Caley Thistle legends hail progress ahead of 25th anniversary
Inverness Caledonian Thistle legend Charlie Christie has called the progression of the club, and football in the Highlands, incredible as ICT approach their 25th anniversary.
In just a couple of days, it will be 25 years to the day since Caley Thistle played their first league game, appropriately at home against today's opponents, Arbroath.
Caley Thistle rose all the way through the senior Scottish leagues, culminating in a Scottish Cup win four years ago and playing in Europe – which was unsurprisingly Christie’s peak.
“I've been here since day one, and if somebody told me that in 2015 we would be third in the league, play in Europe and win the Scottish Cup, that’s the pinnacle,” he said.
“When you think the pinnacle before was to win the Inverness Cup, the North of Scotland Cup or maybe the Highland League, the rapid rise has been incredible.
“Go and speak to the Brechins, the Montroses and Arbroaths in this world.
“They have been in the Scottish league for 100 years, and not sniffed at what we’ve done.”
The last few years have not brought so many highlights to Inverness, as they dropped out of the top tier of Scottish football and have been battling to return ever since.
So if there if one negative Christie can point to over the last 25 years, it is that the glory moments are not celebrated enough.
“We maybe don’t make the most of it when we’ve had those successful times,” he added.
“I remember in 1994 the chairman at the time saying he thought we would be a Premier League team in 10 years.
"He was proven right, exactly 10 years later we got promoted.
“I remember the days we spent going to Rothes, Deveronvale, Fraserburgh, going to Peterhead was a massive game. The turnaround for north football has been incredible.”
One name that is synonymous with that Caley Thistle team is Alan Hercher, the club captain at the time and scorer of the first league goal for the club.
Against Arbroath 25 years ago, he would go on to score the club's quickest ever hat trick as Inverness won 5-2.
Hercher's teammate on that day, Graeme Bennett, said it is amazingly appropriate that the two teams will meet again so close to the anniversary.
"It's an unbelievable coincidence," Bennett commented.
"It's 25 years on, playing against the same team and it's exactly a year to the day since the death of Hercher, who scored a hat trick that day.
"He was a great player. I don't think we saw the best of him over a long period of time, because he always picked up a few injuries.
"At that time, three goals in 31 minutes in the first game in the league, it was an incredible standard.
"He was a fantastic player and a fantastic captain. I know the players are looking forward to making a day of it on Saturday and have a celebration."
Christie added: "It is very fitting and incredibly poignant, astounding that we have Arbroath here almost 25 years to the day, and exactly a year to the day since the big man died.
"It's an incredible turn of events."
The squad from that first match a quarter of a century ago will be at this afternoon's match to mark the moment.
By Bennett's own admission, the first Caley Thistle team struggled with the physical and travel demands of league football early on in their league tenure.
But with the start success that followed, he is optimistic once more that ICT can create more history and return to the big time of the Premiership.
"There have been ups and downs, it's not so great at the moment, but six or seven years ago they were a stable club in the Premiership, and that's what we're aspiring to now," Bennett said.
"We did take a big hit, it was unfortunate under Richie Foran that we got relegated. Just like other clubs have found, it's very difficult to get back up.
"Ross County did very well last year, but they have a great benefactor which unfortunately we haven't got. In previous years like 2000 when we first got promoted, we didn't really have a big benefactor there.
"We just got on with it and got a good team spirit going.
"Hopefully John can do that, although I think it will be difficult this season. We've just got to build and get a bit of momentum."
Christie, currently head of youth development at Inverness, knows that there is all the potential in the world for talent to come through at the club, and points to the likes of his son, Celtic star Ryan Christie, as proof.
"Duncan Shearer said it a couple of years ago when Ryan made his Scotland debut, and now you have Liam Polworth as well playing at Motherwell," Christie insisted.
"These are two boys who joined the club at nine or 10 years old, and they've progressed right through.
"I think Liam could be a Scottish international in the future too, so it's a great pat on the back for the club – 25 years ago, that avenue, that pathway wasn't there for local kids.
"Our under-18s last year – it's periodic in this area – but they're probably the best group we've had since Ryan and Liam's group. They won the under-18s league last year, and there's four of them in the first team squad now.
"I'll tell you right now, all four can do very well at this club."