Disclaimer: After three pieces thus far, I’ve been allowed a weekly slot by the lead guys on this site. As such, I’ll be using this slot to talk about my biggest passion in football. Inverness Caledonian Thistle. However, I’ll (try) remain neutral throughout.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle were formed in 1994 after the merger of two Highland league clubs, Caledonian and Inverness Thistle. Originally a third club was proposed into the merger, Clachnacuddin, but they quickly dropped out and remain in the Highland League. Although many fans from both Highland League clubs were initially unhappy, the merger went through. The merger allowed the newly formed club to accept an invitation to enter the Scottish Football League. They entered the Scottish Third Division alongside rivals Ross County.
Having played their home matches at Telford Street Park, Inverness moved into their current stadium in 1996. The Caledonian Stadium, which is situated near the Kessock Bridge. The move proved successful as shortly after they won the Third Division and gained promotion to the Second Division.
The club didn’t stagnate upon its success as it only took two seasons to win promotion yet again. They finished runners up to Livingston as they achieved promotion to the First Division.
Progression from the First Division to the Scottish Premier League didn’t come as quickly for the Highlanders. They spent five seasons in the First Division. It was during this time they defeated Celtic in the Scottish Cup, prompting the infamous ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious’ headline. However, their most notable season was their final season in the division. Claiming the Scottish Challenge Cup against Airdrie United before progressing on to win the First Division title. Sealing promotion to the Scottish Premier League, Scotland’s top tier.
However, it wasn’t as simple as that. The Caledonian Stadium didn’t have the SPL regulated minimum crowd capacity of 10,000 and the club were left facing a difficult choice. Either remain in the First Division or groundshare with Aberdeen at their stadium, Pittodrie. The board decided on the latter, despite the 216-mile round trip.
Fortunately, a season later the minimum crowd capacity was reduced to 6000. After an expansion, the Caledonian Stadium was deemed eligible by SPL standards. The stadium was renamed the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium in honour of the Tulloch Construction Company who completed the expansion in only 47 days. As a result, the stadiums current capacity is 7750.
The club consolidated their position in the SPL in the seasons to come. They were a mid-table side, finishing between seventh and ninth over four seasons. However, this all changed as Inverness were facing relegation in their fifth season in Scotland’s top division. Manager Craig Brewster was sacked and replaced by former England defender Terry Butcher. Despite the managerial change, Inverness couldn’t avoid relegation and returned to the First Division.
Under Butcher, Inverness managed promotion back to the SPL on their first attempt. They finished an impressive twelve points ahead of second placed Dundee, which is remarkable considering Dundee were fifteen points clear at the head of the table by January. Inverness’ ability to overturn the point deficit was largely down to a phenomenal unbeaten run, which lasted 21 matches.
Inverness continued to consolidate their position as a mid-table side upon their return to Scotland’s top flight, finishing seventh and tenth in their first two seasons back in the league. Though Inverness were soon to be a club on the rise.
The clubs third season back in Scotland’s top flight is where the most successful spell in the clubs, albeit short, history began. They achieved their first ever top half finish in the SPL, finishing fourth. Despite the incredible achievement, fourth place almost felt underwhelming. Inverness had been in third place up until the final game of the season. The change in position narrowly ruled out European football. This along with a Scottish League Cup semi-final defeat to Hearts definitely showed serious progression from the Highland club.
Inverness started the following season in great form, sitting top of the table until the ninth matchday. Manager Terry Butcher left the club mid-season to take over Hibernian, leaving the club looking for a new manager. Eventually his replacement was named, John Hughes. There was scepticism amongst fans upon his announcement, but Hughes was soon to put that to rest. As the season progressed league form dipped, but the club achieved a credible fifth placed finish. However, the club managed to progress further in the Scottish League Cup during the season. Avenging Hearts for the prior season, Inverness made their first ever cup final. Sadly, it ended in heartbreak as they lost on penalties to Aberdeen.
It was the following season where Inverness made history. An incredible league campaign ended with the club in third place. The clubs highest ever league finish in Scotland’s top division. As a result of their league campaign the club earned qualification for European football, as they entered the Europa League second qualifying round the following season. An incredible achievement for the club, but there was more to come during that season. In the Scottish Cup, Inverness had put together an impressive run. Progressing to the semi-final against treble chasers Celtic. Inverness won the tie 3-2, setting up a final with Championship side Falkirk. Having secured European football, Inverness went into the Scottish Cup final with confidence. They went on to win the final 2-1, making history in the Highlands. It was Inverness’ first major national trophy as well as the first major national trophy won by a Highland club.
European football graced the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium for the first time the following season. Inverness were drawn with Romanian side Astra Giurgiu. Unfortunately, they lost 1-0 on aggregate but it’s an experience that will be cherished by all involved with the club. The league campaign resulted in a seventh placed finish for the club, with manager John Hughes leaving the club at the end of the season.
Hughes’ replacement came as a surprise to some, Richie Foran. He had spent seven years at the club as a player, six of those as club captain before retiring from playing in the Highlands. It was his first managerial role and unfortunately things didn’t go to plan as Inverness were relegated. Upon the clubs relegation, Foran was sacked.
That leads us to the current season, with the club in the Scottish Championship. League form has been steady thus far, with a midtable finish likely. The real success story of the season has been in the cup. Inverness have sealed a place in the final of the Challenge Cup where they’ll face Dumbarton.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle are a club younger than many of it’s staff, supporters and even the majority of those reading this article. They are becoming one of Scotland’s prominent football clubs and they’re making history. The clubs journey thus far has been incredibly interesting and that’s unlikely to change.