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Inverness Caley Thistle in talks with Highland Council to create a groundbreaking women's football and community complex costing up to £2 million; the site beside Inverness Royal Academy could provide a dedicated base for ICTWFC and the girls' academy, as well as North Caledonian League Inverness Athletic, ICT boys under 18s and others – with grant funding sought from UK and Scottish Government sources, the National Lottery, Sportscotland and corporate businesses

By Alasdair Fraser

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Caley Thistle's proposed major football development site beside Inverness Royal Academy
Caley Thistle's proposed major football development site beside Inverness Royal Academy

Ambitious moves are afoot to create a “game-changing” £1-2 million mecca for women’s and community football in the Highlands.

Caley Thistle are in advanced talks with Highland Council to secure a 50 or 99-year lease of eight acres of disused playing fields beside Inverness Royal Academy.

There, the Scottish Championship club would seek funding to build a state-of-the-art base for the women’s team and the charitable ICTFC Community Trust.

In what is believed to be a unique development for Scottish women’s football, the complex would serve as a dedicated home ground for the SWF Championship North club.

Even the all-time most successful Scottish women’s club, Glasgow City, borrows its ‘home’ ground, Petershill Park, from a junior men’s side, while sharing with Partick Thistle women.

The complex would feature at least one, possibly two, enclosed grass “show” pitches of the same dimensions as Glasgow’s Hampden Park’s surface.

There would be office and changing room buildings and a number of seven-a-side surfaces.

The complex would also serve the women’s under-18s and development teams, as well as the newly-created ICT girls’ academy, set up after the recent collapse of Thistle Girls FC, comprising 145 five to 16-year-olds.

Broadening its appeal further, the North Caledonian League’s currently homeless Inverness Athletic amateur side would be given a permanent home pitch.

Caley Thistle under-18s boys – but not the men’s first team who will continue training at Fort George – would be allowed to use the facility, while ICT community offerings such as walking football, fit for fans and the Alzheimer’s activities would relocate.

Once established in various investment phases, it is estimated that tens of thousands of local community and amateur footballers of all abilities would be able to benefit from free or rental access every year.

There are currently only half a dozen or so grass pitches available for hire in the city.

Caley Thistle remains a club with limited spending power.

But using the community trust as its vehicle, funding would be sought from a host of sources including sportscotland, the UK government’s department for digital, culture, media and sport, the National Lottery, corporate sponsorship, and other Scottish and UK government sources including a new flooded pitch fund.

Through the Trust, Caley Thistle also plans to create a new club lottery called Nessie’s Numbers to help directly fund the project.

The biggest expenditure would involve major drainage works to ease flooding issues and replace topsoil to modern standards at the 1970s-created playing fields.

Club chief executive Scot Gardiner, when contacted by the Courier, was reluctant to say too much about the project, describing talks as being at a sensitive stage.

ICT Chief Executive Officer Scot Gardiner. Picture: Callum Mackay.
ICT Chief Executive Officer Scot Gardiner. Picture: Callum Mackay.

He has already spoken to girls’ academy parents and Inverness Royal Academy parents council to outline his club’s ambitions.

But he confirmed he was hopeful that “exciting, game-changing” proposals could be realised given widespread expressions of support he and sporting director John Robertson had received among public agencies and politicians.

“The club, as it has shown by stepping in to revive Thistle Girls in the new ICT girls’ academy, wants to be a pillar of this community, a really positive force for good in the city,” Mr Gardiner said.

“To that end, we are exploring a project that John Robertson and I believe would be a game-changer for women’s football, for our academies and for our whole community set-up.

“Highland Council have been pragmatic but supportive. We look forward to working with them further to realise what would be a really exciting development for sport in Inverness and the Highlands.”

ICT sporting director John Robertson with chief executive Scot Gardiner,
ICT sporting director John Robertson with chief executive Scot Gardiner,

If realised, the project would also see the old Inverness Royal Academy athletics track restored.

It is understood that Caley Thistle hope to be able to reach an agreement and sign off the proposal by June this year.

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