What a difference a year makes. After the bitter disappointment of relegation at the end of 2008/09 there was jubilation as Terry Butcher’s side bounced back immediately to the SPL.
After five seasons in the SPL, demotion to the Irn-Bru sponsored SFL First Division was a traumatic affair. The new economics forced the Board to take drastic action - players left, admin staff lost their jobs or had their hours cut and overall belts were tightened as much as possible. The dramatic economic difference between the SFL and the SPL has long been the subject of heated discussion in Scottish football circles and now the reality hit Inverness. The aim was to immediately step back up but with so many changes in the squad, and a shortage of cash to attract high-profile recruits, it was a difficult task.
Big spending Dundee were the pre-season First Division favourites and, by the time the big freeze came at Christmas, they were firmly in the driving seat. In mid January Dundee were in top spot, 15 points ahead of fifth placed ICT but had played two games more. Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas continued to look upwards and a remarkable unbeaten league run, which started with a 1-1 draw against Queen of the South on 5 December, gradually led to a climb up the league until the number one position was achieved on 27 March. One week earlier Dundee lost 3-0 to bottom side Airdrie United and manager Jocky Scott was surprisingly sacked despite his side still being at the top, albeit with a narrow lead of three points over ICT. Gordon Chisholm was brought in to recover the position but things only deteriorated – Dundee faded as Caley Thistle thrived. The top spot was held right through to the end of the season on 1 May – and the unbeaten run also continued to that date. Many expected the final game against Dundee to be a title decider but it proved nothing of the sort as Caley Thistle were declared champions ten days earlier when Dundee’s challenge finally died with a 1-0 loss to Raith Rovers. Instead May Day was party time in Inverness.
Highland rivals Ross County created history by beating Hibs and Celtic en route to the Scottish Cup final but the penalty was the end of their league challenge. As Dundee’s hopes of the title were disappearing Ross County still had a chance because of their backlog of games caused by the cup run. In mid April they played three league matches in a short space of time and only took two points – they would have needed to keep on winning to put the pressure on ICT but it never happened.
In the January 2009 transfer window many players arrived on short term contracts and most left following relegation – Filipe Morais joined St Johnstone, Thierry Gathuessi went to Raith Rovers, Richie Byrne signed for Darlington in February 2010, Pavels Mihadjuks returned to Latvia then came back to Scotland and Dundee United in February 2010. Brian Kerr signed for Dundee and must have wondered if he had made the right move as he was captain of Dundee as they watched the home side party on 1 May. Short term signings Eric Odhiambo and Richie Foran were re-signed for the First Division campaign. Two players who had signed pre contract agreements also left - Mike Fraser to Motherwell and Ian Black to Hearts. Defender Phil McGuire left after a season dogged by injuries and he joined new Highland League side Formartine United. To bolster the squad Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas scoured the highways and byways of football for good players to bring in on a budget.
There was no summer trip abroad this year so pre-season preparations took place mainly in the Highlands and the traditional friendlies against Highland League opposition were used to try out a number of potential signings. There were away matches against Clachnacuddin, Buckie Thistle, Elgin City, Huntly, Forres Mechanics and Brora Rangers – all victories – and an away victory against Second Division side Brechin City. The top pre-season attraction was the visit north of SPL side Dundee United on 28 July – the visitors won 3-1. As these preparations went on the international array of trialists was gradually whittled down and signings made.
Former Fulham youth and reserve player Daniel Stratford joined after playing in the USA with West Virginia University, Cape Cod Crusaders and latterly DC United. Midfielder Lee Cox was a youth player and first team squad player at Leicester City but failed to play for the first team. He joined ICT following a loan spell at Yeovil Town. Jonny Hayes came north after being released by Leicester City – he was a product of Reading’s Youth Academy but spent long periods on loan from Reading before going to Leicester in July 2007. Again he went out on loan before leaving for Inverness. Central defender Nauris Bulvitis joined ICT on loan from Latvian side FK Tranzits Ventspils with a little help and advice from fellow countryman Pavels Mihadjuks.
Robert Eagle was a product of Norwich's youth system and made 10 senior appearances before being released in April 2009. He came to Inverness on trial in July 2009 and impressed enough to be signed by Terry Butcher before the start of season 2009/10. Spaniard Dani Sanchez – full name Daniel Sanchez Andrades – had spent his career so far in the lower divisions of the Spanish league and came to Inverness after three seasons with Real Murcia B. In addition to these signings ICT Youth players Nick Ross and Graeme Shinnie were promoted to the first team squad. With a backbone of experienced first team campaigners this was the squad charged with the First Division challenge – it was hard for such a diverse range of players to gel but after a mixed start they managed the feat and earned promotion in style.
