NAME: JASON DAIR
DOB: 15 JUNE 1974 (AGE 40)
CLUBS: RAITH ROVERS, MILLWALL, DUNFERMLINE, MOTHERWELL, LIVINGSTON, EAST FIFE
After exploding onto the scene with Raith Rovers in 1992, Jason Dair played a major part in the finest Raith Rovers and Dunfermline sides in decades. While his career may not quite have scaled the same heights as his contemporaries in Stevie Crawford and Colin Cameron, he spent the majority of his time in the top tier of the Scottish game, as firstly an attack minded wide midfielder and, latterly, a dependable full-back.
When teenage footballers are preparing for their full debut, they probably all hope for the same kind of things. That they don’t make any embarrassing errors, for example, or that they provide some kind of match-winning contribution to the game that instantly gets the fans on their side. Presumably 18-year-old Jason Dair was thinking along those lines when he took to the field for Raith Rovers as they faced First Division promotion favourites St. Mirren on the opening day of the 1992-93 season. Even if Dair’s wishes for that day were grander, the events of the afternoon would far outweigh his aspirations.
He’d already made four substitute appearances for Jimmy Nicholl’s Raith side in the closing weeks of the previous season as Rovers ended an underwhelming campaign on a high with a seven game uneaten spell. The club had only just turned full-time, a move which Jimmy Nicholl felt would take the team to the next level. Boosting those hopes were a trio of youngsters who were all impressing just below the first-team: Stevie Crawford, Colin Cameron, and the young lad who would make his mark first, Jason Dair.
Jason came from a footballing family. Not only was his father, Ian Dair a former Cowdenbeath player, he was also the nephew of Scotland legend and former Raith, Rangers and Sunderland player Jim Baxter. Dair played in a similar position to his uncle on the left-hand side of midfield, and it was in that position that he’d make his first start for Raith.
It took Slim Jim’s nephew just 15 minutes to announce his arrival, crossing from the left to allow Gordon Dalziel to open the scoring. Two minutes later, Dair himself made it 2. Dispossessing Saint’s Robert Dawson, he spotted Campbell Money off his line and sublimely chipped the goalkeeper from 25 yards. The quality of the goal would be a precursor to Dair’s career. Not because he would become a great goalscorer, but more a scorer of great goals, with the majority of his strikes coming from distance.
Rovers, with teenager Dair in full flow ran amok, eventually seeing off the newly relegated Buddies 7-0. It was an extraordinary start to the season, and after an exemplary performance from Dair the fans left Stark’s Park wondering not only if promotion to the Premier League was a possibility, but also if just a tiny hint of Jim Baxter’s footballing DNA had percolated through the family lineage to Jason.
Of course, football is rarely that simple, and it was a case of “typical Rovers” as the same team drew 0-0 with Stirling Albion three days later. This side was anything but ordinary though, and it would be December before they tasted defeat for the first time, which, after the unbeaten end to the previous season, meant they’d gone 26 games without loss. By this time, Dair had dropped out of the side, and he spent the majority of the campaign watching from the sidelines as first Crawford, then Colin Cameron, played more prominent roles as Raith secured the title.
Despite the upcoming season being Raith’s first at the top table since 1969-70, it was felt that their impressive showing in the First meant that, with the right acquisitions, Premier League respectability was certainly viable.
League reconstruction would make that challenge far more difficult, with 3 teams to be relegated from the top-tier in the 1993-94 campaign. As did the fact that Raith’s poor financial footing arguably led to the squad becoming weaker rather than stronger. No money was spent during the summer, while Craig Brewster was sold to Dundee United for £250,000. The positive consequence of this was that Jason was handed regular first team opportunities.
At first that was almost out of necessity. A lack of choices in the wide left position meant he made his first appearance on the fifth game of the season, setting up Jimmy Nicholl for an injury-time equaliser against Dundee United, but his performances more than merited his inclusion that term. If the promotion season was a great one for the club, but a disappointing term for Dair, then the opposite would be true of this one.
