Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s satellite operation a sign of Scottish football’s mess | Ewan Murray

It feels only five minutes ago that Duncan Ferguson was wheeling down the Goodison Park touchline in celebration. Everton’s victory against Chelsea in December 2019 fuelled theories that Ferguson should be named as the permanent successor to Marco Silva. Even when Carlo Ancelotti got that job, Ferguson was a key part of the coaching team.

Much longer has passed since Inverness Caledonian Thistle created shockwaves with a Scottish Cup win at Celtic. As Super Caley Went Ballistic (Celtic are atrocious) in 2000, the acrimonious 1994 merger of Caledonian and Inverness Thistle finally appeared fully justified.

How Ferguson and Inverness have cause to ponder those high points. If Caley Thistle’s meek relegation to Scotland’s third tier on Ferguson’s watch was no real surprise, what came next certainly was. The club triggered bewilderment and anger while being “delighted to announce” the first team will move training base to Kelty, 135 miles from Inverness. The reason? “The commercial success of the city has led to very high prices for the accommodation we require to house players,” the club said. Fife is apparently the solution, partly because it should be easier to coax players from Scotland’s central belt.

“We obviously never intended to be in the same division as Kelty when originally exploring this concept,” a statement read. Yet in the same division they are; one of many bamboozling aspects of this business is the handing of precious funds to an on-field rival. When the laughing stops, it is worth pondering how desperately sad this situation is.

A blunt reality is that Inverness could win their first eight matches next season and nobody would care where they train. There may be valid football and fiscal reasons behind what they are planning. However, the stirring of a supporter base is not only about more than that but has been hugely impressive. Such anger has not been in evidence since the merger itself.

Fans object vehemently to their football club being uncoupled from a city. Season-ticket boycotts – and there are only about 1500 season-ticket holders to begin with – have been widely floated. This is a club that operate on a hand-to-mouth basis, propped up by director loans. If fans withdraw their cash, administration looks inevitable; those in support of such an outcome understate the harm done to low‑paid workers and small creditors. This is as serious a scenario as it is bizarre.

The front page of the Inverness Courier screamed: “Betrayal!” Fundamentally, one has to ask whether the fraught amalgamation of Caley and Thistle was worth it if within three decades the new club are reduced to this, a satellite operation which floats into town once a fortnight. Children who grow up with aspirations of playing for their local team hardly envisage training more than two hours away.

Ferguson could write off his disastrous spell in charge at Forest Green on the basis of off-field chaos. Photograph: Nigel Keene/ProSports/Shutterstock

Under cross-examination from an articulate and well-informed group of supporters on The Wyness Shuffle podcast the chairman, Ross Morrison, delivered a quite extraordinary performance. By the end, the extent of his rambling was such that it was impossible not to feel sorry for the man.

Morrison says he has sunk £1.5m into Inverness, including a recent £40,000 payment because an unidentified income stream from April failed to materialise. The chairman conceded Ferguson was overpaid in the Championship, was probably too expensive to dismiss despite taking a pay cut, blamed a player’s unwillingness to stay in Inverness on their wife, and took aim at supporters for not being upset enough at the potential closure of the youth academy. There was more, plenty of it.

What Big Dunc makes of all this is anybody’s guess. We have been left to assume the football benefits theoretically attached to this flit are to his liking. The 52‑year-old has been fiercely protective of his record since returning to Scotland but his interviews lack substance.

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Ferguson propped up his failing squad with loanees from England – a necessary step, he will argue – without giving the impression the broader health of this club was his business or concern. Ferguson could write off a disastrous spell at Forest Green Rovers on the basis of off-field chaos. He may well do likewise when his Inverness stint inevitably ends. Yet the man once tipped to lead Everton has done very little to demonstrate there is anything to his management approach beyond brawn and bravado. He will start the new season coaching at Montrose, Annan and Stenhousemuir.

As this scenario rumbles on, Scottish football remains staunchly and strangely reluctant to engage with external assessors. Ian Maxwell, the chief executive of the Scottish Football Association, scoffed at the notion of an independent regulator when in front of parliamentarians. Neil Doncaster, Maxwell’s counterpart at the Scottish Professional Football League, did likewise during a recent radio interview. The go-to argument for both is that Scottish clubs are in rude health, hence fresh eyes are totally unnecessary.

Livingston, recently relegated from the Premiership, spend more time in courtrooms than Rumpole of the Bailey. Ross County’s two most recent sets of accounts show £1.1m has been written off by their parent company merely to keep their head above water in the top flight. Dundee United’s level of debt to their America‑based owner crashed through the £10m barrier a long time ago. Dundee gifted shares to Gordon Strachan, their technical director, in lieu of a £192,000 payment. Edinburgh City received a six‑point penalty for failing to pay players on time. The closed‑shop approach espoused by officer bearers should kid nobody. Scottish football is generally a mess; the Inverness case is extreme because of the existence of no sugar daddy but they are essentially symptomatic of a broader picture.

Whether Kelty happens remains to be seen. Likewise, whether it is the making or breaking of Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The whole episode has at least served as a reminder that ties between football clubs and their village, town or city are important. At least, they should be.

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