LOCAL boy Nick Ross has expressed the hope that Inverness Caledonian Thistle reaching the Scottish Cup final will help heal the wounds that have festered for the past 21 years in the Highland capital.
But the attacking midfielder doubts that, even if Inverness CT beat Falkirk at Hampden on Saturday it will bring complete closure, such is the depth of feeling that still exists in the hearts and minds of at least some with long memories.
“Inverness and Ross County have redrawn the football map in this country”Nick Ross
To understand why this situation persists, one has to revisit the summer of 1994, the year Caledonian Thistle was formed.
This followed a merger of Caledonian and Inverness Thistle, both members of the Highland Football League, the target being one of the two vacancies that were created by the Scottish Football League following reconstruction and the establishment of four divisions of ten clubs each.
In the event, the newly formed Inverness club was elected to the Third Division along with Highland rivals Ross County. But, when the club’s name was amended to Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 1996 at the request of the local council, who had contributed £900,000 towards the development of the new Caledonian Stadium, Inverness Thistle fans reacted with fury. And there are those who continue to hold a grudge to the extent that they refuse to set foot inside Caledonian Stadium or have anything to do with Inverness CT.
That is perhaps reflected by the size of average attendance of less than 3,500 during a season in which the team has over-achieved to the extent that Inverness CT has enjoyed its most successful season ever, also finishing third in the SPFL.
Ross, 23, born and bred in Inverness, said: “People still talk about the old Caley and Thistle and how the two clubs should not have merged. I don’t know too much about it as it was before my time, but I get told about it every day by people in the street.
“If we were to win the Scottish Cup and the fact that we are also in Europe then people will start taking notice of us, and, hopefully they will forget about the past and focus on Inverness Caledonian Thistle as a team.
“The split is in the past but it is still a big thing and you still get the diehards who mention it and won’t come to our games.
“However, Inverness have a new generation of younger fans and soon enough that may be forgotten about.
“The diehards still tell us about the history of the merger and it is surprising that after 21 years that it is still fresh in some people’s memories. It would be great if one day soon it is all forgotten about.
“None of my friends have ever been against the merger as they are all behind me and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
“Inverness and Ross County have flown the flag for football in the Highlands and we have redrawn the football map in this country.”
While not every Invernesian football fan is prepared to embrace the current feelgood factor being experienced by the majority of the locals, Ross says: “The support in the city has been unbelievable.
“There has been supporters queuing for tickets outside the stadium and I have never seen that before in my time here.
“All the shops in the town are getting right behind us and there has definitely been a sea change with the run to the cup final.
“Home crowds have gone up and that is a good sign that we are doing something right and I hope reaching the Scottish Cup final can unify the city of Inverness.
“We hope it is not a one-off but, if we win the Scottish Cup ,it could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Ross is rightly proud of his local roots, pointing out that it is extra special for him as he used to go to all the games when he was younger and to be part of history is: “Just mind blowing – a dream come true.
“Who would have thought that we would have climbed the leagues and got into Europe and stand on the verge of winning the Scottish Cup. This is a fairytale story.”
Should Ross pen the final chapter in the fairytale by scoring the winning goal at Hampden, he will inevitably earn the tag “local hero”.
But he stressed: “While that would be great, I am not a local hero yet, and if Inverness win the Scottish Cup then we will all be heroes, not just me.”
Until now, Inverness CT has been most famous for the tabloid headline that made headlines in 2000 when they defeated Celtic 3-1 in a Scottish Cup-tie at Celtic Park and the Sun newspaper proclaimed “Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious”. But Ross added: “Everybody remembers that game, even people in different countries, but if we won the Scottish Cup that would overtake it.”