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CHARLES BANNERMAN: Merging Caley Thistle and Ross County could solve financial woes!

By Charles Bannerman

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Charles Bannerman (inset) is a Caley Thistle shareholder.
Charles Bannerman (inset) is a Caley Thistle shareholder.

Mounting supporter and shareholder concerns about Caley Thistle’s financial wellbeing have been palpable.

Last week’s 11th-hour revelation, via external parties rather than the club, of grim accounts showing an £835,000 loss to May 2022 only heightened anxieties. Goodness therefore knows what’s happened in the critical and lengthy nine months since then, except that the ICT Concert Company, once touted as a potential saviour, went bust.

Then it emerged that the company’s AGM, which its own rules say should have been held by December 21, will happen on March 28. That initial announcement was concealed in the middle of a lengthy statement on behalf of chairman Ross Morrison, clearly to try to steady the ship and create confidence, as was chief executive Scot Gardiner’s assurance on Radio Scotland that the problems are survivable.

That looks highly dependent on the fortunes of the latest proposed range of non-football activities such as a battery farm, which we must trust will be more successful than the concert company.

So why this relentless financial insecurity?

As a sports journalist, an inaugural shareholder of 26 years’ standing and the official historian of the club’s 1994 formation, I’ve followed these things with interest.

There’s a myth that while Ross County has been generously subsidised by benefactors (which it has), ICT has somehow made its own way in life. However its financial plight exists despite consistent, heavy subsidy from multiple sources.

That started with a six-figure sum from the late ex-Provost Ian Fraser in 1996 before Tulloch’s lengthy input, reportedly worth up to £5 million, saved the club from oblivion in 2000. Across 2018 and 2019, a further money of new equity materialised to address large six-figure losses, much of that from the short-lived Muirfield Mills regime whose total share purchase appears to be relatively high six figures. David Sutherland’s personal input supplements the Tulloch lifesaver, and other wealthy individuals have continually contributed financial lifejackets through extensive share purchase, loans or donations.

And still the auditors question going concern status.

Realistically, the club has never been able to match its expenditure with real income. Over the years there have been various mistakes, but there’s another absolutely fundamental factor.

Back in 1993, I upset some people down south by telling a Radio Scotland audience that both Ross County and the still uncertain “Inverness bid” should fill both upcoming Scottish League vacancies. They of course did and rapidly justified this by progressing to the Premiership top six.

But what wasn’t foreseen was that while the inner Moray Firth could comfortably sustain two bottom division clubs, sourcing larger upper league income streams would be a lot more difficult.

I now believe that two biggish clubs in this local area aren’t sustainable without serious charity from the wealthy, and Ross County have far more stable – albeit not necessarily indefinite – benefactor arrangements. Currently, County are grimly hanging on in the Premiership with Inverness not even doing that.

An obvious business solution would be a merger into a single, much more substantial and viable entity, but this is football where tribalism and supporter resistance make such solutions (Inverness 1994 excepted) inconceivable. Football instead resorts to its own economics of the madhouse and 30 years of that have certainly contributed to, but don’t totally explain, Caley Thistle’s current predicament, despite decades of wellwishers bearing gifts.

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