Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Inverness Caledonian Thistle

Inverness Caledonian Thistle is a professional football club from the city of Inverness in the Highlands of Scotland who were formed through a merger of Caledonian FC and Inverness Thistle FC in 1994.

Caledonian had been formed in 1885 by lads from the ‘Big Green’ area of the city before becoming founder members of the Highland League in 1893. ‘Caley’ played at the Telford Street Ground by the Caledonian Canal.

By World War One Caledonian had won six Highland League titles with Willie Whitton starring before heading off down south to star for Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea., Two more come one peace was maintained. The fifties saw back to back triumphs in 1950-51 and 1951-52.

Scottish League clubs were defeated on regular occasions by Caledonian as another four championships were added to the trophy cabinet thanks to the efforts of the likes of Donald Park and Kevin MacDonald before the 1980’s, which proved to be the greatest era in the clubs history.

Three successive titles were won from 1982 to 1984 under manager, local journalist Alex Main, who penned the club history; ‘Caley All The Way’. The club were awarded the prestigious Rothmans Yearbook Non League Team of the Year for 1981-82.

Further giant killing in the Scottish Cup came in 1990 when Airdrieonians were defeated and then in 1992 when Caledonian reached the fourth round defeating Stenhousemuir and Clyde before going out to St Johnstone after a replay.

Meanwhile across the city at their Kingsmills Park home, Inverness Thistle were in operation after their formation in 1885. Like many sides called Thistle, the club were nicknamed ‘The Jags’.

The club were also founder members of the Highland League, going on to lift the title in the inaugural season. Thistle would go on to win a further four league championships as well as enjoying several wins over Scottish League clubs in the Scottish Cup; the most notable being a 3-0 victory over Kilmarnock in 1984/85.

Thistle applied for a place in the League in 1973-74, but they were beaten by Ferranti Thistle, who became Meadowbank Thistle. It was suggested that the voting clubs were unwilling to travel all the way to Inverness.

However, Scottish football was to be restructured for the 1993-94 season, with two extra places becoming available. Both Caledonian and Thistle decided to apply. The League hinted that there would be more chance of acceptance through a joint bid. Many supporters of both clubs were very much against this but the merger went ahead to form Caledonian Thistle FC. The new club were accepted to the Scottish League along with Highland League rivals Ross County.

The club started out life in Division Three playing out of Telford Street. In 1996 the club changed its title to Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICT) on the request of Inverness District Council who had contributed £900,000 to the new Caledonian Stadium on the banks of the Moray Firth, when they moved during the 1996-97 campaign.

The new surroundings obviously suited the ‘Caley Jags’ as they lifted the Division Three title within five months of moving into the new stadium. In 1998-99 promotion to Division One was secured by finishing as runners-up to Livingston Thistle.

The following season saw ICT hit the headlines with a 3-1 Scottish Cup victory at Parkhead against Celtic, which spawned the famous Sun headline; "Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious"

The 2003-04 season saw Caley defeat Airdrie United 2-0 to lift the Scottish Challenge Cup at McDiarmid Park, before the team reached the Scottish Cup semi final, where Dunfermline Athletic won through after a replay. However, the greatest achievement came on the final day of the season as St Johnstone were beaten 3-0 to seal the First Division title and a place in the Premier League.

The place in the top flight posed a problem as membership required participating clubs to have all seater stadiums. Caledonian Stadium was not up to scratch, so after consultation with their supporters they decided to decamp to Pittordrie in Aberdeen over a hundred miles away for a year while works were carried out.

The team returned home under Player-Manager Craig Brewster to the extended Tulloch Caledonian Stadium, as the venue had been renamed in a sponsorship deal with the local building firm that carried out the work.

After a few seasons of consolidation Brewster was dismissed following a poor run of results in the 2008-09 season, with Terry Butcher arriving as his replacement. The new manager could not stave off relegation as Caley returned to the second tier.

Butcher soon sorted his side out as they made an immediate return to the SPL thanks to a twenty one game unbeaten run to overtake one time runaway table toppers Dundee to clinch the title with two games remaining.

The incredible unbeaten run continued and lasted just over a year before it was ended by St Johnstone in January 2011. Butcher continued to mould his side from local youngsters and several from south of the border who were looking to rebuild their careers.

The 2012-13 saw the Caley Jags finish in a maiden top six position as they continued to build as they just missed out on a Europa League place following a 1-0 defeat in the Highland Derby against Ross County.

ICT spent much of the opening months of the 2013-14 inaugural SPFL Scottish Premiership season at the top of the table until manager Butcher and his assistant Maurice Malpas departed to join Hibernian. John Hughes was selected as the new boss, with Russell Lapaty assisting.

In February 2014 ICT defeated Heart of Midlothian in a penalty shoot out at Easter Road to reach the final of the League Cup. The showpiece was against Aberdeen at Celtic Park. This time Caley lost out on spot kicks after the game had ended scoreless after extra time.

Caley Thistle ended the 2013-14 season in fifth position.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle will play in the SPFL Scottish Premiership in the 2014-15 season.

My visit

Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2 St Johnstone 0 (Tuesday 20th January 2015) SPFL Scottish Premiership (att: 3,161)

Thanks to my many train journeys, I had accumulated enough loyalty points with East Coast Trains for a free ride anywhere on the network. I had also accumulated some refund vouchers from delayed services. As I was scheduled to be in Scarborough for a weeks Annual Leave from work, I began to investigate my options.

The Scottish fixtures revealed a great opportunity. They had a full programme scheduled for the Wednesday night. However, BT Sport decided to show the following weekend’s games between St Johnstone and Aberdeen on the Friday night, which in turn pushed the ICT v St Johnstone forward to the Tuesday night.

