aFOR an example of how little can get done in 117 years, look to Raith Rovers. They are stuck with a tradition of promising more than they perform. More than most rivals they have ducked out of winning games which should have been a dawdle. Some of their unlikely victories have been uncanny. Even in their centenary history book they called themselves the Great Tantalisers. They have earned every crack that their suitable club address is a street called Pratt. But they have survived. To have kept alive and kicking for that long is good going and at times maybe miraculous.

For pulling one of their more magical tricks out of the hamper today is as important as any in their patchy story. Beating Falkirk at Brockville would put them into the top three of their table. If they can finish the season up in there and the Bairns don't, one of the premier bigshots will have to play off to keep their status. Anxious eyes in loftier places than Brockville will be on the result. Effectively, it will be a match played in two divisions. Which is daft. With the decreeing of phony regulations, such funny things happen.

Daft could be an extra man for the Rovers. Besides, against Falkirk it has become almost a rule that the better team loses. And the neutral world has wearied of being told that the Bairns are the best. To the scribes and soothsayers, Falkirk, like Dunfermline Athletic and Livingston, are cuddly pets. Rovers, like St Mirren, do not so readily win friends among strangers. They have to make their score.

Slight regard has made them sulky. Rovers long ago took to bemoaning how seldom outsiders have wiped their noses in cold times or slapped their backs when the sun shone on them. Peter Hetherston, the manager, sometimes called Silky, was saying as much last Saturday after they beat Inverness with another clean-sheet win in their recent smashing run. ''We have not been given the credit I think we deserve,'' he said. He is right, and he's the one to say it. Silky has put the shine on the material that was weaved by his dumped predecessor, John McVeigh.

If the Rovers are unappreciated by an indifferent world, it has not been for a lack of making headlines. One squad on an overseas tour had the rare excitement of being shipwrecked. And in the Olympic Stadium, Munich, the scoreboard proclaimed them (for eight minutes) 1-0 ahead of Bayern. On November 27, 1994 - a date chiselled in stone - they beat Celtic to win the League Cup. Another national chalice that failed to slip from their grasp was the Qualifying Cup in 1907.

In 1967 most famously was the BBC boob when a television commentator put a gloss on a 7-2 humping of Queen of the South with: ''They'll be dancing in the streets of Raith tonight.'' If he had known the geography of their Stark's Park, he might have pronounced Kirkcaldy wrong. In lean times even local Fifers have forgotten where the park is.

Kirkcaldy mythology likes to believe a fairy-tale start to the Rovers. Their beginning came when a lad found a ball among some weeds when looking for bird eggs and got up a team. Raith took their name from a landed estate called Raith and Novar. Calling themselves Novar Rovers might have meant even less space on the coarser sports pages.

History suggests it took two world wars to shake up the club's ambitions. Purple periods followed the Kaiser and Hitler shows.

Appointed in 1945, the long-serving manager Bert Herdman had for his handiest qualification that he was treasurer of the supporters' club.

His half-time tactical talk often consisted of the simple rule: ''Keep your high balls low.''

Any club which bred Jim Baxter and Alex James cannot be held of little central account, except that it usually has been until today. Yet the majestic half-back line of Andy Young, Willie McNaught, and Andy Leigh remains legendary in the Scottish game.

Rovers may be the best club in the land - on paper. Five history books, one pictorial, have been produced about them. Two more are promised. Their plain match programme is packed with good stuff. A fanzine, called Stark's Bark, is smart, encyclopaedic, sometimes cheeky, shimmering with adoration. So the tale of that shipwreck is oft-told.

In 1923, voyaging to the Canary Islands, the Rovers shared the Highland Loch steamer otherwise cargoing frozen meat to South America when she hit a sand bar and they were rescued by Spanish fishermen. On the Canaries they won all four games, the first played in a bullring fenced with 12ft-high barbed wire. It could be a bit like that at Brockville today.