Location, location – problem has dogged Caley Jags all along

Sports news and views

by our sports correspondent  

IF Billy Urquhart is still known as “The Legend” among old-time Inverness Caley fans, the same accolade applies to Dave Milroy, the redoutable captain of Inverness Thistle. Centre-half Milroy, now 63, was arguably the best player to wear a Jags strip, a rock in the team who turned in consistently good performances week in, week out, year after year.

Legends together…Billy Urquhart and Dave Milroy.

I had a chat with him a couple of weeks ago while he was striding out for his daily exercise, at the Ness Islands. We didn’t touch much on football, inevitably the focus was on the virus, the impact, and the need to get out and about and retain a decent level of fitness. Milroy doesn’t look to have put on a pound of weight since his playing days, and still looks fit enough to floor any striker with the cheek to try and get past him.

Hard to believe lads like Milroy and Urquhart are now in their seventh decade.

Milroy, now a football ambassador for Caley Thistle, said last week that it was disappointing Inverness hasn’t more fully embraced the club since its formation 26 years ago.

He told the Inverness Courier: “I think the merger has been a good thing, but I don’t always think the city appreciates what the club have done for them.

“The club have set themselves standards they are trying to work towards and the support has a big part to play in helping them. There is a hardcore of great supporters at the club, but there is a floating support that doesn’t seem to come out.

“I don’t know where everyone has gone that was at Hampden five years ago when we won the Scottish Cup.”

Where have they gone indeed? A tumultuous day at Hampden was followed by an ecstatic celebration around the Northern Meeting Park, with thousands of people streaming home through the city draped in club colours after it was all over. It seems a very long way off now.

Floated away…thousands celebrated Caley Thistle’s Inverness homecoming after their historic Scottish Cup triumph.

Last year outgoing chairman Graham Rae said: “Getting people through the gate is a huge challenge. Attendances have been falling for 15 years in a row – other than the year we won the Scottish Cup. Last year in the Championship versus our last year in the Premiership, 30,000 less people came.”

So many different theories have been been floated as to why Inverness has not become a “footballing city” – which, given the low attendances at home matches – it self-evidently is not.

And they always head back in one direction – to the location of the stadium.

It was never going to be built on the Bught Park, or Dalneigh Park, or at Charleston, or any other area of open space where people living nearby recoiled at a prospect of a football stadium attracting potentially thousands of people becoming their near neighbours. Any push for those areas – and there were – was always going to fiercely resisted, home town football club or not.

So it ended up being built at an out of town location where the ambience for much of the season can be summed in two words – cold and bleak.

Fans filter into the Inverness stadium…but there aren’t enough of them.

It is not an alluring setting. That is simply unarguable.

Of course there have been many stirring occasions down there during the past quarter century.

But the floating fans that Dave Milroy describes have all too often floated away.

And a poor atmosphere inside a football stadium has a corrosive effect. The poorer the atmosphere, the more likely people are to stay away, and the poorer it becomes.

But those diehards still turn up through thick and thin. A friend, veteran season ticket-holder Kevin, clocked the temperature in the North Stand on one filthy winter night of sleet during a midweek match against Brechin City. Swathed in more layers than an Eskimo, he registered it at -5C.

It’s all a far cry from Telford Street Park or Kingsmills in the Milroy/Urquhart era, where a 4,000 crowd at an Inverness derby, or against arch-rivals Elgin City in particular, set the fans buzzing when they were still a quarter of a mile from the ground.

But that’s all history now.

Inverness – like Perth as one example – is not a “footballing city” and despite the club exploring every conceivable way of attracting more support, isn’t going to become one.

Stirring days and great achievements still lie ahead. Dads take their sons along to create a new generation of football supporters. There is still much that is positive about Inverness Caley Thistle. Those most centrally involved do sterling work to keep the club at a full-time professional level. Their commitment is priceless – never more so than in the current dire situation.

And the club can still rely on the devotion and resilience of that significantly large hardcore of diehards, who right now can’t wait to get their Saturday afternoon football fix again. But it’s undoubtedly a struggle, and there’s no sign that the chaos that surrounds football at the moment will make it any less difficult in the wholly uncertain times ahead.

New strip at least is a winner with the fans

Caley Thistle’s new strip has won the approval of many supporters…now when will it get first get muddied?

NO-ONE as yet knows when Caley Thistle will be back in action but when they do reappear it will be in a stylish new strip which has gained widespread approval from the fans.

The club has signed a new deal with PUMA, one of the best-known names in world sport, which sends out a welcome positive message at a time of unprecedented football uncertainty.

Club CEO Scot Gardiner said “I am delighted to conclude this prestigious partnership for the club and having worked closely with the team at PUMA in previous years, I know very well the reputation of this worldwide sportswear brand and the quality of their product.

“We have looked at the first 25 years of ICTFC kit and we believed that it was time to try and recapture an identity for our home kit in particular. The many people we discussed previous years designs with all seemed to be thinking along the same lines and I hope the fans are in agreement.”

“We will look to launch pre-orders for the home kit early next week with delivery later in the summer due to COVID-19. Our striking new PUMA Away kit will be revealed in short order as well, along with a brand new training wear range. I know that manager John Robertson, the players and everyone associated with the club are looking forward to working with PUMA.”

Also joining the club as new partners ar Intelligent Land Investments. They will be the main shirt sponsor of the club with their company logo on both home and away jerseys.

Caley Thistle fans have registered a range of approving comments online about the new-look attire.

All that remains now is the arrival of decisive information amid continuing debate over league reconstruction about when it will be on display in match action – and when the immaculate new strips will get muddied.

Old Firm will NEVER be accepted in England

REPORTS circulated in some papers last week about the prospect of the covid crisis sweeping across the national game increasing the chances of Rangers and Celtic being accepted into one of the English leagues, maybe even the second-tier Championship.

The theory was that the huge fan base and travelling support the Old Firm clubs would provide could be welcomed by lower tier clubs struggling for financial survival.

The speculation helped fill space for sportswriters short of live action to report on.

Police forces across England would block any attempts by the Old Firm and their mass of fans heading regularly to towns and cities south of the border.

But it was a space-filler – and that’s all it amounted to.

Rangers and Celtic are never going to be allowed into any league south of the border, not next year, not in 10 years time, not ever.

Even if some clubs were favourable Her Majesty’s forces of law and order would kill it stone dead. The police increasingly call the shots nowadays when it comes to intervention on football – match arrangements, kick-off times – and the prospect of 20,000 Rangers or Celtic fans descending on Middlesbrough or Sunderland – or – the mind boggles, to be welcomed by the large hooligan element at Birmingham City and Leeds, would be the stuff of nightmares for them.

Burnley, Sunderland, Newcastle, and of course Manchester – all have seen both Rangers and Celtic fans on the rampage. A couple of years ago it was 40 years since Rangers fans rioted at a “friendly” match at Aston Villa and turned parts of the city into a war zone. The local paper considered the occasion so memorable that it did a special 40-years-on picture spread on the mayhem. Times have changed and behaviour is now much improved, but events like “The Battle of Villa Park” are not easily forgotten. 

Every chief constable in England would demand a personal meeting with the Home Secretary to present an impassioned argument against the Glasgow giants heading south.

So it’s not going to happen. And nothing arising from the worst health crisis in decades has the remotest chance of changing that.

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