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  • Scotty

    2004-05 – SPL Football in Inverness

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    Another momentous season - a new manager, top-flight survival, half a season at ‘home' in Pittodrie, two new stands at the renamed Tulloch Caledonian Stadium and SPL football in Inverness. The club's second decade started on 10 July with a friendly at Brora - just 24 hours after finally gaining entry to the Bank of Scotland Premierleague. It had been a long, hard struggle after winning the First Division Championship, but the uncertainty ended thanks to a groundshare arrangement with Aberdeen, a positive vote by the SPL member clubs and the cessation of appeals by Partick Thistle.

    Another momentous season - a new manager, top-flight survival, half a season at ‘home' in Pittodrie, two new stands at the renamed Tulloch Caledonian Stadium and SPL football in Inverness. The club's second decade started on 10 July with a friendly at Brora - just 24 hours after finally gaining entry to the Bank of Scotland Premierleague. It had been a long, hard struggle after winning the First Division Championship, but the uncertainty ended thanks to a groundshare arrangement with Aberdeen, a positive vote by the SPL member clubs and the cessation of appeals by Partick Thistle.

    Replacements in the squad were required for Charlie Christie (retired), Bobby Mann (to Dundee), Paul Ritchie (to Brechin) and David Bingham (to Gretna). Graham Bayne (from Ross County) was already in place, after signing a pre-contract agreement. Stuart Golabek succeeded Bobby Mann as captain and July signings were defenders Darren Dods and Richard Hastings (returning for his second spell at the club), midfielders Liam Fox and Ian Black and Spanish forward Juanjo Carricondo Perez.   

    The players returned for pre-season training not knowing where they would be playing but by the time they visited Brora the future was clearer. They romped home 7-0 but this was followed by disappointing draws at Huntly (1-1) and Lossiemouth (0-0). The usual diet of local friendlies was supplemented by visits to Inverness by Queens Park Rangers and Hartlepool with both matches ending 1-1. Sandwiched between these games were a 10-2 win away to Deveronvale and a 1-1 draw at Forfar. A 5-0 away win at Elgin was followed by a 6-0 home victory against Clach in the Inverness Courier Challenge Cup - Charlie Christie captained the side to mark his retiral. The final pre-season match was a 3-1 home win against Ross County in the semi-final of the Inverness Cup.

    Behind the scenes preparations were being made for a season on the road but the burden of travel to/from Aberdeen was eased by sponsorship from Rapsons. Season ticket sales were brisk despite the 200-mile return trip for each home game. Inverness Medical confirmed that their shirt sponsorship would continue with a new ‘One Touch' logo. Morven Reid took the hot seat as Operations Manager. Sandy MacKenzie replaced Kenny Cameron on the board at the start of the season but, in December, he stood down in favour of former chairman David Sutherland. Emily Goodlad relinquished her post as physio in November and David Brandie took over.

    The First Division championship flag was presented to the club on Friday 6 August by Lord Macfarlane at an Inverness Town House ceremony, and 24 hours later the SPL adventure started at Livingston. A comprehensive 3-0 defeat brought everyone back down to earth. The national media poured criticism on the Highlanders and made them firm relegation favourites. The Herald's chief sports writer Graham Speirs was a prominent prophet of doom and he promised to eat his hat if ICT avoided the dreaded drop back to the SFL. He was to eat both his words and his hat!

    The first ‘home' SPL match at Pittodrie on Sunday 15August was successful on the field (a 2-0 win against Dunfermline) but the attendance was not great. It was announced as 1972 but this apparently failed to include season tickets - the number was understood to be nearer 3000. The honour of scoring the club's first SPL goal went to skipper Stuart Golabek. The crowd on the 22nd was rather greater for the visit of Celtic live on Setanta TV. The defining moment of the afternoon was the 17th minute red card for Juanjo after an altercation with Neil Lennon. Lennon went down and a penalty was awarded - TV evidence vindicated Juanjo and he was declared innocent following an appeal to the SFA. ICT had to play on with ten men and succumbed 3-1. On the 24th there was a CIS Cup tie away to Ross County and a narrow 1-0 victory. The final SPL match of August was a 2-1 defeat away to Dundee United on the 28thand ICT ended August in eleventh place. The squad was strengthened in early August by the signing of Scotland Under-21 striker Bryan Prunty from Aberdeen.

    It was back along the A96 to Aberdeen on the 11th to play Hibs who won 2-1. On Sunday 19 September it was another first - a visit to Ibrox. The home side were clear favourites and they did win, but it was a close 1-0. On 22 September it was the third round of the CIS cup against Motherwell. An SFA/SFL dispensation to play the tie at home came with strings attached - the terracing and enclosure could not be used. For those unable to make it to Pittodrie this was a chance to see their team in Inverness, but it was no happy homecoming.  Motherwell ran out worthy 3-1 winners against a below-par ICT.

    The following Saturday when Robbo took his team to Tynecastle but it was not a happy day. Hearts won 1-0 and injuries compounded the misery. Richie Hart left the field with a back spasm then Steve Hislop was stretchered off with torn knee ligaments. With no points in September, Caley Thistle propped up the SPL.

