Ten days on from the official end of our season and from another historic Scottish Cup Final for the club, our third major final in only nine years, the dust is beginning to settle a little.
With the whole world watching, anyone from Inverness would have been bursting with pride as Billy and the boys walked out of the Hampden tunnel. Just about everyone outside of Inverness had already written off our chances against what has been an unstoppable Celtic side this season. Pre-match, no-one would have predicted the roar that would go up from the Caley Thistle fans, nor the silence from the Celtic fans when on the 90th minute, the 4th Official held up the board marking 6 minutes injury time. Dan Mackay had just scored the goal of the game and the impossible dream was on again. Unfortunately a combination of the Hampden heat, a month without a competitive game and the added fitness of the Premiership Champions who’s league season had finished only a few days prior to the final, took their toll on the boys deep into injury time. But what a journey and what a reception from the fans, who to a man, woman, and child had not left the National Stadium and truly showed their appreciation to Billy and the team.
The hard work for season 2023/24 is now well underway, indeed it has been ongoing for a number of months now. We are delighted to have Head Coach Billy Dodds signed to a new contract. If anyone had any doubts about Billy then the coaching masterclass against the Champions of Scotland was especially impressive because of the circumstances we entered into the game, as well as the array of talent we faced.
Contract negotiations with a number of our players and a number of our scouted and targeted potential new players are well advanced. Sometimes it feels like we have to look further and harder than just about every club but our record in finding new talent is outstanding and that will continue I’m sure. We are happy that so far Danny Devine, Lewis Hyde, Aaron Doran and Wallace Duffy have agreed new deals with the club and we hope that new deals will be accepted in the coming days and weeks by the others who have been offered new and improved terms. Some will not but that is ok too, it is football and we will continue to find the good players we need to progress.
The team have once again been through adversity both on and off the pitch this season and without sounding like a broken record, anyone who knows anything about football knows that injuries decimated our league campaign with, at one stage, ten of the squad out with long term injuries. We lost Mr Reliable Robbie Deas to a broken leg and for the second season running we lost the influential Scott Allardice to a lengthy injury. A brilliant late run of wins was not enough to turn the league season around though and we finished a very disappointing 6th place. That was absolutely not where we wanted to finish, nor is it where we should be finishing. The Championship is not where we want to be. Every single person at the club, no matter their position feels the same way and we will all be redoubling our efforts to do much better in the coming season.
Having won our League Cup group with what turned out to be only our first away Cup win of the season against Premier League opposition Livingston, we then went out the tournament to a very impressive Motherwell side. As stated above, our 2022/23 Scottish Cup run will go down in history but perhaps for the first time ever with a special mention for Club Secretary Fiona McWilliams and another for skipper Sean Welsh who led the side brilliantly and but for his freak injury, I cannot help but think that we would not have finished where we did in the league, such is his influence. To the players who leave us at the end of this season, we wish them well in their careers and who knows we may yet see one or more of them back at Caledonian Stadium in the future.
The Boardroom has benefitted greatly this season from the addition of former Director and player Graeme Bennett who “came home” to help us once again and from world renowned retired surgeon Panos Thomas, a long standing fan of 20 years. Both men have great qualities and have been enormously helpful to us already and we continue to seek new Directors who can advance the club and the business, especially as we have been designated within the Tax Zone of the new Green Freeport. This is a designation which will no doubt be hugely impactful and positive for the club for years to come and we are working with our legal team at WJM and our new auditors A9 Accountancy in Inverness to maximise the opportunities on this front. Anyone who is interested in joining our Board should contact me directly at the club. If you are dynamic, have the club at heart, a particular professional skill set and want to make a real difference to the city and in particular the sporting pillar of the community we now are, please do get in touch.
Infrastructure improvements at the Stadium have been identified and exciting new commercial contracts have been progressed, some to be announced in the coming days including our technical kit partner and main jersey sponsor/partner and subject to legal agreements in the coming weeks, we hope to have important news about the Stadium and its environs.
This past few months has also seen the ICT Community Development Trust continue to trailblaze with record numbers and programmes taking place. The addition of a para football team programme, the football memories group burgeoning like never before and of course final agreement with Highland Council to take over the Royal Academy sports fields with a 25 year lease being granted for the ten acre site which will be our Community Hub and home to the ICT Trust and our ICT Women’s FC, which continues to be impressively grown and run by First Team Head Coach Karen Mason. The numbers on the women’s side of the club are simply fantastic and seeing girls across the city and beyond sporting our kit in parks and playing fields gives us all a huge boost. We will be giving a further update with Karen in the next couple of weeks.
