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201314For the second season in a row Inverness Caledonian Thistle achieved a top six finish but the undoubted highlight was reaching the final of the League Cup. Losing narrowly to Aberdeen was a bitter disappointment but it was still a great achievement to be within touching distance of a major trophy. For the whole of August and September ICT sat proudly at the top of the newly created SPFL Premiership and the team’s success inevitably put the spotlight on manager Terry Butcher. After Pat Fenlon left Hibs they were granted permission to speak to Butcher and on 11 November he left for Easter Road along with assistant Maurice Malpas. His replacement was John Hughes and not surprisingly he had a difficult task to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor. Behind the scenes there were two significant Board changes. Aviemore businessman Allan Munro joined in August and in November Director of Football Graeme Bennett stood down after nearly 14 years in post.

Season 2013/14 was the club’s twentieth in the Scottish League structure and the position of ICT in the Scottish game now could scarcely have been predicted by the class of 1994.  

Saturday 30 July 1994 was a very busy day in Inverness. The start of the English school holidays meant the tourist season was in full swing and the Inverness Tattoo was heading for its final night in front of a packed audience at the Northern Meeting Park. At Telford Street Park, until very recently the home of Caledonian FC, football history was made at 3pm with the unveiling of the new Caledonian Thistle team. Two closed doors friendlies had taken place in the previous ten days but this was the first official match, with St Mirren the visitors. The 850 spectators that day included a few ‘Groundhoppers’, adding a new ground to their collection, and a small band of Saints fans on tour - but the majority were Inverness football enthusiasts keen to see the end result of the long process that concluded with the amalgamation of Inverness Thistle and Caledonian. The club’s debut competitive game was in the Coca-Cola sponsored League Cup on Tuesday 9 August 1994 away to East Stirling. It ended in a 2-0 victory for CT with Wilson Robertson scoring the first historic goal in 36 minutes. 20 years later Inverness Caledonian Thistle reached the final of that same trophy and only lost in the lottery of penalties after a 0-0 draw with Aberdeen.

Manager Sergei Baltacha left at the end of 1994/95 to be replaced by Huntly’s Steve Paterson. The ‘new’ club took a couple of seasons to settle into the punishing routine of long journeys up and down the A9 and matches against teams with long Scottish League pedigrees. The local derbies with Ross County were an ideal break from this with just 30 miles of return travel for either side. These matches were always anticipated with relish and large crowds turned up to witness some lively contests. In the lead up to 1996/97 the big decision was made to go full time. It was a leap of faith for manager Steve Paterson, who gave up his day job in social work, and for many players who also had to decide whether or not to go full time. One or two players stayed part-time in order to secure their future outside football but for the rest is was time to concentrate 100% on the newly renamed Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The result was immediate success with the lifting of the Third Division title. Two seasons in the Second Division ensued then further promotion was gained at the end of 1999/2000 as runners-up to Livingston. After five seasons in the highly-competitive First Division the club’s tenth anniversary was celebrated with promotion to the Premier League – pipping Clyde by one point in a dramatic finish. In December 2002 Steve Paterson was lured to Aberdeen and his replacement John Robertson was the man that took the club through the hurdle of the First Division into the SPL.

Over this period the club was also gaining a reputation as a formidable cup side with the highlight being the famous 3-1 victory over Celtic on 8 February 2000. That day the team really did ‘Go Ballistic’ and the result sent shock waves around the football world. In 2001/02 Hearts were knocked out the Scottish Cup 3-1 and in 2002/03 Celtic were once more beaten, this time 1-0. ICT reached the Scottish Cup semi-final that season but lost 1-0 to Dundee. A year later the semi final was also reached and this time the opponents were Dunfermline who took the tie 3-2 in a replay at Aberdeen after a 1-1 draw at Hampden. Over this first ten year period there were two appearances in the Challenge Cup final. In 1999/2000 there was defeat in a penalty shoot-out with Alloa in Airdrie then success in 2003/04 – a 2-0 win against Airdrie United in Perth.

At the start of 2004/05 Inverness Caledonian Thistle proudly took its place at the top table of Scottish football but not in Inverness. The rule that SPL grounds should have a 10,000 all-seated capacity was a major stumbling block to ICT’s promotion but a groundshare with Aberdeen resolved that issue, albeit at high cost. This situation ignited a major national debate on the capacity issue – eventually it was amended to 6000 with a projected start date of 2005/06. After discussions behind the scenes ICT received dispensation to move back to Inverness if a 6000 seater stadium could be provided in time for the second half of the season.  

