Today (Sunday) marks the anniversary of the birth of our club. – 25 years ago.
It was on 24 February 1994 that the committees of Inverness Thistle and Caledonian met at Balnain House, Huntly Street, Inverness, to form the new Board of Directors of Caledonian Thistle FC.
Representatives of Inverness and Nairn Enterprise were present to provide advice and guidance on the merger of the two long-established Highland League sides stepping up to play in the Scottish Football League’s Third Division.
Our first competitive game was played on 9 August, 1994 – a 2-0 cup victory at East Stirlingshire and our first home league game was played at Telford Street Park, the home of Caledonian, four days later when we defeated Arbroath 5-2.
The club changed its name to Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC, when the former Inverness District Council awarded the club a major grant towards the cost of our stadium.
Over the coming weeks we will feature the memories of some key personalities of our great club. We begin with the legends of both former Highland League sides – Dave Milroy, skipper of Inverness Thistle and Billy Urquhart, star striker of Caledonian, who went on to play for Glasgow Rangers and Wigan Athletic. Enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Former Inverness Thistle legend Dave Milroy, who played more than 900 games for his favourites, recalls his early misgivings about the creation of the merged club called Caledonian Thistle but recognises the huge benefits that have flowed from that decision 25 years ago. From our birth, Dave was a club coach and has remained a supporter since then. He is now a club ambassador and a prospective trustee of our new ICT Foundation.
I’m a believer
Let me be totally up front from the start and admit that initially I was not in favour of the merger 25 years ago. My worry at the time was that it would turn into a takeover by Caley and Thistle’s identity would be lost. When Sergei Baltacha offered me a coaching role with the new club, I had reservations about accepting the post but Jock McDonald persuaded me that it was important that I get involved to represent the Thistle side and help the new club establish itself within the Scottish League set up.
At the start of the first season, there were only 2 players included in the first team squad who had played for Thistle during the final season in the Highland League, Jim Calder and Steven MacDonald. This didn’t prove much of a problem as we were made welcome in the dressing room by the players and staff, most of whom were also embarking on an adventure which was new to them.
In these early days I became more aware that the merger of the two clubs proved to be the only route to take to try to achieve Scottish League football in the then town of Inverness. The dissident factions from each club eventually became less vocal and the new club gradually formed an identity of its own. I believe this was helped by the move to the new stadium, a ‘neutral’ venue although the location still causes heated debate from time to time.
As progress up the leagues was achieved, a new fan base was established and success in some of the lesser cup competitions raised the hope of higher achievements. The landmark victory over Celtic in February 2000 certainly raised the national profile of the club and promotion to the SPL in 2004 was just reward for those who had worked so hard to found and build the new club.
Winning the Scottish Cup in 2015 and the resultant qualification to play in the Europa League was the stuff of dreams which few of us could have foreseen 25 years ago during the merger debate. Whilst there are still some conversations and arguments going on about the merits (or otherwise) of the merger, these are mainly light-hearted. Few can say that it has not benefitted football in Inverness and the wider Highland region.
Billy Urquhart is a Caledonian legend, who played 688 games for the Telford Street club, scoring 393 goals in two spells with the club. His service was broken for a very good reason – he signed for Glasgow Rangers in July 1978 after scoring 2 goals against Rangers in a pre-season friendly, which Rangers won 6-3. A retired businessman, he has remained a loyal supporter of the club and here he recalls his thoughts on the merger and some of his abiding memories.
And me too!
When I retired from Highland League football in 1993, I didn’t realise that my boyhood team had only one more season in existence. If truth be told, although I was never a “Caley Rebel” I was a dyed in the wool bluenose and I would have preferred if Caley had been able to go it alone in the quest tobring Scottish League football to Inverness.
Looking back I regret that Clach decided against joining with Jags and Caley as I firmly believe it would have helped greatly in selling the new venture to the anti-merger factions.
As I said I had retired but made a comeback in the last derby at Telford Street as an unregistered player and scored the only goal of the game with a header from a Wilson Robertson free kick. I remember being substituted and hoping there would be no more goals, typical glory hunting striker!! Caley were subsequently fined £250, money well spent as far as I was concerned!!
Despite my initial misgivings I was an enthusiastic and loyal supporter of our new team from our first league game against Arbroath, and my sadly missed ex-team-mate Alan Hercher’s hat-trick in the first half. Although the first season was to prove difficult, once Pele took the manager’s job, it was onwards and upwards in the new stadium playing an exciting brand of football that brought huge enjoyment to all who witnessed it.
One of my favourite memories from that time was actually a game we lost , 4-3 to our arch rivals, Livingston at Almondvale. 4-0 down after 30 minutes or so we nearly pulled off a miracle comeback which encapsulated all that was admirable in Pele’s teams.
The Scottish Cup has given the club and fans so many great days culminating in our 2015 triumph. Our semi-final win against Celtic with David Raven’s extra time winner is probably the outstanding ICT memory of my first 25 years watching ICT!
Let’s hope the next 25 are as good as the first and we can all enjoy the ride