    October started with two ‘home' matches - a 1-1 draw with Motherwell then a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen. There was a well-won point at Kilmarnock on the 23rd and a 2-1 victory against Dundee the following Wednesday thanks to two Graham Bayne goals. Reserve ‘keeper Mike Fraser came on for the injured Mark Brown with three minutes left - his first appearance after 69 bench slots.

    On Sunday 24 October there was great sadness at the passing of Honorary Life-President Norman Miller, after a short illness. Norman was a former chairman of Caledonian and was deeply involved in the Caledonian/Thistle merger. What eventually proved to be John Robertson's last game in charge was a 2-0 victory against Livingston at Pittodrie on the 30th. Seven points out of a possible nine in three October matches pushed ICT up to ninth and earned John Robertson the ‘Manager of the Month' award. When Hearts manager Craig Levein was appointed manager of Leicester City John Robertson was immediately touted as favourite to replace him. An approach was made to ICT and, with compensation settled, Robertson was unveiled as Hearts new head coach on 3 November. Donald Park went with him and the search began for a successor. Parky agreed to take charge on a caretaker basis for the away 1-1 draw at Dunfermline on the sixth before heading for Edinburgh. Thus the Robertson/Park era came to an end and it was time to move on.

    At the PLC's AGM on 8 November a proposal to convert back to a private company was put forward - this would release the company from the restraints of the Stock Exchange and allow an investor to hold in excess of 30% of shares without the need to bid for all shares. A show of hands was 81/10 in favour, but a full poll resulted in 65% for and 35% against - with 75% needed to pass the motion it failed. This caused a major row which threatened the economic fabric of the club. The economic uncertainty led to a delay in the appointment of a new manager. John Docherty and Charlie Christie took charge for two games and had a baptism of fire on the 13th - Celtic in Glasgow and a 3-0 defeat. Their second match was a 1-1 draw with Dundee United match.

    The failed bid to revert to a private company resulted in major shareholders Tulloch being unable to commit new funds to the club. In turn this created an air of confusion around the club but, following behind-the-scenes meetings, the fog gradually began to lift. The search for a new manager was declared over on 25 November with the unveiling of Craig Brewster and Rangers' coach Malcolm Thomson. Charlie Christie took over the role of first team coach. The Brewster/Thomson era began at Easter Road on 27 November. Juanjo gave a 34th minute lead but, in a very tight match, Hibs came back to win 2-1. ICT finished the month in ninth place but the relegation zone was very crowded.

    Foundation work for two new stands to meet SPL standards had already taken place but full construction work began on 29 November. The necessity for this to be completed before the end of the season was clear, but there was a new sense of urgency when an early return to Inverness became a possibility. Informal soundings of SPL chairmen revealed support for this move. Timing was now vital and an SPL board meeting held the key. If an early return was to be allowed, the target date was the home match against Dunfermline on 29 January.

    A book covering the club's ten-year history, ‘Going Ballistic!' by club historian Ian Broadfoot, was launched on 1 December at a buffet lunch in Caledonian Stadium, attended by 40 guests. The event was fully covered by the media and the resultant publicity helped to ensure bumper sales in the run-up to Christmas. It was marketed through the club shop, the web site, Debenhams and bookshops in Inverness, Nairn, Elgin and Grantown. Any doubts about its economic viability were soon dispelled by healthy sales and, on the day of the staff Xmas party (21 December) it was announced that it was the number one best seller in Inverness.

    In early December there were two decisive Pittodrie SPL matches - against Rangers on the fifth and Hearts on the 11th. Remarkably both ended 1-1. The Scottish Cup third round draw took place on the day of the Hearts game and St Johnstone were drawn at home. Building work at the stadium led to a switch to Dingwall. Between the Rangers and Hearts matches - on 7 December - there were celebrations in Inverness as the five-man SPL executive voted unanimously to allow the club to play SPL games at Caledonian Stadium from 29 January - on condition that 6000 covered seats were provided and under-soil heating was installed.

    An EGM of the PLC was arranged for 20 December to revisit the conversion to a private company and this time the motion was passed on a unanimous show-of-hands. Work on the two new stands had already started but this vote strengthened the economic backing. The total cost of the two stands was estimated at £1m with Highland Council lending £400,000, matching funds from Tulloch PLC and the football club investing £200,000. The timetable was very tight but steelwork appeared above ground on 17 December and within days the shape of the south stand was clearly visible. Despite snow, frost and even a hurricane, Tulloch's army of workmen kept the project on target for 29 January. There were two more away matches before the turn of the year - a 2-1 win at Motherwell a 0-0 draw away to Aberdeen.