A massive effort by Tulloch, and its sub contractors, completed two new stands in record time to allow the first SPL match at the newly renamed Tulloch Caledonian Stadium on 29 January 2005 to go ahead. The atmosphere was electric as ICT ran out to play Dunfermline to the strains of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’. It was a major step forward and a credit to the Board who could now look forward to a long period of stability, unlike many other Scottish clubs who were to face financial problems to varying degrees over the next few years. The journey from Telford Street Park to the SPL compliant stadium had taken just over ten years but now Inverness was truly in the big time. 

 

Life in the SPL was never going to be easy but achieving eighth place in 2004/05 was very creditable. John Robertson’s success in taking the club into the SPL did not go unnoticed and in November 2004 he could not resist the call to manage Hearts, the club that he served so well as a player. Craig Brewster took over in Inverness and he was the man in charge when SPL football came to Inverness. In the event his reign only lasted for 14 months. His former club Dundee United sought his services as manager and he headed south. His replacement was club legend Charlie Christie – he was a youth coach with no top level managerial experience but knowledge of the club and his status in Inverness won the day. He finished what Brewster had started and led the team to an excellent seventh finish in 2005/06. In 2006/07 ICT finished eighth but, despite that, Christie decided managing his home town club was too stressful. He stood down and was replaced by the returning Craig Brewster whose tenure at Dundee United had been less than successful. In his words he had ‘unfinished business’ in Inverness. There was to be no happy ending although ninth in 2007/08 was quite acceptable – indeed anything above twelfth was always going to be good news. 2008/09 proved to be a disaster and by January ICT lay firmly in that dreaded twelfth spot. Brewster became the first ICT manager to be sacked and in came football legend Terry Butcher. Butcher could not prevent relegation but he did oversee an immediate promotion from Division One in 2009/10 and a Challenge Cup final appearance that same season. This was the start of a long and happy period for the club with a seventh place finish in the SPL in 2010/11, tenth in 2011/12 then a remarkable fourth in 2012/13. A Europa League place was a strong possibility in 2012/13 but in the event it went to St Johnstone on the last day of the season. 

2013/14 saw the pattern of previous seasons repeated with a busy summer of departures and arrivals. High profile departures were Andrew Shinnie who left to join Birmingham City, Antonio Reguerro who moved to Kilmarnock and Owain Tudur Jones who joined Hibs. At the end of their loan spells Charlie Taylor returned to Leeds United and Philip Roberts went back to Arsenal. After a long period blighted by injury defender Chris Hogg elected to move on despite the offer of a contract extension. Simon King retired from professional football because of injury and reverted to amateur football with Isthmian League side Thurrock. A number of youngsters departed including Scott Mathieson, Gavin Morrison, Shane Sutherland, Martin Laing and Kyle Whyte. Mathieson joined Inverurie Locos, Morrison went to Brora Rangers, Sutherland stayed in the league system with Elgin City and Clachnacuddin signed both Laing and Whyte.

The arrivals gate was also very active with players coming to Inverness from far and wide. Goalkeeper Dean Brill joined from Luton Town on a six month loan deal but in January he was released by Luton and signed for ICT. Ben Greenhalgh was well known for winning a contract with Inter Milan in a TV reality show but he eventually returned to England and played for a variety of lower league clubs – he came to ICT directly after a spell with Concord Rangers of the Conference South League. Republic of Ireland under 19 international Adam Evans signed after being released by Burnley. Carl Tremarco signed from Macclesfield where he played for four seasons but his most recent experience was on loan to Maltese side Floriana FC. James Vincent joined from Kidderminster Harriers, Marley Watkins came from Hereford United and Danny Williams came from Kendal Town having previously spent a year on loan at Chester. Norwegian under 21 international Toby Agdestein signed in July from Brighton & Hove Albion but moved to Norway at the end of his six month contract. Belfast-born Curtis Allen came from Coleraine but failed to break into the first team so returned to Ireland in December 2013. 

Pre season matches started on 6 July with a testimonial at Keith for Graham Lonie. Then in a busy 18 day spell there were away matches against Forres Mechanics, Elgin City, Brora Rangers, Clachnacuddin, Raith Rovers, Arbroath and Wick Academy. Apart from a draw against Raith Rovers all other matches ended in wins. Then it was off the London to play Charlton Athletic on 27 July - a testimonial for legendary winger turned groundsman Colin ‘Paddy’ Powell’. A Josh Meekings goal ten minutes from time gave ICT a 1-0 win. On 30 July it was back to Brora for the first round of the North Cup – it ended 1-1 but Brora won 3-0 on penalties.