ICT Development Trust GM Craig Masterton and Sporting Director John Robertson have done a fantastic job in securing not only the site for the community Hub, but also £272,000 in grants and donations (so far) from the SFA, sportscotland and Baxters to name just a few for what will be one of the best Community Hubs in Scotland. Inverness Athletic, FC Sonas and of course, the pupils of the Inverness Royal Academy will also benefit from this investment and with work on a new athletics track, long jump, javelin and shot put facilities also featuring in the renovated facility alongside new changing rooms, offices and classrooms, you can imagine how big and complex a project it is but the City and the region will have a fantastic facility to enjoy when everything is complete. If your own business or your company could help us improve the facility with goods in kind or sponsorship, please contact Craig or John directly at the club.
This season has been an incredible one for the ICT Academy in the most important of ways. As Scottish football wrestles at the highest level with how young players can be developed in order to become professional footballers and more importantly, ones who are playing in their first team, our Academy has had a record season in terms of appearances. There has been 172 appearances in competitive matches by a total of twenty three ICT Academy players this season. In the Scottish Cup Final v Celtic we had 5 Academy players in the squad and we actually finished with 3 on the pitch. A fantastic achievement for the boys, the club and our Academy. Our U18 side, coached by Ryan Esson were just pipped to the league title at the death by St Johnstone and our 16’s are vying for the league Title right now. The season also saw Rangers buy ICT Academy player Kieron Willox from the club, another first for us.
The Chairman and the Board of Directors continue to be incredibly supportive and creative in and around the club throughout what has been an extremely challenging time on and off the field. There is no getting away from the brutal financial facts of the Championship that is for sure but we can see that clubs of a similar size to us both in the Championship and the Premiership struggle with the same financial challenges in order to run full-time football squads, full-time academies and at the same time be a thriving positive contributor to the community we are based in. Quite simply, we don’t just need success on the field in order to be where we want to be, it is vital that in order to supplement our financial constraints in the Championship where we currently are, that we generate financial success off the field.
Our current off the field commercial initiatives are critical to making all of this happen and this will give the club a solid financial foundation and allow us to plan for a self-financing and totally sustainable future both on and off the field. One of our main commercial projects is currently in the last throes of a planning application with Highland Council and we dearly hope that approval is given as this will help cement our future. It will allow us to have a greater positive impact on our city and the wider community and to deliver a football team the fans deserve.
To that end our season tickets for next season will go on sale tomorrow at 10am and we hope we can at least match this season’s tremendous effort which was actually higher than the number sold in our last season in the Premiership. There has not been a rise in the price of our Season Tickets for more than 6 years and there is a small increase for season 2023/24 but with the financial challenges the club faces in the Championship in particular and i.e. the rising costs of our utilities which increased six fold, we hope that fans will be able to continue their much needed support. Section 94 continues to add new life to the West Stand and the atmosphere in the Stadium and also to our away matches and we hope to work with all of our fans groups to continue to enhance the atmosphere both home and away. Our first fundraising effort to “Raise the Roof” went well last season but 2023/24 will see more focus on this effort so please support us wherever you see the campaign. We have new links with the ICT Supporters Trust and we also hope to be working closely with them over the coming season.
On a personal note, I would like to thank the staff we have here at Caledonian Stadium. I won’t name names and embarrass anyone but they know who they are. They always go above and beyond the call of duty no matter the circumstances and they are one of the main reasons I want to work so hard to make us successful. In the weeks leading up to both the Semi-Final and the Final of the Scottish Cup they really pulled things out of the bag. On the staff numbers front, we may be small and goodness me were we stretched to the limit but everyone was just outstanding and in my opinion, help make the club as special as it is.
Speaking on behalf of the Chairman and the Board, it is hard for me to sum up the past season as it was so bitter sweet on the field. But as much as our league campaign was blighted by injury and ultimately failed, the glorious run to our second historic Scottish Cup Final will never be forgotten. To see Billy lead the team out against the Champions of Scotland and to put up such a brilliant performance against all the odds just makes us want success for the fans even more. From the brilliant and fun Caley Highland Fling on the Ferry, to the amazing efforts to even get to Glasgow for the ill thought out late kick-off when we knew that probably for the first time in Scottish Football history an entire support wouldn’t get home until the day after the match, and in the glorious sunshine it was all very emotional and in its own way, it was ballistic.
Thank You for all your support. We all really appreciate it.