Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dunfermline v Raith Rovers: Fantasy Football in Fife

A sell out crowd. A long standing local rivalry. The final derby of a long, tense season.

To the winner, perhaps, the championship.

Welcome to Scottish football’s Easter weekend. Welcome to Fife.

Dunfermline v Raith Rovers for a place in the SPL. It’s not how many people would have imagined this season’s First Division title race turning out.

But we should be glad. It’s given us an intriguing football story to focus on, given us a sunny respite from the wintery gloom of season shrouded in misery.

Too tempting, perhaps, to describe this as a championship play off.

Falkirk’s challenge looks doomed so it has come down to a shoot out between Raith and Dunfermline.

But the league table shows that a Raith win today would take them a big step closer to the title but not carry them over the line.

A Dunfermline win would make them prohibitive favourites to return to the SPL. But it still wouldn’t quite be a guarantee. Both sides have shown themselves capable of dropping points. To add another twist Dunfermline host Falkirk on the last day of the season.

The head to heads this season favour Raith with two home wins and a draw at East End Park. What perfect timing it would be if this is the game where Dunfermline secure their first local bragging rights of the season.

In a sorry season for Scottish football, in a year that has seen much written about the future of the game but very little actually achieved, today’s game takes on a heroic quality.

Here’s the Scottish Football League grabbing some time in the limelight, Dunfermline enjoying a first capacity crowd since 1996, John McGlynn’s managerial stock rising with every step Raith take towards the SPL.

It’s enough to make me giddy with excitement.

A winner? Dunfermline have home advantage, a rocking stadium, a one point lead, the confidence of a 6-1 win in their last game and three wins in a row.

Raith have less form going into this one. But they bring the spirit that’s got them this far, the knowledge that they’ve had the beating of Dunfermline this season and the motivation of the terrible consequences of losing. Emotion too, following the recent death of Ronnie Coyle.

Too close to call? My head says Dunfermline. Maybe a little bit of my heart says Raith Rovers, if for no other reason than to wring every last drop of drama out of this captivating duel.

"Football is the winner."

What a horrible, meaningless, clich├ęd, feckless phrase that is. The last refuge of the pundit who has nothing left to say.

But today, after this week of weeks, wouldn’t it be nice if it was true in Fife this evening.