Rely on Clach to bounce back after shock of Christmas blaze

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

JUST a few days after writing last week’s column about Clach’s long-standing warm welcome for all, it was devastating to see the Highland League club’s Grant Street home suffer a damaging fire on Christmas Eve.

The only HFL side in Inverness is at a crossroads, with a relatively recently appointed manager in Sandy McLeod now in charge and starting to see early shoots of recovery in what will be a long way back to competing at the top half of a division dominated by a few wealthy big-hitters.

Backed vitally by the Orion Group in the Highland capital, that funding for Clach no doubt pays for the kits and much travel and running costs, including for its conveyor belt of youngsters being looked after and coached locally.

The smart-looking Grant Street Park in Merkinch is one of the tidiest in the division, with its sponsors’ money put into best use by its hardy band of volunteers who have forever taken pride in the club.

Those gleaming white Lilywhite strips were pictured very differently in the press midweek following the fire, which reportedly began in the laundry room and destroyed the changing room and surrounding areas.

Clach chairman Alex Chisholm praised the swift work of the firefighters whose work helped prevent worse damage or any injuries.

He did describe it though as “catastrophic damage” and stressed that a “major repair and refurbishment project” is now needed.

Saturday’s HFL game v Formartine United was called off as a result of the fire and the team won’t take to the pitch there again until mid-January, which is only two weeks away.

Lots of messages of support have been forthcoming as well as offers of assistance from near and far.

Alex Chisholm stressed that the club has a history of bouncing back. This was an institution on the brink not too far in the past, but people rallying round to help turned the tide.

The goodwill I wrote of last week is clearly still there and that will be needed in spades as the club’s latest setback requires action without delay.

Caley Thistle finish year on a low – but promotion hopes remains very much alive

I TOOK in Saturday’s disappointing 1-0 home defeat for Caley Thistle against Arbroath in the Ladbrokes Championship.

It was a drab day, with rain lashing down at kick-off and it seemed the Highlanders could have played until Hogmanay without finding a way through their well-drilled and lively opponents.

I’ve spoken about this league often this season and Dundee United are almost certain now to win the title. Friday’s 1-1 derby draw with Dundee on Friday, allied with this ICT reversal, means the Tangerines are 14 points clear of Inverness at the top of the table.

Beanpole striker Luke Donnelly was a threat to ICT all day long and he got the only goal early in the second half for fired-up Arbroath.

This result comes on the back of Dick Campbell’s part-timers beating John Robertson’s team 3-0 at Gayfield last month.

Since then though, Caley Thistle hit back with five wins from six games before the weekend and a clean sheet record to match.

It was a low-calibre display, but the Inverness side have recently sent promotion rivals Dundee, Ayr United and Dunfermline Athletic away from the Caledonian Stadium pointless.

So, although this was a sour note to end the year on, ICT still deservedly sit second and that’s the position they realistically must aim for to avoid a two-leg promotion play-off quarter-final and do all they can to return to the Premiership.

A loss of almost £900,000 heightens the need for the club to bring in more money by competing at Scotland’s highest level.

Plenty more topics to be tackled in 2020

It’s been a busy 12 months since the launch of Inverness news and views and it’s been a pleasure to write about the key issues affecting this rich sporting area. I’m looking forward to tackling a wide range of topics in the months ahead.

May I wish you the very best for 2020 and the new decade that begins when the bells chime at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday. Have a great New Year!

  • Paul’s Alive and Kicking sports show airs on community station North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. Follow the Alive and Kicking Facebook page and contact Paul with your views, weekend predictions and music requests. Listen to NHR via the station’s website, the Tune In app or your smart speakers.

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