition to that there is the small railway stand which was unused except for a cameraman and a couple of ball boys. The main stand on the other side is a wonderful relic from a bygone era. It doesn’t even run half the length of the pitch but with its L shape it corners two sides of the pitch. The South Stand in which we were seated was adequately filled with Rovers supporters who had endured a heavy fixture schedule in recent weeks and were looking to see out a successful season in style. Their opponents Ross County still had a Scottish Cup final to look forward to.
Just five minutes in Raith took the lead with a simple goal – Armstrong heading home from a well placed corner. County tried to strike back but were thwarted by goalkeeper Gary O’Connor who saved from Steven Watt and Scott Morrison. The mercurial Gregory Tade looked bright and he nearly doubled Raith’s lead but his shot flashed wide. However the home side did double the lead on the half hour when Johnny Russell slipped the ball home after a blocked shot and just five minutes later he was on hand again to give Rovers an emphatic half time advantage. Inbetween the goals County could've got themselves back into the game but for a horrendous miss from Garry Wood whose header from 3 yards out hit the bar.
At half-time I, along with Kieran and Jamie, got to live out something you dream about as a kid when we were unexpectedly invited onto the park to take the applause of the supporters for completing the mission. It was a fantastic gesture by the club and to be applauded on by nearly 2,000 fans was such an odd feeling but a heart-warming one nonetheless. After a picture from the club photographer we re-took our seats for the second half. County came quickly out the traps and pulled one back thanks to a stunning low free-kick from Morrison and in truth they should've clawed the margin back even further but for some wasteful finishing. In a wonderfully open match Raith looked to kill them off and eventually did with 20 minutes left when the superb Russell grabbed his hat-trick with a powerful header.
It was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon and could've easily ended up 7-4 or more. As the final whistle blew the County side were wished all the best for their upcoming big day and left the Raith players to take the deserved prolonged applause from their delighted supporters. We slowly made our way out the stadium and the realisation kicked in – it was all over. 9 months and 42 games later we had reached the end of our fantastic journey and it was ended in wonderful style. We have many people to thank and reviews to write but that’s all to come. For now me and my two friends can enjoy the satisfaction that we have done it – though what we do now with our Saturdays remains a mystery.
It’s been a helluva ride.
Journey - 6
Pie - 9
Bovril - 8
Ground - 6
Game – 8