TERRY Butcher may no longer be the manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle but, given the opportunity, he is evidently still willing to go to bat on behalf of his former club.
That was made plainly clear as he waded into the row regarding whether the Highlanders are receiving a raw deal in the build up to their historic League Cup final.
Inverness’ current incumbent, John Hughes, opened that particular can of worms during his recent press conference as he lambasted the decision to make Inverness play a re-arranged Premiership fixture just four days before the Parkhead showpiece. He also took the opportunity to flag up a series of refereeing decisions which proved, in his view, that the men from the Caledonian Stadium have endured the thin end of the wedge with alarming regularity this term.
As fate would have it, the fixture which has provoked Hughes’ ire is against a Hibs side managed by Butcher – who has been candid in his desire for his former club to lift the League Cup this weekend. And, while Butcher is keen to bank three points in Hibs’ chase for a top six place, there is no shortage of sympathy for Hughes’ plight from his predecessor, who claims to have lived with similar issues for almost five years.
“Welcome to Inverness, John,” he said with a rueful smile. “I experienced it all the time in Inverness. There is always the feeling that you are the outsiders, the country yokels, the teuchters – that’s how you feel. That is the way it always was and it will probably always be that way. It’s strange that Aberdeen can play last Saturday, but Caley play on the Sunday and then have to play on the Wednesday again. It seems very unfair and loaded to the team from the Granite City.
“Absolutely, I have sympathy for Inverness. The last thing you want is to play a game like this before the biggest match in your history. You want a clear, free week leading up to the final.”
The scheduling ensures that, while Inverness have the distraction of league matters this week, Aberdeen can enjoy preparation entirely focused on the final at St Andrews’ Old Course Hotel – perhaps with the odd round of golf thrown in.
“Aberdeen have a clear eight-day run at the final against a team that have played two games in that time,” Butcher continued, before smiling: “If it was me, I’d be running up and down the corridors of Aberdeen’s hotel making a racket – try to get some payback.”
In a more serious tone, the Hibs manager said he does not believe Inverness’ League Cup hopes have been sunk by the coding of the fixtures computer.
Indeed, having enjoyed a free week in the build up to the 2005 CIS Insurance Cup final against Rangers while in charge of Motherwell, he can see the benefits of a slight distraction.
“When I was at Motherwell, I lost a final 5-1 against Rangers and it was hard to take,” he continued. “I think we had a good first four minutes in that one. Apart from that, it was a disaster. We had a clear week before that and, having experienced that, it can be a long, long week and work against you because players over think the game.
“It is not ideal but, from a players’ point of view, sometimes this can be the most tense week of your life so having another focus and priority could perhaps help them slightly.”
While Inverness may view the visit of Hibs to be a mere nuisance in the midst of cup final fever, it will be an emotional evening for the former England captain.
He readily admits falling in love with the Highlands during his time there and, alongside assistant Maurice Malpas and chief scout Steve Marsella, created a formidable unit. And Butcher, who could see Hibs enter the top six with a win tonight if Dundee United also defeat St Johnstone, concedes it will be strange having to plot their downfall. “It is a special place and there will always be a piece of my heart there. It was great for me and my family, and I think me and Maurice [Malpas] can be proud of the job we did there,” he continued. “But I have to go back up there to beat them. It is strange to plot and plan against them from a critical point of view and say ‘how can we beat them?’”
Meanwhile, Paul Cairney is determined to take advantage of any lack of focus from Inverness as Hibs target three vital points in the chase for a top six berth.
Cairney said: “The League Cup final might be on a few of the boys’ minds and we need to go up there with the right attitude and make sure we do enough to get the right result. We want to be in the top six and, as far as we are concerned, we are going up there to win. We know what our aims are. We need to keep on winning and hope that St Johnstone get beat.
“Hopefully, other teams will do the business against St Johnstone and knock them off their stride, but our focus will be on our own game and getting three massive points.”