It was down to the serious business of a new league – the Scottish Professional Football League. Ever since the Scottish Premier League broke away from the Scottish Football League in 1998 many people thought it strange that a small country like Scotland should have three bodies organising football at the top level – the SFA, SPL and SFL. The 2010 Henry McLeish ‘Review of Scottish Football’ made many far reaching recommendations and one of these was to ‘create a much more integrated and successful league structure’. The jury is still out on ‘successful’ but the creation of the SPFL is certainly the integration sought by many. The new structure comprises the Premiership (12 clubs), Championship (10), Division 1 (10) and Division 2 (10). ICT naturally moved sideways into the Premiership.

The first target in any season is survival and in 2013-14 this was never in doubt. The aim was always a top six spot and perhaps entry into the Europa League. Hearts were racing certainties for relegation as they started the season on minus 15 points because of entering administration. The only doubt was which club would end up in eleventh place and take part in the newly-created play-off competition. With Rangers still in the lower reaches of the league structure Celtic were odds on to win the premiership and so it proved. 

Missing out on a Europa League place on the last day of 2012/13 was a hard blow but it made the team even more determined to do well in 2013/14. In the event the start was even better than anyone dared to predict – Caley Thistle achieved top spot on day one of the season (3 August) and held it until a defeat in Perth on 5 October. The opener was against St Mirren at home and the 3-0 victory was enough to gain the top spot on goal difference. It was crowded at the top with five teams on three points but a goal difference of plus three was best. August continued with victories over Dundee United, Motherwell and Hearts. The only points dropped were at Celtic Park where a late Adam Matthews goal made it 2-2 and denied ICT a clean sweep for the month. These heroics led to a well deserved Manager of the Month award for Terry Butcher and a Player of the Month award to captain Richie Foran – both were the first recipients of these SPFL awards. ICT sat proudly at the top of the Premiership at the end of August – ten points from a possible 12 and three ahead of Celtic (who had a game in hand).

September was not quite as successful with an away win at Kilmarnock and a 1-0 defeat in Aberdeen. This month saw the start of the League Cup campaign and a round three away win 1-0 at Dundee.

ICT arrived in Perth on 5 October as league leaders but left in second spot. The visitors were clear favourites but St Johnstone’s erratic start to the season continued when they turned on a five star display to win 4-0. On Sunday 20 October, after an international break, Sky TV showed ICT against Partick Thistle. The vagaries of football were on display when somehow the visitors won 2-1. Partick took the lead in 20 minutes and they held that lead until the interval despite an amazing turn of events. With 40 minutes on the clock ICT were awarded a corner on the right. In what was clearly a well rehearsed move Ross Draper ran forward, touched the ball, informed the assistant referee that he had taken the corner and left it to Aaron Doran to race goalwards. Doran was on hand to net when a clearance reached him and the goal was given. After a pregnant pause the assistant referee raised his flag, consulted the referee and the goal was disallowed. To this day no one is quite sure why. Two minutes into the second half Gary Warren rose high to head an equaliser and it was game on. Another corner award led to a disallowed goal for ICT. Partick ‘keeper Scott Fox had his arm around Billy McKay’s head prior to Richie Foran heading home but amazingly a free kick was awarded to Partick. With seven minutes left the normally reliable Dean Brill fumbled a seemingly easy ball and Kris Doolan scored from close range. The home camp was left wondering how on earth the match had been lost.

There were two more games scheduled for October with the first of these a much anticipated local derby in Dingwall on 25 October. By half time it was still 0-0 and it had to stay that way. The floodlights failed and the match was abandoned. The quarter final of the League Cup took place on 29 October and ICT beat Dundee United 2-1 in Inverness. At the end of October ICT sat second in the league.

