Home   Thanet   Sport   Article

Minster’s Robin Rae starred alongside Pat Nevin, Paul McStay and Gary Mackay after replacing Bryan Gunn in goal to help Scotland win the 1982 European Under-18 Championship final

When it comes to making the most of your opportunities, Robin Rae’s the master.

The Minster resident started and finished his career as a central defender but helped Scotland win their only-ever international trophy playing as a “reluctant goalkeeper”.

Former Scottish youth international Robin Rae has lived in Kent for over 20 years
Former Scottish youth international Robin Rae has lived in Kent for over 20 years

Rae found himself in goal at the 1982 UEFA Under-18 European Championships in Finland where a Scotland team that included the likes of Pat Nevin, Paul McStay and Gary Mackay overcame the odds to bring silverware home and leave the Dutch masters - which included Marco van Basten - in their wake.

Rae quit the professional game in Scotland after admitting he got bored of being in goal, returning to centre-half duties at a lower level. He moved to Kent permanently about 25 years ago, where he met his wife and spent two decades playing for his local team Minster. He’s now part of Herne Bay’s walking football team.

Whether playing in his preferred position of defence, or in goal, Rae picked up numerous medals and trophies that have long since gone. He gave away his Scotland shirt to a mate but the one medal he does hold onto is the cherished 1982 Euro final winning one.

The stars aligned for Rae back then. It’s a tale of being in the right place at the right time and making the most of what he had.

“I was a very reluctant goalkeeper,” admitted the 60-year-old. “I didn’t start until I was 15. I only went in goal for Musselburgh Windsor because we were playing in the Scottish Cup semi-final and the goalie let in a howler, through his legs. I gave him a verbal volley but then he had the huff and never turned up for the replay. The manager said ‘right, smarty pants, you go in goal!’

“I had played centre-back before then but I played in goal that night, had a blinder and saved a penalty.”

Rae’s team lost in extra-time but a scout from Hibernian happened to be there. He was invited to train at Easter Road a few days later.

“As it turned out, only one goalie turned up and it was me!” said Rae.

“Eddie Turnbull (the Hibs manager) had set up this exercise where he needed two goalies and so I was sprinting from one end of the pitch to the other and he was so impressed that he signed me up!

“I said ‘I’ve only been in goal for a week, mate!’”

Rae ended up being part of a successful Hibs Under-18 team who won the Scottish professional youth league that year, beating Celtic in their final game. Scouts watched on in a friendly match at Easter Road as Rae had another blinder.

He was drafted in as third-choice for the Scottish Under-18 team. Bryan Gunn (Aberdeen) was no.1 and Andy Bruce (Rangers) back-up but as luck would have it, Aberdeen and Rangers had won through to the Scottish Cup Final at the same time as the European Under-18 tournament and their managers wouldn’t let them go. Rae’s big chance had come along again.

“That was pure luck on my part that they both got to the final,” Rae admitted. “I would have been second fiddle and wouldn’t have had any problem with that because Bryan was a brilliant keeper, even at that age he was superb.

“I was just happy to be part of the squad but when my chance came I took it, that was it. My one and only opportunity and I was in the right place at the right time.”

Robin Rae got his chance in goal after Bryan Gunn was needed on domestic duty Picture: spaldingtoday.co.uk
Robin Rae got his chance in goal after Bryan Gunn was needed on domestic duty Picture: spaldingtoday.co.uk
He may never have played for Alex Ferguson but the legendary manager’s decision to keep back some ofAberdeen’s talented Under-18 players opened the window of opportunity for Robin Rae
He may never have played for Alex Ferguson but the legendary manager’s decision to keep back some ofAberdeen’s talented Under-18 players opened the window of opportunity for Robin Rae

Gunn wasn’t the only Aberdeen player needed at home. Scotland’s Under-18 captain Neale Cooper - who would later go on to manage Gillingham - would be needed by manager Alex Ferguson for the final, along with Eric Black. Rangers trio Kenny Black, Billy Davies and keeper Bruce also stayed for the final.

Cooper, known to his mates as Tattie, went onto win the European Cup Winners’ Cup at Aberdeen but sadly died after a fall at his home in 2018. Rae remembered him fondly, saying: “He was a great lad, the funniest man you’ll ever meet. He was our captain when we went to training camps and was so funny, a natural-born comedian.”

Scotland weren’t at their strongest for the trip but still had plenty of quality and with Andy Roxburgh in charge, assisted by Walter Smith, they had a formidable management team.

Both would go on to have spells managing the senior side. Physio John Watson helped keep the team in check and entertained. They stayed in the same hotel as group opponents Albania. Roxburgh helped them out with training equipment. The Dutch were in the same accommodation and Rae noted their reluctance to offer the same kind of charity.

Scotland weren’t so charitable on the pitch, beating the Albanians 3-0 and Turkey 2-0 to set up a final group match with Holland. They needed to avoid defeat to progress and knock their big-time opponents out of the competition.