The league campaign started at Dunfermline on 8 August with a 1-0 win – the match was drifting to a zero-zero conclusion when Lee Cox scored with what Dunfermline manager Jim McIntyre called a ‘wonder strike’ from 20 yards in the final minute. Dunfermline were stunned at a seeming injustice but the points went to Inverness. A 0-0 draw at home to Ayr was followed by the first of five matches against Dundee. Promotion favourites Dundee hosted Caley Thistle this time and the visitors should have won. In a fast and furious encounter all the goals in the 2-2 draw came in the first 37 minutes but the action continued to the end. As the final minute of the ninety approached Dundee ‘keeper Tony Bullock collected an ICT corner but Richie Foran and David Proctor were both hurt in the usual melee. This led to a long delay and eventually a bounced ball which Richie Foran proposed to send harmlessly towards Bullock. That was the plan but, in his own words, ‘he shanked it’ and forced a Bullock save amidst boos from the Dundee fans! What would have happened if he had scored was a matter of long debate on the bus home. August ended with the first Highland League derby since 2003/04. It was in Inverness and Ross County easily took the points with a 3-1 victory. After the bright start at Dunfermline Caley Thistle slipped to seventh at the end of the month.
The opening league game of September was at Cappielow on the twelfth and Greenock Morton were beaten
3-0. The next day the Nutel North of Scotland Cup final took place at Forres and, to revenge last season’s defeat, Nairn County were beaten 3-2. On the 19th it should have been a trip to play Livingston but they were demoted to Division Three when they went into administration and so it was off to Airdrie instead. Airdrie United were 1-0 up in 25 minutes and it would have been 2-0 if Ryan Esson had not saved a penalty in 64 minutes – Jonny Hayes rescued a point with an 83rd minute equaliser. The following Saturday Partick came to Inverness and were 3-0 up by half time. Caley Thistle came back in the second half to make it 3-2 but could not find an equaliser. This led to a drop to sixth spot.
There were five league matches in October with three wins, one draw and one defeat. Losing 3-1 at home to Queen of the South on the tenth was a blow – and a result that sent Queens to the top of the league. Three days later a narrow 1-0 win at Kirkcaldy was much better and the following Saturday it was 1-1 at home to Dunfermline. The final two Saturdays in October saw Ayr United heavily defeated 5-1 away with Richie Foran scoring a hat-trick then Greenock Morton were thumped 4-1 at home – the first league home win of the season and this time Adam Rooney scored three goals. Despite these results Caley Thistle ended the month still in sixth place.
November was a poor month – a 2-1 defeat in Dingwall on the seventh was depressing but the mood was lifted a little by a 2-0 home win the following week against bottom side Airdrie United. The Alba Challenge Cup final defeat on Sunday 22nd was followed on the 28th by a 2-1 defeat away to Partick Thistle. The Airdrie victory had meant a move up to fifth but November ended in fifth spot.
December was much better - undefeated in the league with three draws and one win. The first draw was away to Queen of the South on the fifth and it was a bad-tempered affair which ended with Terry Butcher banished to the stand and nineteen players on the pitch. Jonny Hayes gave ICT an early lead but trouble came when the referee ignored a last man challenge on Adam Rooney and his protests saw Terry Butcher head for the stand. Richie Foran then saw a second red for a foul on Barry Wilson and insult was added to injury when Bob Harris equalised for Queens from the resultant free kick. A flare-up following the goal led to a second yellow card for Russell Duncan and a straight red for Queens’ David Lilley. The only win of December came a week later with a 1-0 home victory over Raith Rovers. The worst snowfalls for many years arrived in mid December and Caley Thistle’s away league match at Dunfermline on 19 December only just survived. Lines had to be brushed before kick-off and conditions were far from ideal. It was perhaps no surprise that it ended 0-0 with the latter stages taking place amidst mud as the pitch thawed out.