He ran Dundee right-back Stephen Frail ragged during Raith’s first win of the season, then hit a purple patch in front of goal, with two spot-the-difference strikes in successive games against Hibernian and then Kilmarnock, cutting in from the left and striking the ball past the goalkeeper from 20 yards in both matches. Both goals highlighted the fact that although Dair played on the left, he preferred to use his right foot.
The goals kept coming in October and November. A scrambled equaliser against St.Johnstone, and a lovely side foot finish from 18 yards against Dundee United that sealed a 2-2 draw after Raith had went two goals and a man down after a George McGeachie red-card. On the same day as that comeback performance, Dair and Stevie Crawford were called up for the Scotland under-21 squad for a trip to Malta. Both it appeared, had the talent to fashion out a decent career for themselves.
Dair’s impressive form saw him linked with moves down south, firstly to Liverpool then to Blackburn, a rumour that gained traction when Kenny Dalglish was in attendance during one of Dair’s finest performances, when his two goals sealed a 3-2 last day win over Dundee United. The first was a 30 yard wonder strike past Guido Van De Kamp, while the second, although deflected, was only slightly closer. Afterwards, Dalglish batted away comments about whom he was scouting in his own inimitable fashion:
“Me? I’m just up for a fish supper.”
Despite the season being Dair’s breakthrough campaign, and the signing of a new two-year deal, there would be disappointment at the season’s end when Crawford was the sole Raith representative of the Scotland under-21 squad which travelled to the Toulon tournament.
While the 1994-95 season is one that will live long in the memory of any Raith fan who witnessed it, the winning of the First Division title, and the run to the final of the League Cup, were done so with scant contribution from Dair.
The incredible season started as far back as pre-season, with Dair scoring during the infamous 2-0 win over Hearts, a match that is remembered more for Craig Levein’s impressive knock-out punch to Graeme Hogg’s face after an argument over a poor Stephen Frail pass back.
Dair would be in and out of the team during a stop-start campaign, with Ian Redford preferred on the left. Indeed, were it not for a knock that Redford picked up during a win over Clydebank the weekend before the League Cup final, it’s unlikely that Dair would have started against Celtic.
Luck, fate, call it what you will, but Dair was instrumental in both Rovers goals on the day. First, he forced Tom Boyd into conceding a corner, a set-piece he took himself, which led to Crawford’s opener. For the late equaliser, it was Dair’s dipping shot from wide on the right which Gordon Marshall spilled, allowing Gordon Dalziel to nip in and make the score 2-2. Dair’s penalty during the shoot-out was worryingly close to Marshall, as it slipped under the goalkeeper’s body almost apologetically. Ironically, it was probably a poorer penalty than Paul McStay’s whose spot-kick was famously kept out by Scott Thompson.
An injury sustained in that game from a challenge from John Collins would sideline Dair for the next month, but with Raith having signed Barry Wilson and Tony Rougier, his route back into the squad had suddenly become crowded. Raith would lose just once during their last 19 fixtures, rising from sixth, to eventually win the title on the closing day of the season, but with just 19 appearances, and a significant proportion of them coming from the bench, Dair’s personal contribution had been vital, but limited.
However, he didn’t waste much time making an impression at the start of Raith’s second spell in the Premier League. He scored Rovers first ever goal in Europe, with the opener in the 4-0 win over Faroese side Gotu Itrottarfelag, and played a prominent role as Raith found themselves fourth by December.
In an interview in the Fife Free Press around that time, Jason admitted that he’d occasionally found life tough at Stark’s Park, often singled out as a scapegoat from the crowd. As the newspaper described, he’d went “From a wonder kid to a boo-boy in less than 2 seasons.”
