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McCoist plays down talk of rift with Raith

FOR two clubs that haven't faced each other in a competitive match for 17 years, there has been no shortage of animosity between Raith Rovers and Rangers in recent times.

Ally McCoist is looking forward to an amicable final. Picture: SNS
Ally McCoist is looking forward to an amicable final. Picture: SNS

The incendiary spring and summer of 2012, when the Ibrox club descended from administration into liquidation, was the catalyst for a frank exchange of views. Ally McCoist, unhappy with the decision to hand Rangers a one-year transfer embargo that he felt "could kill our club", demanded to know the make-up of the Scottish Football Association's three-man panel. When it emerged that one of them was Eric Drysdale, the Raith Rovers director, there were threats to burn down Stark's Park and others on Drysdale's life.

More was to follow. As the SFA and the Scottish Premier League stepped up their campaign to have the newco Rangers parachuted into the first division - rather than the bottom tier - Turnbull Hutton, the Rovers chairman, was one of the most outspoken critics of a campaign he felt had been orchestrated with financial rather than sporting merits in mind.

"The SPL is like a dead parrot," was one of the most memorable quotes of a summer quite unlike any experienced in Scottish football before or since.

Two years have passed since those exchanges, but it doesn't seem long enough to simply forgive and forget ahead of the teams' first meeting since April 1997, when Rangers swept Raith aside 6-0 on their way to nine-in-a-row.

Sunday's Ramsdens Cup final carries significance for both sides for different reasons - Rangers looking to win the trophy at least once during "the journey" through the divisions, Raith looking for their first trophy since beating Celtic in the 1994 Coca-Cola Cup Final - and the historical enmity will likely add another dimension to what should be a vibrant atmosphere at a sold-out Easter Road.

"I don't know if we are still on a boycott list but I'd imagine the Ramsdens Cup Final won't be a happy family day, filled with brotherly love," remarked Hutton in a recent interview.

McCoist, though, has played down talk of any lingering resentment, certainly on Rangers' part. The Ibrox manager shared a pot of tea and a chat with both Hutton and Drysdale at Raith's recent Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against St Johnstone and he expects Sunday's encounter to be just as amicable.

"I've got a great relationship with Turnbull," said McCoist. "He's given me stick in the past, which is fine - a lot of people would agree with him. To be fair to Turnbull, he only said what the vast majority of Rangers fans actually agreed with, that we should go down to the bottom tier and start from there and work our way back. I think far too much was read into the situation.

"I have got nothing but respect for Turnbull, Eric and the boys at Raith Rovers. I think they do a great job and they are obviously, as you would expect, 100% behind their team and want the best for Raith Rovers, and so they should. It's boys like that who are of paramount importance to Scottish football and the clubs within the SFA and the SPFL.

"Just because he says something that maybe wasn't in agreement with me, well I don't have a problem with that at all and neither does he. I've never been looked after better than when I was through at Kirkcaldy for the game against St Johnstone. I had a good cup of tea and a craic before the game with Eric and Turnbull. Honestly, I do think there's been far too much made of that whole situation."

It is perhaps not a surprise that McCoist has chosen to play down talk of a rift with Rovers. This is his first cup final since he became manager almost three years ago and it gives him the relatively rare privilege of talking about football rather than the various off-field dramas that have been played out behind the scenes in that time.

He will again look to Lee McCulloch as his on-field leader, the 35-year-old captain having being inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame earlier this week.

"I was thrilled for Lee," added McCoist. "I think David Weir is the only other player to get inducted into the Hall of Fame while still playing for the club, so that's some achievement. He's thoroughly deserving of it, and his mum and dad were there, which was a big thing for him. On the park he's been a massive figure for me. I'd say him and Lee Wallace have been the two biggest. He's been everything we could have hoped for from a captain. He's helped run the team on and off the park and we're extremely grateful for that."

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