    Monday 3 January 2005 was a busy day on all fronts - the last ‘home' match at Pittodrie and the start of undersoil heating installation at Caledonian Stadium. The 2-0 defeat by Kilmarnock was very disappointing given a good ICT performance. The Pittodrie groundshare started amidst a wave of enthusiasm for SPL football but nerves jangled as the true cost became known. In the end all was well and firm friendships were built between the Inverness and Pittodrie staff leading to mixed feelings when the final ‘home' game in the far east was over. Craig Brewster's playing debut was delayed until the Scottish Cup tie against St Johnstone on 9 January. It felt strange to play at ‘home' in Dingwall and it took a goal from captain Stuart Golabek to snatch a 1-0 victory.

    Amidst difficult conditions work at Caledonian Stadium continued and on Saturday 8 January the last length of undersoil heating pipe was laid. This gave the pitch three weeks to recover before the first SPL match. With the cladding on the south stand nearly complete and the framing of the north stand well under-way Tulloch were confident that all would be ready for 29 January. There were two SPL matches before the Inverness return - at Dens Park on the 15th Dundee won 3-1 despite one of the best ICT displays of the season and a week later there was revenge at Almondvale as Livingston were whipped 4-1. On 20 January Craig Brewster announced his first signing; Danish midfielder Bajram Fetai joined from Rangers on loan until the end of the season.

    The final stage in the stadium upgrading exercise was the formal granting of the appropriate certificates then on 27 January Tulloch chairman David Sutherland formally handed back the upgraded stadium to the club and it was all systems go. Saturday 29 January was another historic day in the short history of the club as the upgraded stadium (now the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium) was formally opened and the team ran out to play Dunfermline. The build up to the match had captivated the north and the home stands were a sell-out. It was  on with the show and any worries about a let-down disappeared as Caley Thistle began to dominate and Barry Wilson scored a classic goal in 35 minutes to give a deserved lead. The scoring was completed by Craig Brewster's goal in 74 minutes. Three valuable points, eighth place at the end of January, and a nine point gap over bottom club Livingston.

    The following Saturday it was round four of the Scottish Cup and another A96 trip to play Aberdeen at Pittodrie. It ended in a 2-1 defeat. The following Tuesday Forres were beaten 4-1 in the final of the Inverness Cup. Sunday 13February was a major date in the calendar - Celtic's first visit to Inverness on league business. It was a sell-out and fans flocked from all over the country. They were devastated when overnight snow caused a late cancellation due to a waterlogged pitch. That left just one more match in February - 1-1 away to Dundee United on the 19th. Caley Thistle now lay 8th - ten points clear of Livingston at the foot.

    On 17 February 80 supporters attended the inaugural meeting of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Supporters Trust. The meeting was chaired by MP David Stewart and a guest speaker was James Proctor of the Trust movement's parent body Supporters Direct. Names were taken of those interested in assisting with the Trust formation and a steering group assembled. This group quickly set to work and the launch date was set for 25 August.

    Hibs came to town on Wednesday 2 March and were soundly beaten 3-0. Three days later it was back to Ibrox and the home faithful were stunned when Bryan Prunty’s last-minute goal earned the Highlanders a point. The purple patch continued the following week at Tynecastle when John Robertson’s side were beaten 2-0. These results were no flukes – the team was playing with a confidence and spirit that was a joy to behold and relegation worries were beginning to fade. The rearranged visit of Celtic on the 16th was not quite so successful. Celtic won 2-0 but it was a sign of the times that home fans were so disappointed. March’s performances were, however, enough to earn Craig Brewster the Bank of Scotland Premierleague manager of the month award. Into April and a home 1-0 defeat to Aberdeen on the second then a 1-0 win at Kilmarnock on the 9th pushed ICT up to seventh. Motherwell came north on Tuesday 12th and ICT won 1-0. There was just one match to go before the top six places were decided and Motherwell were just three points ahead.

    It all came to a head on Saturday 16th with Dundee as visitors to Inverness. ICT were 3-0 up after 65 minutes and Motherwell were one down at Kilmarnock. A top six finish was possible at that point but two Dundee goals and a Motherwell equaliser ended all hopes. The 3-2 victory did however ensure that SPL survival was a mathematical certainty. At least eighth place was assured and there was now little to play for except pride and the additional cash if seventh place was secured. Fringe players were given the chance to shine but the results of the last five matches were disappointing – 0-0 away to Dunfermline, 1-2 at Kilmarnock, 0-1 at home to Livingston, 1-1 at Dundee and finally a 1-0 defeat to Dundee United. The United game on 21 May brought down the curtain on a fantastic season but the defeat meant that Kilmarnock took seventh spot. Home fans were disappointed with the tail-end results but eighth was still a remarkable achievement.

    Ross Tokely’s tremendous season led to him scooping the pool with all five player awards. Mark Brown started all 42 games although an October injury put this in doubt. In the event reserve ‘keeper Mike Fraser made two substitute appearances but Brown’s 100% starting record was intact. Brown also finished the season having played 133 games in a row – an ever present for three seasons. Graham Bayne played in all 42 games of 2004-05 but his total included eight substitute appearances. Top goalscorer was Barry Wilson with ten.

    Copyright to and used with permission of
    Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC Club Historian - Ian Broadfoot

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