THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
CALEY Thistle fans should feel used to it by now. But being shafted once more by the powers-that-be on a big cup occasion doesn’t make it all the more acceptable.
The 25-year-old Inverness club have a superb big-hitting history in knock-out competitions, none more so than in the flagship Scottish Cup. The Championship side did remarkably well last weekend to defeat Premiership visitors Livingston 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals.
Their reward for beating the Livi Lions was an away draw against top-flight Hibs. John Robertson’s Highlanders are the only non-Premiership side left in this season’s Scottish Cup.
Cup draws when your team is still involved are one of the highlights as a supporter and when Hibs v ICT was confirmed the Caley Jags fans were thinking of a football trip to Edinburgh and just waited to hear whether it would be February 29 or March 1, a Saturday or Sunday, as we were told it would be.
The period between that draw and the confirmation of the dates was filled with discussions between tournament organisers, the Scottish FA, the interested broadcasters and, to a lesser extent, the clubs. That is the point when Friday football was added as an option – February 28.
BBC Scotland and Premier Sports would no doubt have bid for the ties they wanted. Hearts v Rangers and St Johnstone v Celtic would top their wish lists, but with the Glasgow giants involved in Europa League ties on the preceding Thursday, any chance of their cup fixtures being on the Friday were zero.
So, with one of the BBC Scotland slots being on Friday (Feb 28) it left the cut and dried option of Hibs v ICT or the unresolved Motherwell or St Mirren v Kilmarnock or Aberdeen. These replays are this coming Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
Caley Thistle beating Hibs at Easter Road would be an interesting watch for neutrals around the country, so the possibility of that happening would clearly appeal. Obviously the folk it appeals to most – the Caley Jags supporters – were last on the list of who the decision impacts on and it was settled, Friday it is.
Hearts v Rangers then Motherwell/St Mirren v Kilmarnock/Aberdeen ties will unfold on Saturday night and the Perth Saints v holders Celtic kicks off on the Sunday at 3pm.
The only sensible decision (now we have our own BBC Scotland AND BBC Alba channels) was to screen the Easter Road tie on Sunday, at say 2pm. St Johnstone v Celtic could easily start at 4pm. The rival broadcasters surely could have shaken hands on that for the greater good.
Instead, Inverness fans will have to, without too much notice, get the afternoon off work and travel through (the outskirts of) Perth then Edinburgh at choked spells at the end of the working week. There’s no chance, fans have pointed out, of getting a train back from the Scottish capital to the Highland capital at full-time, so that’s more cash required to stay in Edinburgh and journey back on the Saturday.
This is not the first time that supporters from the Highlands (and that includes Ross County) have been priced out of contention from a big moment in the season. Robbo’s players have done brilliantly to get to the quarter-finals again, but there’s far from any certainty that it will happen again next year or for how many years after that.
Let’s just hope that Robbo, riled by this latest injustice, will use that to inspire his men to ram that down the throats of their hosts and book a second successive semi-final at the National Stadium, which would no doubt also be arranged for an equally awkward date and time.
Geography makes it tough enough for north of Scotland fans to back their favourite teams on away days such as this. It’s our national knock-out competition and therefore the entire country must be taken into consideration when the beaks do the talking.
- Speaking of ICT fans, a date for the diary is Saturday, March 21 when the ICT Supporters Trust host a 25th Anniversary Legends Evening at the Caledonian Stadium.
Tickets, which covers your food, are priced at £25 (so £1 per year of existence) and available via Facebook using the above event name in your search.
There have been plenty of highs for Caley Thistle, far outweighing the lows, and memories of big moments will be played out on screen in the company of many of the heroes who created them.
Just some of those expected to attend are Charlie Christie, Bobby Mann, Ross Tokely, Barry Wilson, David Bingham, Paul Ritchie, Josh Meekings and Stuart Golabek.
Join Billy’s drive to bring troubled Clach home
‘IN with the bricks’ is a great phrase to describe someone who is part of the fixtures and fittings.
When thinking of Highland League club Clach, there are many people who have committed so much time and effort for so long to keep things in good working order on and off the pitch.
That’s why the fire on Christmas Eve which tore through the laundry and changing rooms and damaged the boardroom at Grant Street Park was gut-wrenching for so many involved at the club from chairman Alex Chisholm right down.
The Merkinchers had no option to postpone their home fixture with Nairn County on Saturday after Highland Rugby Club had kindly helped them play two matches at Canal Park, against Fort William and Forres Mechanics. On this occasion, Highland were unable to help, so it was match postponed.
The club is not awash with money and has been grateful for many years for the financial assistance from official sponsors, the Orion Group.
Clach, who have been close to the brink and lived to tell the tale, are down the wrong end of the table and in desperate need of a lift. In adversity, those who value the Lilywhites rally round and it’s no different this time.
Billy Corbett, a painter and decorator to trade, is certainly in with the bricks at Grant Street and has pretty much worn every hat possible during a lifetime involvement with Clach. In less than a week, his Facebook campaign called ‘William’s personal fundraiser for Clachnacuddin Football Club’ has raised a whopping £1750 (and is rapidly rising) to try and get the fire-hit club the basic changing and other facilities in place which would allow games to take place at their home once more.
It must be stressed that it was the Clach Supporters Trust who got the ball rolling in this pursuit and Billy has added his experience to help the cause.
He’s also taking part in the fun run element of the Inverness Half Marathon on March 8 with money raised from this going to the trust who will pass on to the club. Please have a look at Billy’s page and help if you can.
- Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm.
Caley Thistle and the Highland League are always on the agenda and you can follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook for the latest show news or to get in touch with Paul. Listen via the station’s website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers.
The show is currently featuring exclusive interviews with drivers who will be competing in the Coogie Urquhart Snowman Rally on March 7. The community station, which is completely run by volunteers, will bring unrivalled coverage of this year’s Snowman.