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Club legends remember Caledonian and Inverness Thistle’s final Highland League matches

By Will Clark

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David Milroy (centre left) and Billy Urquhart (centre right) at the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Hall of Fame
David Milroy (centre left) and Billy Urquhart (centre right) at the Inverness Caledonian Thistle Hall of Fame

Tuesday marks the 30th anniversary of the final games of two football clubs in Inverness who went on to create what we know today as Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

May 14, 1994 saw Caledonian and Inverness Thistle play their final ever matches in the Highland League before they would go on to merge into one club.

Caledonian finished their final season in the Highland League in second place with a 1-1 draw at champions Huntly with Wilson Robertson scoring their final goal. He also scored Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s first goal in a 2-0 League Cup win over East Stirling.

Meanwhile Inverness Thistle lost their final game 2-0 to Lossiemouth and finished in 15th place.

Mixed feelings over whether the two clubs merging was the right decision is still an issue of debate with fans today. During their 30-year existence, the club has managed to reach the top flight of Scottish football, win a Scottish Cup and play in Europe. But for some diehards of Caledonian and Inverness Thistle, they still refuse to go and watch a game at the Caledonian Stadium out of loyalty to their former clubs.

Former Caledonian striker Billy Urquhart recalled the club’s final ever game at Huntly as having a poisonous atmosphere, where Caledonian rebel fans were not shy making their feelings known about the merger to the committee.

He said: “It was a pretty poisonous atmosphere in the final game to be honest and the Caley rebels made themselves heard.

“At the end of the game, the committee were getting some stick. It was vicious stuff, but I could understand where the supporters were coming from. They were losing their club as far as they were concerned.

“The Caley committee boys took some stick, it was acrimonious to the point of vicious. They invaded the pitch in the end and put across they weren’t happy at all. It didn’t get physical, but it was verbal and not a great atmosphere.

“It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. The players had no say and had to take it as it was. When it first came up, I wasn’t for the merger at all, I felt Caledonian could have gone it alone. We felt we were losing our club. Coming closer to the merger, it was apparent it was not going to be an option. You went with it, or go with the rebels and go against it. I know a lot of people who still don’t go and watch football anymore because of the merger.

“There is an minority that would never darken the doors of Telford Street or the Caledonian Stadium. They say time is a great healer and there have been fans that have come back to the game. But probably not many.

“At the time I don’t think people realised how passionate football is. It was a difficult thing for everyone involved. Some of the people involved weren’t football people. They did not realise the strength of feeling that would have been involved.”

David Milroy was the captain of Inverness Thistle in their final season when he played every game of that campaign.

He said there was a feeling at the time if the merger didn’t happen, the future of Inverness Thistle would still have been in doubt due to financial problems the club had at the time.

He said once the merger was settled, there was a feeling at Thistle to get the season over and done with.

Milroy said: “It was very much an emotional day, it kind of caught up with us.

“When we played that match, I don’t think that we did ourselves justice, but Lossiemouth were a decent team at the time.

When it was decided the merger was going ahead, the attitude wasn’t flat, we did alright that season, we qualified for the Scottish Cup.

But the last week in particular, there was so much going on around us and the recognition it was the last game,

“I think it got to a lot of the guys and they wanted the Saturday to come. We just wanted it to come as much as we regretted it, it turned out to be an emotional day all round. At the end of the day, it passed into history and we just had to get on with it.

“At the time, there was a doubt about the future of Inverness Thistle, I was aware of the fact we were struggling at the time. We were struggling to compete with other clubs that had money and it was going to be difficult to sustain. Inverness with three clubs at that level was probably stretching it a bit.

“Although there was an inevitability about it, nobody put in a lack of effort, it was difficult for us to attract players in. There was a degree of inevitability about it, but it didn’t affect performances.

“We won the Inverness Cup, there were things to play for. There was the feeling this was the last time I will play there. But they are days I look back at fondly.”

Milroy went on to become a coach at Inverness Caledonian Thistle while Urquhart played three games for the club in their debut season in the national division in the 1994/95 campaign.

Looking back at the last 30 years, both men think the merger has benefited football in Inverness. However, they both say the history of both Caledonian and Inverness Thistle should never be forgotten.

Milroy said: “When I was a young boy growing up, you never thought a team from Inverness would get to Scottish Cup finals, winning them and playing in Europe. That was pipe dream stuff, it turned out to be the right decision at the time. The city has seen the benefit of a football club playing at that level.

There are things which could have been handled better with the merger, but you can’t afford to dwell on things like that. I have an awful lot of fond memories,of winning games and trophies The history of both clubs shouldn’t be forgotten about.”

Urquhart said: “The players didn’t have a say in what was happening off the field, I had a feeling both sets of players would have preferred that the clubs would have been able to continue as they were. Hindsight is a great thing, you don’t know what the future holds, but overall it was the right decision. The club is struggling at the moment, but for Caley Thistle to get to a League Cup final, play in Europe, third in the Premiership and win the Scottish Cup, nobody thought that would have been possible 30 years ago.

It was probably the best time to try a merger, but if they tried that in the 1980’s when Caley were successful, that would not have flown, Caley might have tried it on their own. But timing is a great thing.

“Hindsight is a great thing too, you didn’t know what would happen with Caley Thistle. Certainly Thistle were struggling with finance, Caley were not as successful as they had been.

“Time moves on, Caley Thistle are on a downward spiral, but hopefully they can preserve their Championship status.”

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