It’s been over 13 years since Steve Paterson’s part-time, first division Inverness Caledonian Thistle rocked Scottish football by defeating SPL giants Celtic 3-1 in a Scottish cup tie at Celtic Park. When you consider the club was formed by the merger of two highland league sides in 1994, it is astonishing at the time to think that fast forwarding to 2013 a 2-2 draw at the same venue could be bemoaned.
Terry Butcher’s Inverness were 2-0 up in Glasgow yesterday, and I can’t imagine the gaffer’s full time team talk being overly pleasant, but it is testament to Caley’s progress.
Due to relative youth in terms of existence Caley’s set up is far from being the best in the league. They’re training ground is not state of the art and their stadium is not a modern colosseum of comfortable seats fit for cup finals, but the football they play is unrivalled by anyone in the league bar Celtic.
They set their team out with two holding midfielders in front of the back four allowing their attackers to set a standard of slick passing and incisive counter attacking with high pressuring off the ball which is a breath of fresh air, especially at a time when Scottish football is in it’s darkest period. The highland side grab games by the scruff of the neck with their physical approach, and their team is abundant with leaders on the park.
And further credit has to be played when you look at the budget the Englishman has had to work with at Inverness. To call it shoestring would be being generous.
The population of the city is just under 58 000 – less than the capacity of Scotland’s largest stadium. They averaged just over 4000 fans at home last season, and even arranged for the first team squad to call season ticket holders to try and persuade them to renew – unsuccessfully. Even on a Saturday afternoon against the bigger sides in the league, the Tulloch Caledonian stadium is often a vast mausoleum, than an arena fit for the impressive football on show.
And it means Butcher can rarely hold on to the talent he miraculously attracts. The likes of Adam Rooney, Andy Shinnie, Jonny Hayes and Owain Tudur-Jones have all arrived for nothing, and simply because Caley don’t have the money to tie them down long term, have all left for nothing as well. The key men asserting deserved dominance in the top half for Caley at the moment including Doran and McKay have all been tied down until the Summer of 2015 – meaning the club can reap a priceless reward financially should they decide to cash in. And with Butcher’s track record for Thistle, you would put money on someone just as good coming in to replace them.
Their impressive start to the league season has further impressed everyone involved with Scottish football, and losing out on European football on the final day of last season has evidently only motivated the players further. Three wins and a draw at Celtic Park speaks for itself, and provided they can maintain their form throughout the season, there’s no reason to suggest European football is unfeasible for Caley.
It’s a far cry from their days in the lower divisions, and a desperately needed ray of light in Scotland at the moment, whether European nights entertaining some of the biggest teams on the continent could bring the fans back… Well, that remains to be seen.