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30 years on - When Clachnacuddin came back from the brink and were saved from liquidation

By Will Clark

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BILLY Corbett almost watched the club he had followed all his life die right before his eyes.

Billy Corbett helped start the Save the Clach FC Fund to pay for legal costs.
Billy Corbett helped start the Save the Clach FC Fund to pay for legal costs.

In 1990, Clachnacuddin were hours away from going out of existence after they went into liquidation with debts of more than £190,000.

The Lilywhites had suffered the worst season in their history during the 1989/90 Highland League campaign, not winning a game and only picking up three points after losing 31 out of 34 matches, conceding 151 goals.

Due to the perilous financial situation they faced, Clach released all their contracted players and took on welfare league or amateur players who would be willing to play for free.

Following the end of the season, several creditors called in provisional liquidators Raymond Blin from Glasgow.

Knowing how bad the debts were, Corbett (65), who was a member of the football committee, said almost everyone believed the sad end was coming for the Merkinchers.

With the help of fellow committee member Mike Stanton, Corbett formed the Save the Clach FC Fund, to raise thousands of pounds to pay for legal costs to save their beloved club.

But he said many people saw their campaign was being run in hope rather than expectation.

“Mike and I were determined that we had to try and do something, and not sit by and watch our beloved Clachnacuddin die, no matter how forlorn the hope was,” said Corbett.

“We set up a much-publicised Save the Clach FC Fund, got plenty of press publicity and even a spot on the Grampian TV News at the time for our campaign.

“We approached businesses and pubs and ones in Merkinch, in particular, were brilliant for the cause, with all the good wishes and praise for our efforts.

“But also came the continuous theme – good luck, but we feel you are sadly wasting your time.”

Billy Corbett has been a fan since 11-years-old.
Billy Corbett has been a fan since 11-years-old.

The campaign enlisted the help of solicitor Ken Macleod who had connections in Merkinch and had run Inverness Judo Club at Merkinch Welfare Hall in Grant Street.

Corbett said campaigners were informed by liquidators that a special shareholders meeting would be called and a resolution would be offered.

If a majority of shareholders agreed to the resolution, and it had the consent of creditors, there was a chance that the football club could continue. But Corbett said campaigners were left devastated by the outcome of the meeting.

“To our absolutely horror and amazement, the resolution put forward was defeated by a narrow vote against,” he said.

“Obviously, a number of shareholders had joined the creditors in looking for a dividend.

“To say we were absolutely devastated is putting it mildly, and I think the liquidator himself was quite surprised at the outcome, to say the least.

“We decided to fight on, even after this huge devastating setback, and wrote to the Highland League management committee, who were meeting to decide our future participation in a league that we were founders of.”

Billy Corbett has also raised money for the club after the stadium fire.
Billy Corbett has also raised money for the club after the stadium fire.

The case went to Inverness Sheriff Court, with Sheriff Donald Brooker Milburn being requisitioned with a winding-up order to close the club.

They went to court to try and delay the decision to give them more time and while waiting for the outcome, they found new hope from an unexpected place.

“As we were standing outside the court that day, obviously nervous and feeling the worst, we bumped into freelance journalist, David Love, who asked us what was going on,” Corbett explained.

“When he heard, he said to Ken to try and delay proceedings and he might know some individuals who might get involved and help out.

“Just as the sheriff was to sign the liquidators’ winding-up order and pass the death sentence on the Lilywhites – and well over 100 years of history – he reluctantly agreed to give us a short time more, to discuss the new proposals with the liquidators.

“We were of course delighted, we still had some light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a small one.”

The grandstand which was sold off at Grant Street Park to save the club.
The grandstand which was sold off at Grant Street Park to save the club.

A few weeks later, Clachnacuddin were officially saved after the liquidator accepted the proposals and a number of businessmen agreed to come on board.

In addition to money being invested into the club, land where the grandstand had been was sold to Tulloch for £100,000 in an area which is now called Pumpgate Court.

A new management duo of Roshie Fraser and assistant manager Billy Dingwall was appointed and assembled a team for the 1990/91 campaign, and played their first game 30 years ago today against Nairn County.

They finished in 16th place above Nairn County and Rothes, winning eight games and drawing twice in the 34-match campaign.

Corbett’s lifetime involvement with Clachnacuddin started as a boot boy at 11 years old. He then went on to become, kit man, assistant-trainer, football committee chairman and then club director.

During his association with the club, he said his most emotional day with Clach was 30 years ago today, when he saw Clachnacuddin take to the field after fearing he might never do so again.

Corbett said: “You can imagine how I felt that day on August 11, 1990, when Clach kicked off in a Highland League match against Nairn County, at Grant Street Park.

“All the prophets of doom had said it would never ever happen and I don’t mind admitting I shed a tear or two.

"To see Clach go on and win the North of Scotland Cup, just three years later beating Inverness Thistle in the final, at Telford Street Park, was the icing on the cake.

“Of course, they have gone on to become league champions in 2004, and Highland League cup winners in 2014,” he added.

“But the biggest victory was that day in Inverness Sheriff Court, when we managed to delay the hammer coming down on well over 100 years of history and tradition of a great Inverness, Highland League and Merkinch football institution.”

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