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Charlie on a Friday: Reality bites for Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Championship

By Will Clark

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It’s been an extremely difficult time lately at Inverness Caledonian Thistle with the repercussions of a third year in the Championship hitting us extremely hard financially.

I said very soon after our relegation in May 2017 that we would find it very difficult to sustain the club on a solid footing if we spent more than two years in this league where television revenues are almost non existent and gate receipts from away fans is a fraction in comparison to the Premier league and sadly I have been proved correct.

It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that running a full time football club in the Championship with average home gates of fewer than 2000 is a massive challenge and, if it hadn’t been for our excellent Scottish Cup run last season along with important and significant donations from generous individuals, the annual accounts which already make difficult reading would be far worse.

Our current fan base have stayed very loyal to the club but it has been almost impossible to increase our support over time and, when you remember the 20,000 plus supporters who had an incredible day at Hampden Park May 2015, it is hugely frustrating that we have not been able to entice more to come to our home matches on a more regular basis.

I was unable to attend the club’s EGM last Thursday but I heard from other shareholders that it was a frank and open meeting and I hope it leads to a positive way forward for the club which has done so much for the city of Inverness over our 25 year history.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman Ross Morrison and chief executive officer Scot Gardiner updated shareholders and fans about the financial state of the club.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle chairman Ross Morrison and chief executive officer Scot Gardiner updated shareholders and fans about the financial state of the club.

One of the aspects currently being discussed is the youth development structure at the club and this is obviously an area where I take great interest.

The club has invested various amounts over time in our youth structure and the signing of modern apprentices in 2018 whilst a Championship club surprised me and, although not involved in the decision, I thought it a positive and refreshing outlook from the board.

The hope at the time was that we would achieve a Colts team in the Highland League but this was denied to us and meant many of these young lads having to go to Fort William to play regularly in the hope that they will develop over the season and only time will tell if this will work out.

There are other debates regarding the youth structure involving the lack of young players who have actually made the step up into our first team over time, the perceived false hope we give local youngsters and the significant challenges of the SFA Project Brave initiative to a club of our size.

Some of these points are just whilst others are simply ridiculous. Whilst I would have dearly loved to see more youngsters make the breakthrough there are reasons for this – mainly the mindset of first team managers; some of whom have been very pro youth and others who have been totally disinterested. It has been refreshing to see young Roddy MacGregor play recently and I can tell our fans there are young players with excellent potential at each and every age level we have including some real diamonds.

Roddy MacGregor has broken into the Caley Thistle first team.
Roddy MacGregor has broken into the Caley Thistle first team.

I am a strong advocate of playing home grown players and a few years back suggested that every team in every league should have three or four of these players each week in their first team squad of 18 but received little support apart from that of former Scotland national manager Craig Brown.

As for the ‘false hope’ discussion I regard this as total nonsense! Not one young player is given any false hope – parents are told how difficult a challenge it is to become a professional footballer but we can offer that opportunity. If that is a young player’s dream what is so terrible about the club having that pathway for them to give it a go?

I only wish it was available many moons ago when I was a young player in Inverness learning the game.

What we do give is three weekly coaching sessions conducted by qualified staff in a safe environment to over 140 youngsters from age eight upwards, positive and healthy lifestyle messages alongside excellent fitness and dietary advice.

Finally there is no doubt that the SFA Project Brave initiative is very challenging for a club of our size and the criteria is hugely demanding; some of which I find difficult to see the logic in, but, given time, we can make it work if that is what our club really wants.

In my mind it doesn’t bear thinking that, for the first time in 25 years, Inverness Caledonian Thistle would not have a healthy and vibrant youth system and I would point to Falkirk Football Club as a recent example of a club who decided to scrap their youth structure to concentrate resources on the first team gaining promotion back into the Premier league – they currently sit third in Scottish league One!

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