42 Grounds: Ground 10: Tulloch Caledonian Stadium

Having had a busy day yesterday, I was planning to have a day off today.

However, when I was offered the chance to go to the game as a passenger in a car it was hard to turn down.

A (very) last minute phone call to the Inverness ticket office secured a ticket to pick up at the stadium.

The journey was certainly interesting. Train travel shelters us from the realities of the road – a nice change from the daily commute during the week.

The realities of road travel to the Highlands are different still.

The road signs suggest interesting places on both sides of the road. Some are amusing and some need to be sounded out phonetically.

Then there is the seemingly constant presence of tractors on the road. Just as the Sat Nav says you are ahead of schedule, you spend ten minutes behind a farmer moving at top speed along the road, with an entire village worth of cars behind.

Discussion in the car turned towards mergers, a nod to the concluding part of the enjoyable “Scotland’s Game” series.

As fans of Scottish football already know, Inverness Caledonian Thistle are a club formed after the merger of two teams, Inverness Caledonian and Inverness Thistle.

Despite the understandable tensions caused at the time, this decision essentially paved the way for an Inverness team to enter the league structure in 1994.

The rise of football in the Highlands since then has been remarkable.

Inverness have moved all the way through the leagues and are now an established top flight side. They have appeared in Europe and won the Scottish Cup in 2015.

Of course, we shouldn’t take this isolated case and assume that mergers would be successful elsewhere, certainly not where clubs already in the leagues are involved.

There will be people in Inverness still bitter about the merger, unwilling to even talk about Caley, let alone get behind them.

People move on though, and many ICT fans now are unlikely to have held any allegiance to either of the sides which were disbanded.

They are not the only Highland club making waves in Scottish football just now, with rivals Ross County also an established top flight side.

With the weakening of some of the more traditional sides in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee recently, the Highlands could claim to be a seat of power in Scottish football. Recent cup success for both sides only strengthens this claim.

The visitors today were Celtic. There was extra interest as pundits wondered how they would bounce back from a humbling 7-0 defeat in Barcelona during the week.

While the gap between Celtic and Barcelona in terms of finances, squad and facilities is vast, so too is the difference between Celtic and Inverness.

The stadium is made up of a North and South stand behind the goals and The Jock MacDonald Stand running alongside the touch line. There is also a much smaller seated section running around half way up the opposite touchline.

The South stand looked to be sold out by Celtic fans although there were a few empty seats in the other away areas.

The main stand was busy with a decent number of home fans filling the middle of the stand in particular, although the edges were slightly bare.

It was hard to gauge the North Stand as I was sitting in it but there were several pockets of empty seats nearby.

The club are often criticised for their support, but one thing they certainly have in their favour is two significant groups of young fans at the front of the stand.

One section is filled with children of primary school age and one with teenagers.

ICT encourages their attendance with free tickets for under 12s and reduced rate tickets of £10 for under 16s.

They add to the atmosphere and get behind their team. More importantly they are the future of their club.

With reasonable ticket prices and a burgeoning young support there is bound to be a sense of frustration that more football fans in the city don’t take themselves along to games regularly.

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The South Stand, home to Celtic fans for the afternoon.
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The main stand filled mostly with home fans.
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The celebrations after the late equaliser.

The Caley Jags started the game well with some neat passing movement. In Billy King they have a fast, direct winger that will cause problems for any scottish club.

Despite a strong start they found themselves  1-0 down after 17 minutes when some fine work by the impressive Kieran Tierney set up Tom Rogic to volley home.

The Caley fans around me could have been forgiven for thinking this was game over already.

Their team had other ideas though and ten minutes later the impressive Billy King went on yet another driving run. He cut inside and let a ferocious shot fly past De Vries in the Celtic goal. 1-1.

The difference in top level sport can often come down to small margins, and so it proved when Celtic grabbed the lead again in the 34th minute after an ICT defender squandered possession on the halfway line to Scott Sinclair. The pacy winger dribbled almost unchallenged from half way and showed a touch of class to lift the ball beyond Fon Williams and in to the net.

The performance level of the home side dropped after the restart and they had Fon Williams to thank for a series of impressive saves.

Celtic created several chances and showed glimpses of the team Rodgers will want them to become. They were thwarted by the post, defenders and the formidable goalkeeper but ultimately they were unable to extend their lead.

Inverness got their chance in the 89th minute and Alex Fisher made no mistake, heading in following a ‘stramash’ in the Celtic box.

This sparked wild celebrations from those around me in the North Stand and I am sure the gloating at school tomorrow will be particularly sweet for the many young fans in attendance.

Many people have doubted the appointment of Richie Foran as manager, but there were glimpses of a very decent attacking team today, particularly in the first half.

Not many teams will withstand the almost irresistible pressure that Celtic put ICT under in the second half and his side deserve huge credit for that.

No side is likely to have an easy time of it at the Caledonian Stadium this season if ICT continue to show the level of performance they have in recent weeks.

Perhaps all that is missing from the stadium is a larger home support, but the club can’t work miracles. Their work to build links with younger fans will hopefully see them reap the rewards of increased support in future.

For now, those fans that did attend the game can be grateful that they saw yet another great day in the history of their club. They’re certainly not the ones missing out.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2 Celtic 2

BBC Match Report

Attendance: 6061

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