The Boxing Day home match against Dundee was one of only two SFL matches to survive the severe weather and it was a chance for Caley Thistle to catch up on the league leaders. Both home and away fans united to clear away snow from the pitch and a 1-1 draw was deemed fair. At the turn of the year Dundee remained on top and, despite the good results in December, ICT were twelve points behind and still fifth. There was one squad addition in mid December when Aberdeen midfielder Stuart Duff came on a month-long emergency loan.
The national freeze meant there were just two matches played in January – a 1-0 victory at Airdrie on the 23rd and a 2-1 win at home to Partick Thistle the following Saturday. The Airdrie United match was Ross Tokely’s 500th appearance – delayed for two weeks because of a broken hand – and before the Partick match Ross’s achievement was recognised by the club with a presentation by Steve Paterson, the manager who signed him in the summer of 1996. In a neat touch Terry Butcher handed Ross the number nine shirt – the only one he had not worn over the years. These two victories, and the run of six league matches undefeated, pushed Caley Thistle up to third. Dundee were still ten points ahead but their lead had been cut.
There was limited activity in the January transfer window but there were two significant moves – Dougie Imrie signed for Hamilton after being tracked by several clubs and Andy Barrowman was released from his contract to return to his former club Ross County. In May he was part of the Ross County side that lost the Scottish Cup final to Dundee United. Loan arrangements saw Murray Kinnaird and Andrew MacAskill head for Clachnacuddin and Gavin Morrison and Shane Sutherland go east to Elgin City. In February Graeme Shinnie went on loan to Forres Mechanics and he was part of the side that won the Highland League Cup – thus Graeme ended the season as the first player ever to win a Highland League Cup medal, a North of Scotland Cup medal and a First Division Champions medal in the same season.
With a Scottish Cup tie, and the severe weather continuing, there were only two league matches played in February. On the lucky 13th Raith Rovers were heavily defeated 4-0 in Kirkcaldy – but it took until the 67th goal before Adam Rooney gave ICT the lead. This was the striker’s 14th goal of the season and his purple patch was proving decisive in the league challenge. Two weeks later, following a blank week because of the weather, Ayr United just made it to Inverness despite heavy snow and road closures. The visitors came very close to breaking Caley Thistle’s run and were 3-2 up until added time at the end of the ninety. Grant Munro was pulled down in the box and Adam Rooney netted the resultant penalty despite continuing Ayr protests. Ayr manager Brian Rein had to be restrained by Terry Butcher as his anger flared at the award. All agreed the penalty was soft but Caley Thistle were happy to rescue a point. Dundee’s lead was now eight points over second placed Ross County with ICT a further point behind.
The tenth anniversary of the famous victory over Celtic was celebrated with a dinner arranged by the ICT Supporters Trust and attended by most of the side that played at Celtic Park that fondly remembered evening on 8 February 2000.
March was a very busy month as the weather relented and postponed matches were played. It was also the month when the league race took a dramatic turn. Caley Thistle played seven league matches and remained unbeaten. Dundee started March as league leaders and the match in the City of Discovery on the sixth had the potential to be vital to the chasing pack. After an hour Caley Thistle were 2-0 up and looking good but Dundee hit back. They scored twice and it ended 2-2 with ICT remaining third. There were midweek games for all the league challengers in March, and with some surprising results things were changing every few days. Match two in March was on the ninth at home to Queen of the South. There was revenge for October’s 3-1 in the same fixture as Caley Thistle won 3-1 with Adam Rooney scoring a hat-trick. On the same evening Ross County lost to Raith Rovers so Caley Thistle moved up to second spot, six points behind Dundee with both having played 25 games. A 1-0 home win against Greenock Morton the following Saturday kept the pressure on Dundee as they were on Cup duty and the following midweek they could only draw 1-1 with Ayr. A 0-0 draw away to Ross County on the twentieth was bitterly disappointing but the mood changed when news came through that bottom club Airdrie United had beaten Dundee 3-0. This shock result led to Jocky Scott being relieved of the Dundee managerial post despite his side still on top of the league – albeit just three points ahead of ICT. Ross County’s challenge was fading as they headed for cup glory and Dunfermline were now third. These were merely footnotes as it was clear that Caley Thistle and Dundee would realistically be the clubs battling it out for promotion.