After studying availability on the trains I booked to go to Inverness and stay overnight before riding down to Dundee via Aberdeen for their fixture the following evening. The whole journey would cost me just £35 return.

The weather was a slight concern as I set off to York for breakfast before boarding the service to Edinburgh. I was really looking forward to the journey as I was in first class all the way.

Before long we headed north as the staff gave me cottage pie for lunch along with crisps, biscuits and cake. The lady with the drinks trolley could sense my excitement as I told her my plans. She commented that the ride north of Edinburgh wouldn’t be as luxurious on Scotsrail so she kept coming back with gin, tonic and fresh glasses with ice at regular intervals. I was comfortably numb as I changed trains in the Scottish capital.

As the train headed over the Forth Bridge I was at my highest ever point north on land. The service was restricted to complimentary hot drinks and biscuits but the reclining seat was welcome. Once north of Perth the hills were covered in snow. The Cairngorms cut a dramatic scene with deer gambolling on the undulating landscape with ice cold streams cutting through the snow. Onwards we went through Aviemore, which looked to be quite a ‘happening’ town before arriving into Inverness at just gone 5pm.

Ready for a walk, I set out having a look at the city centre before crossing the River Ness, with the illuminated castle looking down from the hill, as I headed to my room for the night.

The Ardross & Glencairn Guest House on Ardross Street was pretty basic, but I wasn’t going to see too much of it. Within minutes of chucking my stuff in I was out again and heading into the centre.

I struggled to find the Wetherspoon Kings Highway establishment after heading down the wrong street. I was good to see a banner over Academy Street advertising the match and inviting fans to ‘Pay What They Can’.

In an adventurous incentive the club had decided to allow fans to go to the match and pay whatever they could afford in an attempt to boost the attendance after the festive period. To test the water I decided to conduct my own social experiment via text and Facebook to see what amount my friends thought I should pay. The results were interesting and some cases highly predictable. I certainly found out who I’d need to approach if I ever needed a sub!

Having eventually located the pub and enjoyed a meal, it was time to see a bit of old football history and make the evening easier.

The Caledonian Stadium is quite a hike from the city centre, so I did lots of research before heading north. It appeared my best way was by bus, but I couldn’t find any definite pick up points or times. Then I discovered the old Caledonian (now ICT) Social Club just over the river on Greig Street. It advertised departure at 7.30 and a return at full time.

The club was warm and busy and serving food to customers. There were plenty of souvenirs on the wall. I bought a pint of Tartan Bitter from the keg pumps and bought my return bus ticket.

I followed the crowd outside and got aboard the half full double decker. We were dropped off outside the main entrance with the waters of Moray Firth over the road, where I bought the programme for £3, which by way of a monthly magazine with a four page colour match specific insert.

The queues to get inside the stadium were quite long. I decided to go for the stand behind the goal. It was taking a long time for each person to go through as the turnstile operators had to write down how much each person had paid before issuing a standard ticket.

Having thought long and hard I decided to pay the normal admission of £20. I was going before I heard of the offer and I was in a fortunate position that I could afford to. I knew from first hand experience just how hard smaller clubs have to work to make the books balance.  I got in with about thirty seconds on the clock as I surveyed the scene.

The Caledonian Stadium was extremely functional and organised. The Main Stand had a lower seating tier that ran the whole length of the pitch with a second level in the middle third of the pitch with a roof over it. The North and South Stands stood identical behind each goal with permanent roofs but the semi permanent slot in seating sections seen at Craven Cottage and Dean Court. The final side was open with a section of seating on its few steps. The TV gantry stood on the half way line.

It was cold, but not as bad as I was worried about. My Bovril was most welcome from the shivering young staff in flimsy club uniform. The pitch was in excellent condition. ICT played plenty of good slick passing and went into a deserved 2-0 lead at the break with goals from Billy McKay and Marley Watkins. It has to be said that the Saints were obliging at times at the back.

The match was played in an almost polite atmosphere. The home fans applauded plenty but the only shouts of encouragement came from some wee 'uns at the back during the second half. I was glad that the stand wasn’t packed as this was another venue with a less than generous tread between the rows. Caley continued to play plenty of stuff pleasing to the eye but could not add to their tally. It was the correct score line.

The bus was thankfully waiting for us. There was some dismay from his peers at a regular who appeared to be proud to have only paid £1.50 to get in. That was surely taking the mick?

Once dropped off I wanted to explore some real ale establishments. The Blackfriars Highland Pub had plenty going for it, but on my visit it all the atmosphere of a funeral parlour, The Phoenix Ale House, with its central bar directly over the road was excellent.

Cricketing pal Colin Williams studied in the city and messaged me to recommend Johnny Foxes or Hootenanny. I plumped for the latter as it ticked all the required boxes. The beer was fine and an excellent atmospheric couple played traditional music. Sadly they closed at midnight so I returned to the Kings Highway, which was open until 1am.

I am a big fan of Wetherspoons pubs in general. I couldn’t recall ever seeing any trouble in them and the food and drinks offer great value. However, they open too long. People get smashed. I was somewhat taken aback to see a youth punch a woman by the hotel door, with her partner naturally joining in.

I ordered my beer inside as the police sirens got nearer and bouncers from other pubs came to assist. Suddenly a row broke out amongst the English builders who had started their session when I ordered my meal over six hours earlier. One of them was dragged out by a couple of mates.

The completely female staff were shaken. One said that they’d never had trouble for two years but had three incidents in a few hours. Maybe it was my effect on the city? She commented that they’d come out without medication. While funny, it was also ironic as she had stood there and allowed them to overdose.

As I say. Pubs were opening too long and they should not be totally staffed by females. It was leading to an increase in bad behaviour.

Normality was restored as a Turkish cab driver took me back to my economy lodgings while telling me how he loved living in London. Perhaps he’d been on the top shelf as well?

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