April 6, 2013 4 Comments
Since 1985 the Scottish football league championship has only been shared by two clubs – the Glasgow giants, Rangers and Celtic. Things really shook up in 2012 with the demise of Rangers F.C. Suddenly, focus shifted to the Edinburgh clubs, as Hibs and Hearts enjoyed the limelight as thousands made their way to the national stadium for the showcase Scottish Cup Final.
This year two small clubs who have only been in the national league setup since 1994 have been a breath of fresh air for the Scottish Premier League and have both secured a top-six place for the first time in their short histories with games too spare. 2013 has definitely been year of the Highlanders – Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County.
After the astonishing and embarrassing summer of chaos in Scottish football the scaremongers’ and doomsday merchants (mostly the majority of the media and worryingly leaders of the Scottish game) have had little effect on the high-flying highland clubs. Football is flourishing in the area and with the possibility of European football for either club, it sums up the progress made from both clubs in their short time in the leagues; many around them have stagnated or gone in the opposite direction.
This is Ross County’s first season in the SPL, and after a solid start some shrewd signings by Derek Adams in the January transfer window has seen the Staggies rocket up the league with top-six secured with a game to spare. A home victory over Celtic after being 2-0 down is bound to be one of the highlights of the season so far for the fans, who must be pinching themselves.
Inverness have been in the top division for eight out of the last nine seasons, but despite coming close have never made it into the top-six positions when the league has split; well until this season. They have been in the top three for the majority of the season and now are in a great position to try and secure a spot in the Europa League competition next year (if they can keep their highland neighbours behind them that is).
Other highlights include players receiving their first international call ups and the club narrowly missed out on their first national final, thanks to a semi-final defeat on penalties. Manager Terry Butcher has also shown great faith in the club (probably much to the dismay of his bank manager) by turning down a move mid-season to Championship side Barnsley.
So with both clubs now in the top division and finishing in the top six, what now?
The immediate goal for the Highland clubs in the remaining fixtures of the season is to finish in that coveted third spot, which will guarantee entry into the Europa League. However both clubs shouldn’t be resting on their current success and should be implementing a long-term plan for the next 20 years. The most important thing is for both clubs to become established SPL sides that are still heavily involved with the local community. Whilst currently attendances are steady, most supporters will probably admit to previously having an allegiance to one of the ‘big’ clubs, whether it is Rangers, Celtic or Aberdeen, whilst the teams they followed were in the Highland League.
If in the future both clubs are continually present in the Premier League, children and newcomers into the area will grow up and see ICT or County on a par with these other teams and be proud to support their local team in the SPL. The potential for both clubs to increase their fan base is greater than the majority of other SPL clubs, who perhaps have an ageing support in comparison with the Highlanders.
Also it is important both clubs remain in the top division to keep the rivalry alive; there is few better feelings than beating your close rivals, the feeling of excitement and nerves before and during these games will keep fans interested and coming back. With top-six finishes the fans are guaranteed one more Highland derby. Who knows; this one could decide which of the Highland clubs could be heading to Europe…Who would have dreamt of that in 1994!
By NMO’s Scottish football expert Sandy White