A midweek decisive 4-0 home win against Airdrie United maintained the pressure on Dundee then the following Saturday came the leap to the top. Caley Thistle narrowly beat Partick Thistle 1-0 in Maryhill but Ross County did their Highland rivals a great favour with a late equaliser against Dundee. ICT thus sat proudly on top of the pile with a precious one point lead over Dundee. This was extended to four points when Caley Thistle beat Ross County 3-0 in a midweek rearranged derby match and Dundee lost to Dunfermline the same evening. The derby match nearly did not go ahead as gale force winds could have been deemed dangerous. Referee Scott MacDonald elected to start the match with the proviso that it may have had to be abandoned. It ran the full ninety minutes and the Inverness camp was very happy that it had. To end March on top with a four point lead was something that would have been hard to predict some 30 days earlier.
The optimists in the Inverness camp were confident Dundee would never catch up now and the pessimists were convinced that the ICT run would end and Dundee would come again. On balance most expected the title race to go the wire. Given the twists and turns so far it was fair to assume more surprises and the ICT v Dundee match in Inverness on 1 May was looking as if it could settle things.
Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas exuded confidence and there was no stopping their team. A 100% record through April ensured that the title was won before the supposed crunch match. April started with two victories after long road trips – 2-0 away to Greenock Morton on the sixth and 3-1 away to Queen of the South four days later. By this time the unbeaten run had been extended to 18 league matches and Dundee were seven points behind. The only possible title rivals were Dundee and Ross County, still catching up because of their fantastic Scottish Cup run. A 2-0 home victory against Dunfermline on 17 April kept ICT in pole position then came a nervous evening on 21 April with Dundee playing Raith Rovers – Raith won 1-0 and this ended the title contest. Without kicking another ball Caley Thistle were champions. The long trip to Ayr the following Saturday could easily have been an anti climax – especially as Ayr were in relegation trouble and should have lifted their game. They were thumped 7-0 with amazingly seven different goalscorers. A surprisingly large travelling support invaded the pitch to celebrate.
The main celebrations came the following week with Dundee the very reluctant guests at the party. The May Day event saw fireworks, ticker-tape, speeches, laps of honour and the presentation of the League Trophy. Before that there was the small matter of a football match. Adam Rooney’s 27th goal meant that Dundee were defeated for the first time this season, the unbeaten league run was extended to 21 matches (one less than the 1996/97 record in Division 3) and the final quarter of the season had been completed with nine wins out of nine, defeating every other team. The final whistle went on the season and the fun began. The main event saw Terry Butcher call each player out in turn to collect his medal with captain Grant Munro last to emerge to take possession of his medal and the coveted cup.
In 2003/04 Caley Thistle won the Bell’s Cup but promotion to the SPL meant it could not be defended. One result of the reversion to First Division status was entry to the same competition, now renamed the Alba Challenge Cup. The opening competitive match of the season was in round one of this cup with lowly Montrose visiting Inverness and making a strong fight of it. A Roy McBain goal on the stroke of half time looked like winning the tie but Montrose equalised three minutes from time and after a goal-less extra period it was on to penalties. Ryan Esson saved the first Montrose kick from Chris Hegarty and that proved a vital breakthrough - Lionel Djebi-Zadi made it five out of five for the home side and that ensured victory. Round two was rather more decisive on 18 August when Stranraer made the long trip north. Two goals from Richie Foran and one from Dani Sanchez ensured a 3-0 victory. The quarter final was played against Partick Thistle on 6 September in Glasgow and it was very close. It ended 1-1 after extra time and once more it was a dreaded penalty shoot-out. Ryan Esson was the ICT hero when he saved three Partick penalties as his side won 4-3 with captain Grant Munro converting the final kick. On 4 October the semi final threw up a local derby in Inverness but it was not the classic that some expected. It took a freakish Robert Eagle goal just before half time to separate the sides – his looping cross finished up in the back of the net and Caley Thistle were heading for their third national final.
The Alba Challenge Cup final took place at McDiarmid Park, Perth on 22 November against promotion rivals Dundee. At this point in the season Dundee were firmly at the top of Division One with Caley Thistle having just moved up from sixth to fourth. Thus Dundee were favourites but in a thrilling encounter it was Caley Thistle that dominated from the start. They were 2-0 up at half time and should have been four or five up. Failing to make their superiority count further proved Caley Thistle’s undoing. Dundee came right back into it after the break and within seven minutes were level at 2-2. Craig Forsyth’s 82nd minute goal took the cup along the A90 to Dundee. For the neutrals it was a classic match but Inverness fans were stunned to have lost after such a good first half.