Van Basten was already a professional at Ajax. He’d replaced Johan Cruyff on his debut just weeks before and scored. He would go onto greatness in the game and he managed to get a tap-in past Rae to put the Dutch a goal up against Scotland in their decider. But the Scots fought back to draw the match 1-1.

A semi-final win over Poland was followed by a victory against Czechoslovakia in the final, winning 3-1.

“We didn’t have a big squad, we went with 15,” Rae recalled. “We went there with only one outfield sub in the final.

“The best players had been taken out of the team but we still managed to win. Sometimes if you have a little squad, you have nothing to change and it works.

“You can have too many to choose from sometimes, like England now. Who do we pick here or there? When you only have one to choose from, Hobson’s choice, it’s easy.

“We all played in the under-18 professional youth league back then, we knew each other, played against each other, met at functions, none of us were strangers and were all good friends. Spending three weeks in Finland was really good fun.

“People say it was the ‘Lost Final’ and it went under the radar. The World Cup in Spain was starting a week later, we got back and had a parade at Hampden Park and stuff, a civic reception, but it was all overshadowed by the World Cup. They call it the Lost Final because everyone forgot about it!”

Robin Rae described Neale Cooper – the former Aberdeen player and ex-Gills manager – as the funniest man you’ll ever meet
Robin Rae described Neale Cooper – the former Aberdeen player and ex-Gills manager – as the funniest man you’ll ever meet

Rae stayed at Hibs until 1985, playing a handful of senior games, but admitted it was tough being a goalkeeper back then.

“I got bored with it in the end,” he said. “Goalkeeping now is great and I would have stuck with it, you play with your feet, pass it and get involved but back then I went to train and all I did was run and run.

“There was never a goalkeeper coach, nobody to show me what I should be doing, no specialist training. I was a great runner though!”

He left Hibs for Greenock Morton and spent a season there but his enthusiasm for the position hadn’t improved, not helped by a long commute.

He said: “I didn’t know how far Greenock was from Musselburgh and I had a job with my cousin, working in the day part-time and I was getting back from training at midnight and then having to get up for work. I though, ‘this is rubbish’.

“A month later we played Hamilton and got beat 5-0, the manager went nutty, he told us that if any of us wanted a free transfer then just let him know. Two minutes later I am knocking on his door.

“I said ‘I’ll have one’, but he said ‘no, we bought you, you can do one’. I told him I wasn’t happy and that I wasn’t coming back. I never went back.”

Rae had a brief spell at Hamilton as they were short of goalkeeping options towards the end of the season but after that he never played in goal again at a senior level. He played football as a centre-back in non-league.

Rae said: “It was a decent standard, not professional, but if I was living here I would have been playing for the likes of Margate, Herne Bay or Ramsate, I was good enough for that.”

A move south came about in 1998 as the company he worked for had a contract with Pfizer in Sandwich. With an international airport at Manston, flying home was made easy, but that closed and Rae ended up meeting his future wife while working in Kent, and it’s where he’s been ever since.

He joined Minster, by then aged 36, and spent two decades in their various teams, including the vets, alternating between goalkeeping and defending, before competing in walking football.

“That’s still very competitive,” he said. “You can’t take that competitiveness away from a lot of those players who have played non-league all their lives, even when they are old and grizzled and moan at the referee, it’s just like an older version of Kent League football!

“If I could start again, I would have just played centre-back, I enjoyed playing in goal and had loads of great experiences but it was never my true position.

“Goalkeepers were just left in the corner, they weren’t involved, there was no specialist training. We’d just kick a ball to each other thinking, ‘this is rubbish isn’t it?’

“I watched Tottenham warm-up recently and that was different class, four goalies all pinging it to each other. Sometimes we didn’t even have a football to warm up!”

Rae managed to play alongside some greats of the Scottish game - witnessing on his trip to Spurs how Dave Mackay is still hero-worshiped there - and points to lifestyle changes as to why the conveyor of talent has dwindled.

Scotland are in a tough group at this summer’s Euros, facing Germany in their opening game tomorrow (Friday) before facing Switzerland and Hungary.

They are 100-1 shots to win the trophy and finally end that long wait for a second success on the international stage. Rae’s not holding out any hope.

“The problem is now we just don’t have the players,” he said.

“Back then on a council estate, you had three choices, down the mine, join the army or you were good at football, that was the route out of poverty but it is not like that now.

“My family were all from a mining background, 10 aunties and uncles, families were huge, you didn’t need friends back then, you just played with your cousins. Playing football with your cousins was fierce, and you didn’t want your little brother beating you either! It toughened you up.

“But now families, my own included, one boy and one girl. There is no rivalry, even school sports, it’s why we have a losing generation, we need to get some rivalry back! We just don’t produce the numbers now. Africa are now doing what the Scots did before.”

Don’t miss out on our Euro Vision supplement - available in every KM Group newspaper this week, celebrating football in the county ahead of this summer’s Euros.

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More