When Pat Fenlon left his manager’s post at Hibs on 1 November it started a chain of events which led to the departure from Inverness of Terry Butcher and his assistant Maurice Malpas. Butcher’s record in Inverness – and particularly the spectacular start to 2013/14 – inevitably led to an increased profile and he was very quickly tipped to take over at Hibs. Before anything happened on the managerial front there was a home league match against Kilmarnock and a 2-1 victory. The BBC then jumped the gun by stating that ICT had given permission for Hibs to approach Butcher but in reality this was incorrect. This eventually did happen and all went silent in the lead up to the meeting of the clubs in Edinburgh on 9 November. Terry Butcher diplomatically spent the game in the stand in civilian dress – not quite hidden from view under a flat cap – and the away dugout was occupied by Maurice Malpas and Duncan Shearer.  The visitors won 2-0 and it was clear that Hibs needed a major overhaul. Caley Thistle on the other hand returned to second place in the Premiership. Two days later it was official – Butcher and Malpas were on their way to Easter Road. A few days later chief scout and goalkeeping coach Steve Marsella followed them down the road.

Not surprisingly the next chapter in the saga was speculation as to who would take over as manager. The usual suspects were linked to the post with the front runners apparently Kenny Shiels, Paul Hartley and John Hughes. Coaches Duncan Shearer and Scott Kellacher took charge for two games – a 1-0 home league win over St Johnstone on 23 November and a 4-0 Scottish Cup victory against Greenock Morton in Inverness a week later. Hughes emerged as favourite for the manager’s post and on 4 December he was appointed. For his first match in charge on 7 December Hughes decided to leave Shearer and Kellacher in the dug-out while he watched from the stand. The 0-0 away draw against St Mirren told him little but things improved a week later with a 2-0 away win against Hearts. The new manager’s first home game was a cracker. Aberdeen were the visitors and they raced to a 4-0 lead by half time. In a remarkable comeback Caley Thistle scored three goals but could not quite find an equaliser. The last matches of the year were a 0-0 away draw against Partick Thistle then a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Celtic. ICT ended the calendar year in fourth place in the SPL.

On New Year’s Day Ross County came to Inverness and took the points 2-1. A 1-1 home win against Dundee United and a 1-0 away win in Aberdeen preceded the arrival of Russell Latapy on 24 January to take up the post of Assistant Manager. The next day he travelled to Kilmarnock with his new team but witnessed a 2-0 defeat. The January transfer window was quiet but it did see the return of Greg Tansey. He had left the club at the end of 2011/12 to join Stevenage but in January 2014 he signed an 18 month deal to return to Inverness.

There have been many dramatic moments in the history of Caley Thistle but Sunday 2 February is right up there with the best. On 26 January 2013 Caley Thistle drew 1-1 with Hearts in the semi final of the League Cup at Easter Road but lost 4-5 on penalties – a year later the tie was the same, the venue was the same but the result was different. Hearts were struggling with the aftermath of administration and had gone through the season with a few senior players, many youngsters, a signing ban, a league points penalty and certain relegation. In contrast Caley Thistle had no such worries and were enjoying a good season. BBC TV screened the match live and despite Inverness fans’ protests the inconvenient venue and 1215 kick off time stood. It was all looking good for the Inverness side when, after a dull first half, Greg Tansey hammered home the opening goal in 54 minutes but it started to go wrong 14 minutes later. Gary Warren conceded a free kick and a very soft second yellow card led to his dismissal. Worse was to come when Ryan Stevenson’s free kick was rolled to Jamie Hamill and his deflected shot made it 1-1. Hamill made it 2-1 just two minutes later and it looked like curtains for ICT. At the start of added time Josh Meekings was shown a red card (later rescinded) but despair turned to hope with one minute of the five added minutes remaining. Substitute Nick Ross was rewarded for his tenacity in the box with a neat equaliser and the 2000 ICT fans went wild. The nine men of Caley Thistle then spent a defensive 30 minutes of extra time while Hearts were growing more and more frustrated as they could not make the extra players count. It was then on to the dreaded penalties. Graeme Shinnie’s kick was saved by Jamie McDonald but Dean Brill did the same from Paul McCallum. Billy McKay, Nick Ross and Greg Tansey then scored and Brill saved one of the next three kicks by Hearts. Thus at 3-2 Ross Draper stepped up, sent McDonald the wrong way and it was all over. Caley Thistle had finally reached a major cup final. 24 hours previously Aberdeen had defeated St Johnstone by a convincing 4-0 at Tynecastle so it was now known to be an Aberdeen v ICT final on Sunday 16 March. With Hampden out of commission due to Commonwealth Games preparations the final was to take place at Celtic Park.

