KIRKCALDY, SCOTLAND — Penalty. Zanatta scores, racing away to celebrate in front of the Stark’s Park main stand on a blustery day in Kirkcaldy. And with that, a bleak chapter in the history of Scotland’s second oldest professional football club – Kilmarnock F.C. – came to a welcome end, as the goal ultimately sealed the fate of manager Tommy Wright. A Scottish Cup winner with St Johnstone, the Northern Irishman had overseen Kilmarnock’s first relegation from Scotland’s top tier in 28 years, and later struggled to maintain promotion-worthy performances in the 2021-22 season as Killie battled for an immediate return to the Premiership.
Wright, known within Scottish football for his gruff persona and unattractive tactics, was officially relieved from his duties as Kilmarnock boss a week later in unexpected circumstances. The abandonment of the Ayrshire side’s home fixture against Dunfermline Athletic, due to some extreme fog after an hour played with the score at 1-1, prompted a sharply delivered statement from club officials to notify the media of Wright’s departure. And as such, social media was quickly awash with amusing takes on the Killie manager’s sacking – “not sure if he’d have seen that coming”, “he will be dearly mist”, “directors have clouded judgement” and “sacked due to fog is a new one” were just a few of the many comments on Twitter.
Yet, for all of the work of the fog in finally confirming Wright’s exit as his team’s stuttering form saw them drop to 5th place in the Championship, it was the previous Saturday’s events at the home of Raith Rovers which was purported within circles of Kilmarnock intelligentsia to have the greatest impact upon Tommy Wright’s favour with the Rugby Park club’s board members. It was also a moment which captured the dreariness of life in Scotland’s second tier, where ideals of the ‘beautiful game’ are a forgotten memory by and large.
That Dario Zanatta penalty brought cheers from the hundreds of Raith supporters at the south end of Stark’s Park, which were, however, quickly drowned out by prominent booing from the stadium’s opposite end which houses away fans. Any remaining goodwill granted to manager Tommy Wright had vanished amongst the Kilmarnock faithful high up in the ground’s McDermid Stand. A chant swiftly spread through the travelling support, which began in small groups and was eventually sung in unison to signal the collective discontent: “Tommy, get to fuck, Tommy, Tommy get to fuck.” If fan support for the manager was now lost, it was soon to be genuine anger raining down from the away end as Wright, hearing the chanting, turned to the Kilmarnock fans and appeared to cup his ear, enraging the hundreds of supporters behind the goal who had paid £20 (per adult ticket) to watch their beloved Killie lose yet another key game to a promotion rival.
The relationship between manager and supporters was sour. Sparked by numerous dreadful performances in the league campaign, Wright’s small action of retaliation in front of the fans, later upgraded from cupping an ear to a middle finger as fans shared rumours and speculated, doomed him to failure as the manager of Kilmarnock Football Club, and left me wondering whether this really was the very best professional football had to offer. It was this absurdity, intense passion and uncensored emotion which characterised a season following Kilmarnock in the 2021-22 Scottish Championship.
Scotland’s second division leaves you at once sick of the sport and madly in love with it. For every inexplicable misplaced midfield pass there is also the odd moment of unbridled joy on outdated away end terracing, and for that we should be thankful. Or at the very least, pretend to be – it’s probably an easier option if your team escapes the division at the first time of asking.