A New Year Trip to Kirkcaldy (1954)

(first published in the double-issue match programme for St. Mirren v Kilmarnock 27th December 2023 and St. Mirren v Celtic, 2nd January 2024)

Raith Rovers v St. Mirren 1954

Raith Rovers v St. Mirren 1954

A common feature of the fixture lists of the early 1950s was Raith Rovers' visit to Love Street in early January. Unfortunately for the fixture compilers, every one of the scheduled matches in 1951, 1953, 1955 and 1956 was postponed due to inclement weather and rearranged towards the end of the season in late April.

Unique programmes were issued for each and every postponed and rearranged game, with the exception of the last one in April 1956, and all can be quite tricky to obtain nowadays.

The fixture at Stark's Park on 2nd January 1954 luckily escaped any weather problems. It featured a St. Mirren side sitting comfortably in mid-table and fresh from a 5-3 victory over League leaders Queen of the South on New Years' Day, while goal average was the only thing keeping Raith Rovers out of the bottom two relegation places.

The hosts' programme for the match was an eight-page A5-sized gatefold issue, printed black on beige paper. The front cover featured a footballing illustration above the match details which omitted the year. As this could not be found elsewhere else in the issue, it would hinder identification for future collectors. The local adverts included one for the ice hockey fixture between Fife Flyers, the UK's oldest ice hockey club, and Perth Panthers.

The programme was dominated by adverts, but the "centre" of the issue contained the team line-ups for the match. The home side took the field as listed with only one change; the 'flu-laden James McEwan being replaced by Peter Rice, who had been transferred from St. Mirren to Raith Rovers only two days previously. In the St. Mirren line up, Willie Cunningham and Duncan McGill replaced the listed Roger McDonald and Gordon Henry. Willie Telfer continued his uncharacteristic, but successful, stint at centre-forward.

Elsewhere in the issue, the editorial piece heralded this fixture as the start of Raith's remaining seven home fixtures, eloquently stating that these were "pregnant with prongs and potentialities". However, Rovers did not have a good recent record against Saints, having lost both games in the previous season and again 3-0 at Love Street in the previous September.

The result of the "Start of Stark's Park seven" would be seen as a pointer to the remaining fixtures and it was felt that Rovers had a good home record against the future opponents. Much of the undertone of the piece was that of foreboding, given the current plight of the club but, with a New Year came a new Resolution and a "resolve" to better their position.

George Liddell is carried from the field

George Liddell is carried from the field

Opposite the editorial was listed the Half-Time scoreboard, featuring twelve other Scottish matches being played that day and below that was "Rhyme Time", a quirky feature of Raith programmes of the day, and its contribution from resident poet "The Wraith".

With a crowd of 12,000 in attendance, Raith kicked off uphill in the first half. St. Mirren suffered a huge setback after only eight minutes when outside-left George Liddell was involved in a collision with Raith full back Malcolm McLure. Both men were taken from the field but, whereas McLure returned ten minutes later after treatment to a head injury, Liddell had sustained a fractured nose and slight concussion and his game was over.

Bob Park is beaten by Copland's shot

Bob Park is beaten by Copland's shot

The home side opened the scoring after 23 minutes. Harry Colville intercepted a Duncan McGill pass and slipped the ball to Ernie Copland. The centre-forward played a one-two with Bernard Kelly and banged the return into the net from twenty yards, the ball taking a deflection from Jim Mallan on the way.

The ten men of St. Mirren had been unnerved by the loss of Liddell, but kept the game alive for the remainder of the first half, Tommy Gemmell having a long-range shot held by home 'keeper Charlie Drummond.

After the resumption, the Saints defence continued to be well worked, but they performed well in the slippery conditions and managed to get the ball forward to Gemmell and Telfer. The new Love Street centre was unlucky when he latched on to a Davie Lapsley pass and whipped the ball on the turn, striking the post with the home 'keeper well beaten.

The game was levelled in the 67th minute when Gemmell sent through a pass which evaded Colville and Telfer held off the challenge of McLure before sending a right-foot shot past Drummond.

The talking point of the match came with twelve minutes remaining. Saints' Eddie Blythe sent in a cross which struck the Raith crossbar and was collected by Drummond. The Raith custodian turned around in an attempt to evade a challenge from Gemmell and cleared the ball upfield. However, Referee Yacamini blew his whistle, presumably believing that the 'keeper had carried the ball over the line. Despite hot protests from the Raith players and without consulting his linesman, the Perth official awarded Saints what proved to be the winning goal.