Six days after the Easter Road heroics ICT made the long journey to Stranraer in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. It ended 2-2 and Stranraer made the trip north on 18 February for a replay – all very similar to a Scottish Cup tie in January 1997. The replay ended 2-0 to ICT. February concluded with two away league victories – 1-0 against St Johnstone and 3-0 against Ross County. ICT remained fourth at the end of February.

There were three matches in March prior to the League Cup final and the first two were ones most certainly to forget. A visit to Celtic Park ended in a 0-5 rout and the same score ended interest in the Scottish Cup against Dundee United in Inverness. A tame 0-0 home draw against Terry Butcher’s Hibernian on 12 March completed the schedule in advance of the League Cup final. Aberdeen were on a roll and firm favourites ahead of the final. They also sold 40,000 tickets which amazed the club’s chairman and directors. Caley Thistle sold a very creditable 8,000 tickets but the dominant colours on the day were red and white. Despite this disparity the atmosphere at Celtic Park was electric with the ICT fans doing there best to be heard.

The starting Caley Thistle line-up omitted the suspended Gary Warren and also Aaron Doran who was carrying an injury. Doran did manage to take a bench spot. Aberdeen were dealt a major blow in just seven seconds when Jonny Hayes took a nasty tumble and had to be substituted a few minutes later with a collarbone injury. There was little between the sides over 90 minutes and few goalscoring opportunities. The match went to extra time but still the sides could not be separated. All now hinged on a penalty shoot-out in a high octane atmosphere. Unfortunately it was ICT who could not rise to the occasion and Aberdeen took the trophy 4-2. A sad end to such a big occasion but the Inverness heads could be held high. A small consolation was the naming of Ross Draper as ‘Man of the Match’. 

It was back to the league and four matches in an eleven day March spell. Results were not great – a 2-0 away defeat to Motherwell, a 1-0 home victory against Partick Thistle, 1-2 away to Dundee United then a 2-2 home draw with St Mirren. ICT by now had slipped to fifth place but a top six finish was assured and it was now a case of chasing the teams ahead and hoping for a Europa League place. 

1 April saw a 2-1 home defeat to Motherwell then the final pre-split match was a Friday night televised encounter in Dingwall against Ross County on 4 April – ‘El Kessico’ as local derby matches are dubbed in some circles. A first half added time stunning goal from Aaron Doran gave ICT the lead but on 50 minutes Kiss equalised amidst some controversy – Arquin’s attempted bicycle kick was clearly dangerous play but the referee ignored that and the follow up by Kiss counted. With County ‘keeper Mark Brown playing a blinder against his old club it took until the 79th minute for a winner to come. A Doran ball into the box broke kindly for Billy McKay and he swept home his 22nd goal of the season. The result left ICT still in fifth spot but just two points behind Dundee United who had played one match less. County lay ninth in a scramble to avoid the dreaded eleventh spot.

The post-split matches produced little of excitement in the top half but the lower half went to the wire. In the top six Celtic were champions, Motherwell and Aberdeen were realistically fighting it out for second and third places, Dundee United were odds on to be fourth, ICT looked good for fifth but it was a straight fight with St Johnstone. Any outside chance of Europe via the league for any of the teams below Motherwell and Aberdeen disappeared quickly leaving Dundee United and St Johnstone relying on a Scottish Cup win for Europa League entry (a battle won by Saints). ICT drew 0-0 at home with Aberdeen, were hammered 6-0 away to Celtic, drew 1-1 at home to Dundee United and lost 2-1 away to Motherwell. The final league match of the season was at home against St Johnstone. Saints started the match in sixth place just one point behind ICT and had hopes of leapfrogging into fifth place. In the event goals from Ryan Christie and Greg Tansey ended that ambition and left ICT in fifth place – with a season total of 57 points, the best achievement yet in the top league. 

Billy McKay led the appearance and goal scoring charts – a maximum of 46 appearances and an impressive haul of 22 goals, 18 in the league and four in cup competitions. Dean Brill was just one appearance behind on 45 and Graeme Shinnie was third with 44. No other player reached double figures for goals scored but Aaron Doran did net eight times. 

Twenty years; 212 squad players; 137,000 miles of travel; one Division 3 championship; promotion from Division 2; two Division 1 championships; two Scottish Cup semi finals; one League Cup final; three Challenge Cup finals including one win; nine seasons in the top division and two top six finishes. This generation of Inverness Caledonian Thistle football supporters has been very lucky to see their team thrive over twenty seasons – hopefully the next generation will see the good work continue and perhaps even achieve more.

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