Despite an impressive run in Europe, Raith and Dair’s season would eventually peter-out, with Jimmy Nicholl leaving to take the reigns at Millwall. His replacement, youth team coach Jimmy Thomson, wasted no time in making his mark on the side, signing, at considerable cost, seven players in his first few weeks in charge. Raith would stay up under his stewardship, but the end of the season would see Dair, along with Stevie Crawford and David Sinclair, link up with Nicholl at Millwall for a combined fee of £900,000.
The choice of the south London club was very much a case of the wrong club at the wrong time. Despite leading the First Division as late as December 1995, they had slipped to 10th by the time Nicholl had replaced the previous manager Mick McCarthy, but the slide had continued and Millwall were relegated on the final day of the season, finishing in 22nd position. The club was also dogged by financial concerns, making their exorbitant bid for the three Raith players seem even more outlandish.
The winger’s spell in England started brightly enough, and the club were top-of-the-table as they headed towards the Christmas schedule, but like the previous season, a slump in form saw the manager dismissed after a defeat at Walsall left them 10th in the league. The appointment of John Docherty saw no significant upturn in the club’s fortunes, eventually finishing 14th in the Second Division. Dair made 29 appearances in that time, scoring 3 goals, but would leave just after a year. By that time, Millwall were in administration, and in no position to pay Raith the balance that was still due to the club. As a result Dair, along with Paul Hartley, joined Rovers in September 1997.
Everything at that time suggested that Raith were the right club for the 22-year-old to join. Stark’s Park had been newly refurbished, and the club had a new owner in Alan Kelly, and a returning manager in Nicholl, who was revered by the fans. Jason was also linking up with his brother, Lee, who had signed from Rangers, and the two combined for the opening goal in their first game together, a 2-1 win over St.Mirren. Unfortunately that would be no portent for what was to come, with Jason increasingly used as a substitute, as Raith struggled to keep pace with Dundee and Falkirk at the top of the table.
He would start just 15 games, and while Raith’s third place finish was by no means disastrous, the amount of money the club had spent on taking top-spot and automatic promotion most certainly was. When the club revealed a loss of just over £1,000,000 for the season, it was clear that a squad reduction was necessary, and Dair would leave half-way-through the following campaign, for a cut-price £20,000 to Premier League Dunfermline.
Despite moving up a tier, Dair was swapping one relegation tussle for another with Dunfermline four points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League. Dick Campbell had replaced outgoing manager Bert Paton and he promised the fans attacking football, something which had been in short supply with Dunfermline managing just 17 goals in their first 22 games. To that end, Campbell also brought in striker Owen Coyle from Motherwell for £150,000, but neither signing was able to turn the club around, and a dismal run of just two wins from their final 14 games would see the East End Park side finish bottom of the league, six points behind ninth placed Dundee United.
Dair played in the majority of the run-in, picking up a man-of-the-match award during a 3-1 defeat to Celtic, a game where he was forced off late on due to a knee injury. It was a blow that would not only rule him out of the final two games of the season, but also see him miss the proceeding pre-season after the damage was ruled sufficient enough to warrant surgery.
He would return for the third league game of the season, a 2-1 win against Morton – playing left-back after Greg Shields’s £600,000 transfer to Charlton Athletic. Dair had performed with some distinction at full-back in his final season at Stark’s Park, and it’s where he would spend the majority of his Dunfermline career.
His injury problems would again flare up during a 3-1 defeat to St. Mirren in October, a match that would signal the end of Dick Campbell’s short spell as manager. With the league employing a two-up-two-down format, and the club in a perfect position to take the runners-up spot at the very least, it seemed a curious decision.
By the time Dair returned from his injury, Campbell had been replaced by former NEC Nijmegen coach, Jimmy Calderwood, who’d continue to deploy Dair at full-back, almost out of necessity, with the club only having 3 natural defenders on their books in John Potter, Brian Reid and Andy Tod.
