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Inverness Caley Thistle shareholder on the rise and fall of the football club

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ICT shareholder, sports journalist and author Charles Bannerman assesses where it all went wrong for Caley Thistle

Charles Bannerman outside Caledonian Stadium.
Charles Bannerman outside Caledonian Stadium.

Historians say that the roots of the First World War lie not in an assassination in June 1914, but as far back as the Roman Empire. Similarly, Inverness Caledonian Thistle's relegation disaster isn't really due to losing to Hamilton or even to season 2023-24, but has roots extending back three decades to 1993, before the club was even formed.

Then, I strongly believed Caley Thistle and Ross County should get both available Scottish League vacancies, and the two meeting in the Premiership top six in 2013 certainly didn't contradict that. However hindsight has radically changed that view, since it's emerged that while the inner Moray Firth could comfortably sustain two small clubs, that ceased to be the case after meteoric progress converted both into much larger entities. The result is two fundamentally loss-making bodies, both heavily dependent on other people's money.

Despite regular and dependable major financial support (in the last 10 years alone, its parent company has written off £11.4 million in loans), Ross County is still just hanging on at the bottom of the Premiership. Meanwhile, Caley Thistle is currently far less stable, with a more uncertain funding model of apparently passing the hat round wealthy benefactors.

In both cases, earnings fall well short of expenditure, but in Inverness the lack of stable subsidy means that financial catastrophe is never far away. However I'd still estimate that, since 2000, possibly £10 million of other people's money has gone in there and, apart from a stadium and memories, there's not a bean to show for it. That's based on aggregating Tulloch Homes' £5 million contribution up to around 2015 with substantial share uptakes (for instance almost £1 million from the Muirfield Mills consortium) and significant, but quite private gestures that currently seem especially crucial. I therefore infer that the welcome news that eventually broke on Tuesday evening that full-time football would continue in League One, may well be thanks to more of the same.

A football club's success doesn't, of course, derive solely from fiscal security; it depends jointly on both financial and footballing acumen. A series of managers up to Terry Butcher worked miracles on the pitch, paving the way for John Hughes to win the Scottish Cup. However it all went wrong under Richie Foran, culminating in Premiership relegation in 2017. Since then both finances and football have slid steadily downhill, leading to the current situation.

It's not actually clear how much of the footballing decline is due to poor management and recruitment, and how much to lack of resources. For instance is the current plethora of loanees, who can return to their parent clubs with no sense of consequence, a management choice or something enforced by finance?

Caley Thistle manager Duncan Ferguson after relegation was confirmed on Saturday.
Caley Thistle manager Duncan Ferguson after relegation was confirmed on Saturday.

Last September, CEO Scot Gardiner publicly took credit for recruiting manager Duncan Ferguson. However this appointment dramatcally cooled with the fans as it become increasingly clear that the relegation hole wasn't going to be dug out of.

Financial transparency has been a major issue. The latest available accounts, showing losses of £835,000, are two years old and figures to May 2023 are now due next week, after an accounting gymnastic secured a three-month delay. In 2022, we were told that the Caley Thistle concert company would be a financial panacea... until it collapsed under huge losses amid various “no comments”. This left local traders out of pocket, creating a further hole in rapidly disintegrating local goodwill towards the club, which city business people frequently tell me is especially acute in their community. Fan morale is lower than I have ever known in the club's 30 years, with ever-more vigorous demands for resignations, both football and non-football.

I was mortified at the last AGM in April 2023, held four months past its deadline, to learn that before the concert company collapsed, the club had managed to extract a substantial stadium rental for itself. So much for goodwill.

And then there's the battery farm, the latest attempt to bridge the gap between earnings (which are no longer revealed in accounts) and expenditure. Here, despite lessons that might have been gleaned from the concert fiasco, it seems that once again it never occurred to anyone that something could possibly go wrong.... until Highland Council refused planning permission. So, what’s happening with the Scottish Government appeal? Has the original £3.4 million offer been withdrawn?

This relegation is therefore the latest unforeseen consequence of decisions initially made 30 years ago whose legacy, latterly, has not been managed especially well. The upshot, in a fundamentally loss-making environment, has been the current alarming descent down the Scottish football ladder.

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