Involvement in the Co-operative Insurance Cup lasted for three rounds before Motherwell knocked Caley Thistle out. Round one on 1 August was the second competitive match of the season and Annan Athletic were soundly beaten 4-0 in Inverness. This was the first meeting of the sides since Annan became an SFL side but they did play each other in the Scottish Cup in January 1998 when Annan were an East of Scotland League club. Caley Thistle registered their best result to date on that occasion by winning 8-1. Round two once more threw up a home draw and a match against Albion Rovers on 25 August. Again it was 4-0 to the home side but round three was to prove more of a challenge. This was away to SPL side Motherwell on 22 September and Caley Thistle came very close to an upset. At the end of 90 minutes it was 1-1 and after 111 minutes it was 2-2. With just a minute before a penalty decider Ross Forbes gave Motherwell victory.
Caley Thistle entered the Active Nation Scottish Cup at round four and were drawn at home to Motherwell – a chance to take revenge for the Co-operative Insurance Cup defeat. The match took place on 18 January after two postponements due to a combination of snow, freezing weather and local road conditions. Motherwell came north under new manager Craig Brown who had replaced Jim Gannon three weeks earlier. They were in good heart after beating Kilmarnock 3-0 in the SPL but were to go back south disappointed. For ICT it was their first match for a month but they put on a good show and deservedly won 2-0. Round six found Caley Thistle heading to Kilmarnock on 6 February. The visitors started well but fell behind to goals just before and after the half hour mark. A third goal in 59 minutes ended the contest and the Scottish Cup dream was over for another season.
Adam Rooney played in all 46 matches during the season – he was in the starting eleven 32 times and came on as a substitute 14 times. Ryan Esson and Grant Munro both made 45 starts – Ryan missed one cup match and Grant missed one in the league. Adam Rooney was top club goalscorer by a mile – he scored 27 with Richie Foran on 16 and Jonny Hayes on 10.
ICT were among the national awards throughout the season with pride of place going to Adam Rooney who ended the season as First Division top goalscorer with 24 league goals. He was also Irn-Bru Phenomenal Player of the Month for March 2010 and First Division Player of the Year. In addition his fellow players in the Professional Footballers’ Association named him First Division Player of the Year. Jonny Hayes won the Irn-Bru Phenomenal Player of the Month award for November 2009. Terry Butcher was Irn-Bru First Division Phenomenal Manager of the Month for March 2010 and Manager of the Year. At club level Adam Rooney won the Supporters’ Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year awards. Richie Foran was the Matchday Programme Player of the Year and also took the same award from the Supporters’ Club. Jonny Hayes was the CaleyThistleOnline.com Player of the Year. The team won the Active Nation Scottish Cup Team of the Round accolade for their 2-0 defeat of Motherwell in round four.
In July the under 15s took part in Denmark’s Dana Cup and reached the quarter final. In August the club sent three young squads to the Umbro Dublin Cup – the under 13 side won the shield for their age group and the under 14s and 15s both put on good performances. In April the under 15 side were once more on their travels, this time to Italy where they won the Como Champions Cup. At international level the club was represented by Kyle Whyte and Liam Polworth at both under 16 and under 17 level. In March Ryan Christie, son of ICT legend Charlie Christie, was invited to join the Scotland under 15 training camp at Inverclyde.
On 12 November former manager Steve Paterson was back in the local headlines with the publication of his book ‘Confessions of a Highland Hero’, written in conjunction with north journalist Frank Gilfeather. The launch at Tulloch Caledonian Stadium was a reunion of Caley Thistle people from across the years and all were impressed as Steve spoke candidly about the alcohol and gambling problems which have blighted both his family and football life. Happily he is now on a better track with a full time job in Social Work and the possibility of a return to football in a scouting role.
Rugby returned to the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium on 5 February when Scotland’s under 20 side took on France. This was part of the Junior Six Nations tournament and it ended 8-8.
In March local businessman Kenny Cameron rejoined the Caley Thistle board after a six year absence. The first time round he left due to business commitments but always retained an active connection with the club. He has worked behind the scenes to seek out commercial opportunites and is a partner in CK Events who are the promoters of Rod Stewart’s concert at the stadium in July 2010.
In March Terry Butcher and Maurice Malpas signed contract extensions to the end of 2010/11 but, following promotion to the SPL, their contracts were replaced by further extensions to the end of 2011/12.
Onwards and upwards to the SPL!