Although competent in the role, he was still very much learning his defensive trade at the time, and his lack of experience was exposed in a Fife derby defeat at Stark’s Park in March after toiling badly against Raith wide-man Didier Agathe. The 2-0 defeat temporarily knocked Calderwood’s team out of the promotion places, but five wins and a draw from their next six saw them promoted behind champions St Mirren.
Calderwood’s rebuilding program was intensive that summer, with players such as Stevie Crawford, Marco Ruitenbeek, Andreus Skerla, Michael Doesberg and Youssef Rossi signing for the Fife club. Despite the large number of arrivals, Dair would go on to have arguably his most productive season in a Dunfermline jersey, with 25 starts and 5 goals. One of those arrived after just 53 seconds at Celtic Park, after he dispossessed his tormentor from the previous campaign, Didier Agathe.
Dunfermline would end up in ninth place, and while the season would be considered a success for both the club and the player, the fact Dair had been used in five separate positions by Calderwood indicated that his manager saw him more as an extremely useful utility player, rather than someone who had a nailed down position of his own.
Perhaps it was this view, coupled with his unfortunate habit of picking up niggling injuries that saw him play a slightly less prominent role over the next two seasons. As Dunfermline became a top 6 side, Dair would still make 39 starts over two campaigns, but his role seemed very much a squad player rather than a certain starter.
His final goal for the club was the equaliser at Ibrox against Rangers on the last day of the 2002/03 season. Despite Dair’s strike, Dunfermline would go onto lose 6-1, a result which sealed the title for Rangers, and infamously prompted Chris Sutton to accuse Dunfermline of lying down, a barb that he would later regret and apologise for. Sutton’s comments did lack any statistical basis, as in the 22 games over 3 seasons against both halves of the Old Firm, Dunfermline had lost 20, and drawn 2, with both draws coming against Rangers.
The close season saw Dair linked with a move to Livingston, but he would instead be lured to Motherwell by Terry Butcher. Motherwell had just finished bottom of the Premier League, but were handed a reprieve due to First Division champions Falkirk being denied promotion. Despite losing James McFadden to Everton as the transfer window closed, Motherwell, and Dair would enjoy a successful season, eventually finishing sixth.
Dair moved on again in the summer of 2004, joining League Cup holders Livingston. Despite their League Cup triumph, Dair joined a club that was very much on a downward spiral, underlined by him playing under four different managers in just two seasons. Dair would be a regular starter for the Almondvale club, but a particularly poor 2005-06 season saw the club relegated from the top flight with just four wins from 38 matches. It’s a figure that, along with Dunfermline in 1998/99, is the lowest number of victories in a Premier League season. In an unhappy coincidence, Dair played a part in both those campaigns.
After leaving Livingston following their relegation, Dair returned to Stark’s Park, playing as a trialist in a 0-0 draw against Alloa during Craig Levein’s short spell in charge of Raith. Despite being expected to sign for Raith for a third time, he instead headed to Bayview to sign for Dave Baikie’s East Fife. Unfortunately, another knee injury, this time long term, meant that Dair would play only a handful of matches during his time there. As his career wound down, Dair would take up coaching duties with the youth side at the Methil club.
After Steve Crawford became the player-manager of East Fife in 2009, Dair was handed the role as his assistant, but with the club third bottom of the Second Division in October 2010, both Crawford and Dair departed as John Robertson was handed control of the managerial reins.
Where Is He Now?
Since 2012, Jason Dair had been the manager of Fife junior side Oakley United, with his brother Lee as his assistant, but after failing to secure promotion to the Super League last season, he resigned from the club.
He’s had a busy summer, however, representing Scotland in the Senior World Cup in Thailand, in a squad that contained amongst others: Barry Wilson, Ian Little and Steve Tosh. The tournament is a yearly event, which helps to support various charities, and Scotland made it through to the final where they lost on penalties to England.
Since returning from Thailand, Dair has been appointed as Colin Cameron’s assistant manager at Berwick Rangers.
Written by Shaughan McGuigan