Thrown into management unexpectedly back in December, Kenny Rafferty did not expect to be at the Tranent helm for longer than a week and had no appetite to take the job on a long-term basis.
Fast forward seven months and the Foresters Park co-boss heads into the summer break as a double cup-winning manager, having led the Belters to the Fife and Lothians and East of Scotland Cup in the space of just four days after almost 40 years without a cup triumph.
What Rafferty and his co-manager Darren Smith have achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable after they inherited a fractious squad which had failed to live up to their billing as Premier League title favourites – unfairly thrown on them after the high-profile signing of ex-Hibs and Rangers midfielder Kevin Thomson, which didn’t aid their cause.
Rafferty and Smith had made it abundantly clear to the club’s committee that they didn’t want the job full-time after taking over from Gary Small. They were quite happy to take the job on an interim basis while the club worked behind the scenes to appoint a new manager. But, after building up a head of steam with an unbeaten eight-game league stretch, they committed to the job and ended the season in fourth spot.
“Gary resigned and we had a meeting with the players after it and I said, ‘I’ll take it this week’,” said Rafferty. “Our first game in charge was against Kennoway [Star Hearts] away and nobody knew what was happening. The job just got sort of thrown at me and Daz. I told the committee, ‘The quicker you get someone in the better’, so they could sort it out. Matty [Matthew Wright, chairman] spoke to us and said to us to take over until they got somebody, but we just kept winning and they saw the hunger and desire we had, then before you know it we signed up for next season.
“When we took over at Christmas, promotion was always the aim for next season. What the committee said at the time was, ‘As long as you don’t get relegated’ – there wasn’t even any mention of the cups.”
Tranent disposed of Super League opposition eight times in both cup competitions, winning six of their ties on penalty shoot-outs. Now they’ve proven they can compete with the best from the top flight – beating each of the top three in Kelty Hearts, Bonnyrigg Rose and Bo’ness United – their target is now to reach the Super League next season, with automatic promotion their aim.
Rafferty continued: “Before the semi-finals we said if we got through one semi-final we’d be delighted and we ended up getting through both of them. Then we said if we win one cup we’d be delighted. Wednesday took all the pressure off us, completely, because we’d already won a cup and if we had got beat we’d have come into this game thinking, ‘We don’t want to be the team that has lost two cup finals in four days’.
“I said all week quietly that I wouldn’t put it past this dressing-room to win both of them. To a man they were outstanding. I’m delighted for them. Even though they aren’t all Tranent boys, when they went to Benidorm, big Toddy [Jamie Todd] who is from Edinburgh got a ‘Big T’ tattoo on his shoulder. They’ve just bought into it so much. You can see with the fans that turned out for both finals that the community is buying into it. It just shows the potential this club has got.
“What it does, is it puts massive pressure on me and Daz for next season. We just have to enjoy it and take it in. For guys like Robert McNeil [secretary] who has been here through the really low times, it is great for him. I’m absolutely over the moon.”