Fittingly, the club has paid tribute to the memory of our late great first skipper, Alan Hercher with a minute’s applause and the opening of an enclosure named after him in the North Stand.
25 years ago in our first home league match in the Scottish League, Alan scored a 19-minute first half hat-trick in our 5-2 win over Arbroath.
Very sadly, Alan died one year ago at the age of 52.
One of Alan’s many close friends was team-mate Mark McAllister, who was the first Caledonian Thistle player to play 50 games for the club.
Below, Mark’s dad, Bill, the well known sports journalist, broadcaster and after-dinner speaker, pays tribute to a legend.
Alan Hercher – the fans’ hero
They called him Herchie and he was the fans’ hero – when he surged upfield, the excitement crackled like bacon in a bubbling frying pan.
Alan Hercher, who died a year ago, was the Caley legend who became Caley Thistle’s first captain.
On August 13, 25 years ago, Caley Thistle, after a painful merger, made their Scottish League debut against Arbroath at Telford Street Park – as work was underway on their new stadium.
Who else but skipper Hercher was destined to head the new club’s first league goal? And he went on to add another couple to make it 3-0 after only 19 minutes had been played – an epic start for the club and another hat trick to Herchie’s goals catalogue.
A quarter of a century later, no Caley Thistle player has equalled such a rapid hat trick.
Arbroath pulled a couple back in the second half but Paul Mackenzie and Wilson Robertson completed a 5-2 win to send 1700 supporters home happy – and Arbroath defenders muttering: ”Who’s this guy Hercher?”
Caley Jags had actually made their competitive debut in midweek in a League Cup tie at East Stirling, winning 2-0 with Herchie finding the net along with Wilson Robertson.
Being a Beauly boy, he had played shinty for three years before football tugged at his heart. He joined Ross County but Peter Corbett was quick to snap him up for Caley and the big fellow soon made his mark.
He was a midfield player who, despite not being blessed with excess pace, could make and score goals. Herchie had a fierce shot, firing home many 20 yard volleys, and his heading ability soon became legend.
The ball would come over, Urquhart or Ray Mackintosh would nod it back across goal and there would be Herchie steaming in to power it home with his forehead. He was the master of late runs into the penalty box while the ball was in the air, enabling him to find the space from which to time his header beautifully.
Alan was strong in the tackle, a workhorse in midfield, but also had a fine weight of pass which set up many a goal.
He was still 22 when, in 1987-88, Caley won the Highland League championship, scoring 97 goals, 17 more than their nearest rivals, with Hercher grabbing his share. The Blues also won the Qualifying Cup that season.
The following season, Herchie powered home a phenomenal 24 goals in the four months from August to November, before being injured. It was an amazing haul for a midfield player, even on as attack-minded as the strapping youngster.
During his fatal illness he was visited by Peter Corbett who reminded him of those 24 goals – and quick as a flash Alan responded:”It was 28”. Peter reckoned he’d learned his arithmetic from Billy Urquhart.
In January after that goal spree, Herchie was off to Australia to play for Sterling Macedonia where he was voted Player of the Year . Returning to Caley 18 months later he typically scored the winner in his first game back.
The following season, Caley had a tough Qualifying Cup quarter final at Fraserburgh – but Alan made it easy by scoring all four goals. He was injured for the final against Peterhead and seemed to have no chance, but he persuaded John Docherty to gamble on him. And guess who set up Wilson Robertson’s last minute winner?
That year they knocked Clyde out of the Scottish Cup – another Hercher headed goal – and when they rallied to hold St Johnstone to a 2-2 draw, it was the same player who slotted home a vital penalty.
The big man made 230 appearances for Caley – and scored 129 goals, a magnificent record. In our mind’s eye, those of us of a certain vintage can see Herchie, arm upraised, wheeling away in celebration.
When Caley Thistle came along, Hercher made a significant contribution. He won a Third Division championship medal and, in all, played 80 games, scoring 30 goals – not bad for a veteran!
He finished his career back in the Highland League with Clach, where he played alongside his son Alan. Then those scoring boots were hung up for the last time.
Herchie still enjoyed cheering on Caley Jags at Caledonian Stadium, meeting friends old and new.
He was married to Kayren, daughter of Ernie Latham, who was voted Clach’s greatest ever player. As well as young Alan, they had a daughter Claire.
Herchie’s sudden, deadly illness a year ago took from us a great player and a warm, decent person. He would have loved to be at this weekend’s Arbroath game and recalling that 1994 debut.
When one teenager was making his Caley debut and quaking in his boots, Herchie sat beside him and in a low voice said:”If you’re in trouble, son, just give the ball to me.”
That was Alan Hercher, who lives on in so many memories, despatching a long-range rocket past a startled keeper or rising like a Ness salmon to head the ball home.
We’ll have many fine players at this club, but we won’t see Herchie’s like again.