Twenty years on from Parkhead, Caley Jags dare to dream again

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

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Sean Welsh marks a memorable anniversary in the club’s history as he strikes home the winner against Livingston.

FEBRUARY 8, 2000 – a date no Caley Jags fan will forget or no Celtic fan wants to remember. The night that Steve Pele Paterson’s Highland upstarts, not even six years of age as a new football club, knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup at Parkhead with a stirring 3-1 triumph as the Glasgow giants were rocked to the core. Only Berwick Rangers’ win over Glasgow Rangers in 1967 was as shocking in this oldest of knockout competitions.

I was a trainee reporter for the Highland News that night and had travelled down 10 days previously for the first scheduled meeting, which was called off just 30 minutes before kick-off due to wind ripping guttering off the roof of the Lisbon Lions Stand.

The sports editor of that time had already booked time off before the cup draw had pitched Caley Thistle against the Hoops, who were managed by England legend John Barnes. So, as the recent recruit who had moved from the same east end of Glasgow from which the drama unfolded, I jumped at the chance to cover what most folk expected to be a big day for the club, but nothing other than a routine Celtic win, even although they were far from formidable under that regime.

A week and a bit after the wind blew away the first tie amid fans’ fury after their time and money was wasted, it was back for a Tuesday rematch with the same expected outcome. Celtic did go into the game on the back of losing against Hearts from a winning position the weekend before but who would have expected ICT to play at such a level to win 3-1.

Barry Wilson headed the Inverness team ahead on 16 minutes, but home striker Mark Burchill almost immediately cancelled it out. Bobby Mann’s now famous effort was helped into the net by Lubomir Moravcik to make not only me in the press box think the impossible might just be possible. 

But, this was Celtic (a club notorious for responding) and the stopwatch wasn’t even at the 25-minute mark. Plenty of time for Celtic to reply and run out comfortable winners. No one told the boys in red and blue that and, following a half-time bust-up between home striker Mark Viduka and their assistant boss Eric Black, ICT midfielder Paul Sheerin’s 55th minute put the lid on a remarkable result, which was protected by brilliant defending, none more so than from goalkeeper Jim Calder, who Barry Wilson recently reminded me was simply outstanding that February night in Glasgow. 

The press reflections over the weekend, from local to national level, have been brilliant, with anecdotes aplenty. If you missed them, you’ll pluck many of these from the online editions for your entertainment.

The result, of course, meant the end for Barnes as the boss at Parkhead and in came Martin O’Neill, who helped dragged this embarrassed club back into winning mode, although the Caley Jags repeated a Scottish Cup win over the Hoops once more in 2003. I recall that amid the shock of it all, Celtic officials loaded a couple of the then tournament sponsors, Tennent’s products on to the team bus for the journey back north. That was a touch of class amid the media circus where Celtic were the story for the majority there.

On Saturday past, Caley Thistle – now battling to get out of the Championship – knocked out Premiership Livingston 1-0 at a bitterly cold and windswept Caledonian Stadium. To use manager John Robertson’s words, Livingston, fifth in the Premiership, have “been pulling up trees” this season and actually are the third best home side in the top-flight out with Celtic and Rangers.

Yet, they don’t travel quite as well and Robertson and his coaching staff noted how superbly Ross County played in surprisingly beating Livi 2-0 in midweek in Dingwall. Robertson mention how it really is like a man-to-man combat when you take on Gary Holt’s side and you have to let your quality shine through too. County did that wonderfully and two Billly Mckay goals earned the off-form Staggies an unlikely victory.

Inverness went toe-to-toe with the West Lothian visitors and crunched into tackles and handled the conditions much better. They attacked with the most menace and got their reward when experienced midfielder Sean Welsh swerved home a beauty of a free-kick just after the hour mark for a 1-0 win over their Premiership opponents.

This deserved win over the Lions shot John Robertson’s beaten semi-finalists from last season (against Hearts at Hampden) into the last eight once more. The surroundings of this particular cup upset might as well have been a million miles away from Celtic Park exactly 20 years on but again Caley Thistle showed that their love affair is far from ending with this competition.

Sunday’s quarter-final draw paired them with a tricky trip to Hibs, who got their job done earlier in the day by beating Lowland League side BSC Glasgow 4-1, inspired by a hat-trick from Marc McNulty. ICT are the only non-Premiership team left in the Scottish Cup now and, although Hibs will be strong favourites when they meet at Easter Road on February 29 or March 1, you just can’t write off Hearts legend Robbo continuing to shock with Inverness CT. The other ties are Hearts v Rangers, Motherwell or St Mirren v Kilmarnock or Aberdeen, and St Johnstone v Celtic.

This Sunday the Highlanders are back in cup action when they host Rangers Colts in the semis of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup. The winners will play Raith Rovers or Partick Thistle. The chance of reach a final and try and retain for the region the trophy Ross County won at the Caledonian Stadium last term is sure to spur ICT on.

If they can post back-to-back cup wins, then they’ll travel to runaway Championship leaders Dundee United in fine fettle in their bid to finish as runners-up going into the promotion play-offs.

  • Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on community station North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. Listen via the station’s website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers. Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook and, during show time, email your views or music  requests to studio@northhighlandradio.co.uk

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