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'We support you' – Inverness Caley Thistle's ambitious plans for a women's and community football hub gets the thumbs up from MP Drew Hendry, Scottish Women's Football CEO Aileen Campbell, the SFA, John Robertson and Inverness Royal Academy parents' council

By Alasdair Fraser

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John Robertson at the playing fields opposite Inverness Royal Academy: John Robertson, Inverness Caledonian Thistle Sporting Director, standing in the vacant playing field adjacent to Inverness Royal Academy. Picture: James Mackenzie.
John Robertson at the playing fields opposite Inverness Royal Academy: John Robertson, Inverness Caledonian Thistle Sporting Director, standing in the vacant playing field adjacent to Inverness Royal Academy. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Moves to create a groundbreaking new football mecca in Inverness have drawn wholehearted endorsement from leading political, sporting and community figures.

As reported earlier this year, Caley Thistle wants to create Scotland’s first dedicated home ground for a women’s football club on largely disused playing fields opposite Inverness Royal Academy.

The project, costing up to £2 million, would serve as a hub for Caley Thistle Women and the fast-growing girls’ game, while also providing a permanent base for the charitable ICTFC Community Trust.

Many other teams and organisations could benefit, including currently homeless amateurs Inverness Athletic.

Caley Thistle, who took a slender lead in the Premiership play-off against Partick Thistle this week, is seeking a 50 to 99-year lease of the land from Highland Council to help lever investment from other sources.

One, possibly two, enclosed show pitches would be complemented by surrounding seven-a-side surfaces, offices and changing facilities.

The biggest chunk of expenditure would involve major drainage works and the replacement of topsoil to modern standards.

Inverness MP Drew Hendry led voices praising the football club’s ambition and vision.

He said: “This is a great opportunity to reinvent the sports field as a modern, fit-for-purpose facility.

MP Drew Hendry.
MP Drew Hendry.

“It would open up opportunities for many young people, especially girls taking part in the growing sport of women’s football.

“For our city, it is important to make sure that we develop facilities good enough to encourage success. Local people will have to be included in the process and I am certain that those discussions will take place.”

Aileen Campbell, the CEO of Scottish Women’s Football and a former Scottish Government cabinet secretary, said: “The club’s ambition and scale of vision is to be applauded.

“Facilities across Scotland can be a real challenge so anything that enables more girls and more women to enjoy the sport we all love is a positive step.

Past Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell.
Past Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell.

“Of course, this will be subject to all of the regular planning approvals and funding applications, but we applaud the club for seeking to grow the game for girls and women in this important part of Scotland.”

Graeme Sutherland, the Scottish Football Association’s north regional manager, organises football festivals and other events every year for thousands of young people.

He said: “Reinstating that unused area would be hugely positive from an SFA perspective.

“I have no doubt this will be a real asset, not only for Inverness but for the good of the Highlands.

“It is brilliant that a senior national club is so passionate about putting something back into the community.

“As a governing body, we’re really keen to support and help them wherever we can.”

ICT’s sporting director John Robertson said: “The potential for sport in the community is huge and, from every meeting we have had with multiple stakeholders and organisations, the feedback has been entirely positive.

“All of that said, we understand that during this process we have to go through the proper channels and ultimately it will be the councillors who make the final decision.

“We are doing everything we can in advance of that decision to make sure our plans are solid and inclusive.”

Murray Ferguson, chairman of Inverness Royal Academy’s parent-teacher council, attended a presentation on the project by ICT’s CEO Scot Gardiner, along with around 30 parents.

He said: “The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. We were keen to ensure the plan was well thought through, and clearly it is.

“There is so much the school, nearby primaries and the surrounding community can get out of this investment.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “The council has received a request from Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s community trust arm to take on the former Inverness Royal Academy pitches.

“ICT are working with a number of local community sports organisations on shaping this proposal and are currently engaging with the school and wider community. The council have not yet received the final proposal setting out the wider community benefits. Once received, this would be assessed and considered at a committee in June.”

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