Raith Rovers vs Queen of the South: A look back at 2020 and a prematch preview

Credit: Lesley Fleming Photography

Rovers welcome Queen of the South to Kirkcaldy for their final game of what can only be described as an eventful year. Should the home side avoid defeat tonight they'll have gone the full calendar year without losing a game at their home (obviously assisted thanks to a curtailed and shortened seasons). While there's no such thing as an easy game at this level, Rovers will be viewed as favourites with the Doonhamers currently sitting bottom of the league.

There's been very little indication of whether Rovers will be forced into changes from Saturday's win over Alloa. Jamie MacDonald was replaced by Robbie Thomson for the second half against the Wasps and it's unclear if he'll return. Similarly, Manny Duku was withdrawn and replaced by Lars Lokotsch who picked up his first goal for the club.

Allan Johnston's team are likely to arrive in Kirkcaldy without talismanic striker Stephen Dobbie who has been struggling with injury. Full back Nortei Nortey may also be absent after missing their defeat to Dundee at the weekend. The visitors have only one one game in the league in 2020 (against Alloa at Palmerston) and Rovers will be looking to compound their misery on the back of a bizarre week. Last weekend's match against Dundee saw them take a slaughtering off fans on social media for George Galloway's bizarre appearance at the time - the club issued two consecutive 'apologies' which failed to address why he'd attended in spite of tier 4 regulations being in place. It's just another bizarre incident in the pantomime that is Scottish football.

Tonight's fixture marks the end of a year full of doubt, difficulty and adapting to the 'new normal'. The start of the 2020 saw wins against Peterhead, Montrose and Clyde as Rovers put in solid performances. While all of the games were by margins of a single goal it highlighted Rovers title credentials and was indicative that while McGlynn's style of football may have changed the fighting spirit of his first reign was still very much there.

The spring of 2020 will go down as one of the most uncertain the club's recent history and it was all down to factors outside of our control. It became abundantly clear that by the March 2020, that the UK government were deluding themselves over COVID-19. With other European nations were going into lockdowns and urging workers to stay at home the UK government fostered a sense of denial. Falkirk arrived for the crunch game on 3rd March and both teams played out a tense 1-1 draw. Fittingly, returning hero John Baird scored Rovers league winning goal against Forfar the following weekend - it would be the last time fans would attend a match at Stark's Park this year but it was a fitting end to the career of a player who never failed to give his all in a Rovers shirt and gave us our most iconic moment since the new millenium.

On the 13th March, the SPFL and SFA announced in a joint statement that the leagues had been suspended with immediate effect. It was a proactive decision from the governing body: events like gigs (Lewis Capaldi, Sterephonics) and Cheltenham festival continued to proceed as the virus began to spiral out of control. For all the criticisms of the governing bodies throughout the year, it should at least be agreed that they were correct in stopping football from continuing while others ploughed on without a care.

Of course, the end to the season then brought about a new set of questions: how would the 19/20 season be ended? It became clear quickly to all but the most rabid of supporters of clubs left in negative positions that games in the bottom 3 leagues wouldn't continue. Some argued it would be only fair to void leagues. Others argued for voting to end the season and to promote the teams in the top spots.

It was a debate which would last from April (when Dundee finally made their decision in a farcical vote) all the way through to mid-July and culminated in a highly publicised court case which ultimately forced a decision via SFA arbitration. The panel unanimously confirmed that there had been no foul play and Raith, along with Dundee United and Cove, were promoted at the expense of Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer.

The Summer of 2020 brought out the best and worst of Scottish football supporters. Almost immediately when the leagues were suspended, Rovers put up a statement on their website to say to supporters that they'd not intended to ask for any money but that they'd organise a crowdfunding account where money could be paid after fans enquiries about helping had flooded in. Not content with this alone, Raith fan Ruaridh Kilgour created meaning fans could buy tickets for virtual matches with 100% of the money going directly to the clubs: it raised almost £300,000 to go to clubs at all levels of football throughout the UK and Ireland.

But it wasn't just in Kirkcaldy where fans banded together. Numerous clubs in the SPFL like Hearts reached out to support those in less fortunate circumstances with food bank donations. Hibs replaced their sponsors logo with a message thanking the NHS. Dundee United fans from the Dode Fox Podcast organised a sponsored walk from Tynecastle to Tannadice to raise funds for their club in the legal battle. While all of these were for different causes, it ultimately showed that Scottish football collectively will always band together where possible to protect those involved.

For all the positive, there were also some unsavoury scenes. Clubs found themselves in a position where they were relegated or denied promotion through no fault of there own. Whatever situation came to pass, there would have always been winners or losers - even reconstruction would have merely passed the buck to clubs lower down in the chain to potentially lose out. Twitter in particular saw the worst side of things with some fans expressing that they hoped the promoted clubs would go bust. While this now looks unlikely, it's a timely reminder that for all the great football can achieve it still has a fringe element of lunatics.

The summer turned to autumn and Rovers arrived in the Championship and have become somewhat of a surprise package for fans of other clubs. Those who have followed the team over the last couple of years knew that McGlynn now favours an aggressive passing game as opposed to the industrious long ball style which dominated before. It's been a welcome change and a style of play which has been well suited to a level of football where both teams will look to go out to win.

There have been numerous surprise packages in the playing squad itself. 2020 has seen the emergence of Dylan Tait as a huge prospect - he was recently rewarded with a new deal but it would be surprising if he's not being tipped to clubs elsewhere before long. Manny Duku and Frankie Musonda arrived as unknowns but have quickly become mainstays in the team. Loanee Ethan Ross has demonstrated that John McGlynn still has an eye for young talents who can use the club as a stepping stone to first team football.

As fans it's been an absolute pleasure to watch this Rovers side go from strength to strength. While it's disappointing that fans haven't been able to attend games since that win over Forfar, we must appreciate the fragile nature of the situation. It's also important that we take the time to thank those who have safeguarded the club through the year. Our board have been quick to assure fans that the club would be fine throughout the season.

It isn't too long ago that Rovers would sell players and we'd see a statement that "we couldn't stand in their way" as they waltzed off to other Scottish clubs. Instead, the current board ensured that our interests were safeguarded by the Kieron Bowie deal to Fulham before then working tirelessly throughout the Summer to ensure Rovers weren't a club left in a detrimental position through no fault of our own. The word self-interest was thrown about quite heavily during the Summer as though it should be something to be ashamed of - Bill Clark in particular was fantastic in coming out and ensuring that Rovers weren't left behind.

Hopefully, 2021 will give us a return to normality - nobody wants for titles to be won of the pitch. Nobody wants to be watching games on stream and not having the camaraderie and banter that comes along with being on the Terraces. I'm very much looking forward to seeing many familiar faces both at Stark's Park and on my travels across Scotland. When it's all over, I'll probably go out my way to finish over visiting the 4 grounds I've got left in the SPFL to visit (Celtic, Kilmarnock, Motherwell and Annan for anyone interested). We can only guess how crazy things will be when the first 90th minute winner hits the net.

For Raith Rovers, the future is very much bright. We've got a management duo who understand the club. We've got a fanbase who will back the team to the hilt. And we've got an excellent group of players. It won't all be plain sailing but the club feels like we're moving in the right direction.

Happy new year to all Scottish football fans when it comes.

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