For a time, Rothes Football Club must have felt as if it was wading through quicksand.
The whipping boys of the Highland League – they were beaten 11-0 and 12-2 by Brora Rangers and Clach in August 2015 – and struggling to make ends meet off the park, the future of the club looked bleak.
Through no shortage of hard work, investment and a unified vision for the club, the only way for Rothes now is to move forwards.
Victory against Buckie Thistle in the Highland League Cup final would be their first silverware since the North of Scotland Cup in 1979.
The game was supposed to take place this afternoon, but has now been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch at Keith’s Kynoch Park.
For manager Ross Jack, an experienced coach with stints at Ross County and managerial roles at Elgin City and Turriff United, winning the trophy would be a way-marker, not an end-point.
“Even if we win, we don’t rest on our laurels,” said Jack. “We need to push on. What’s the next target? What’s the next achievement? Getting to the final is one thing, the next is to win it.
“We’re trying to build a new legacy, a new history here. The committee have done an unbelievable job – Richard Forsyth senior and junior are around the club steering us in the right direction. The fans have responded great.
“It’s not just the team on the pitch. It’s the work off the pitch to get us to this level. We work well together. It’s a building process but the foundations are strong now.
“I want to get better as a manager, I want the players to improve. If we can do that as a collective, then we will move forward. We can’t stand still – teams are getting stronger so we can’t wait for anyone. It might be baby steps but we’ll get there.”
Jack, who hails from the Black Isle, is a well-known figure in north football circles. He started off as a striker for County in the Highland League, before playing in England with Everton, Norwich and Lincoln City.
Dundee, Dunfermline, Kilmarnock and Ayr United were all stop-offs upon his return to Scotland, before he turned his hand to coaching in the mid-90s.
After stints working for the Scottish FA, Scottish Institute for Sport and County, Jack got his first senior break as Elgin boss in 2009. He took the team to the League Two play-offs in 2012 during a five-year stay at Borough Briggs, before a second-place finish and an Aberdeenshire Shield triumph during his four seasons with Turriff.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot along the way. You make mistakes and learn from them. It’s not all rainbows, roses and champagne. There’s blood, snotters and tears along the way and it’s how you react from these.
“The boys responded to (assistant) Jim Walker and I and we’re very fortunate, because it just as easy have gone the other way. The boys have been outstanding for the time myself and Jim have been in.
“I’m in football to win things – that’s my ethos whether I’m at Rothes or not. Developing a culture of winning, that’s what I’m about, and I’ve said to the boys I don’t want this to be a one-off. We need to show some consistency and get there on a regular basis.”
He has moulded together a younger squad, with five of his players – Ali Sutherland, Ross Gunn, Jack Brown, Ally Stark and Aidan Wilson – formerly full-time with Caley Thistle. Defender Ben Johnstone joined last year after being let go by County.
“It’s an ongoing project. We’ve introduced some younger boys to the squad, so that bodes well for the future. I think the average is around 22 or 23, which is fantastic.
“The guys have got a rapport with each other, they know each others’ games having played together in the youth systems. We had Jack last season on loan and I know Ross well – they’re the type of players we want about the place, in terms of their attitude, commitment and ability as well.”
“Winning would be a massive step in the right direction for Rothes,” added Jack. “For far too often recently they were the whipping boys, so to turn it round the way they’ve done has been remarkable.
“It’s a massive task. Buckie had a fantastic result against Brora; to beat the champions on their own patch is a remarkable achievement. We know how tough it’s going to be.
“There’s been a good buzz about the place. There has been for a number of weeks knowing we had the semi-final. We’ve extended it.”