Lucky and privileged Inverness Caledonian Thistle players have a responsibility to lead the way for fans, says Sutherland
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Shane Sutherland believes Caley Thistle’s players have a duty to do all they can to ensure fans return to Scotland’s football grounds at the earliest opportunity.
The summer signing, back with Inverness after a seven-year search for a full time chance, has a keen sense of just how “lucky and privileged” he is in being able to ply his trade during the pandemic.
Preparing for a first friendly away to former club Elgin City tomorrow, Sutherland is hoping for a safe and successful afternoon as football authorities monitor matches intently.
The striker, who turns 30 next month, admits he feels like a kid again back in full training after enduring the joint-longest spell of his adult life without kicking a ball.
“I actually missed a year once through injury and it was six months before I kicked a ball again,” Sutherland said. “It felt worse than that because, back then, I knew I couldn’t do it. These last six months we haven’t been allowed.
“It was difficult, but that’s the world we live in. We’re lucky and privileged as footballers to be training and, all going well, playing matches.
“There’s a lot worse in the world, with people jobless and fearing for the future, so we shouldn’t take for granted what we’ve got.
“Going to Elgin, we’ll abide by the protocols and make sure everything goes smoothly. Hopefully, we can continue playing football. That’s what we all want. It’s up to us all to make sure this pandemic doesn’t affect us as much as it is affecting other walks of life.
“Obviously the fans can’t be there, but the more we get playing and the government sees it working, the quicker we can get them back in.
“Personally, I don’t see how pubs and restaurants can open with social distancing but we can’t put certain numbers into football grounds.
“If friendlies go smoothly and teams don’t get positive tests, and we all look after ourselves away from the club, then we can press the case.
“I can only speak for Inverness, but everything has been done immaculately here.”
There is irony in Sutherland rebooting his Inverness career at Borough Briggs, scene of great endeavours as a part-timer. Despite some social media banter threatening mild violence, the Caithness-born frontman is relishing stepping out in familiar surroundings, at a club he left on good terms.
“I know all the boys there. It might be difficult for me given they know how I play, but it’s a fresh start and a good place to start,” he said.
“What Borough Briggs means to me speaks for itself. I scored just short of 100 goals in just over 200 games. I’ve played my best football there.
“I always wanted to go back to full-time football and was always clear on that to everyone. When the opportunity came at Inverness there was no hesitation. Before I signed anything, though, I cleared it with the manager Gavin Price and he knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.
“I’d waited seven years. Turning 30 this year, it felt like it might be my last chance. I’ve worked hard and feel the fittest I’ve ever felt.”
Elgin pals and former team-mates will want Sutherland to succeed, but he added: “I saw something on Twitter from Elgin’s Euan Spark and he said ‘we all know who we’re going to be kicking.’ I’d better wear shin pads up to the knees!
“It was just in jest, but for 90 minutes friendships go out of the window. We want to win every game but it’s about fitness and getting the competitive edge back.”