In 2000, they pulled off one of the most resonant results in Scottish football history. Their Scottish Cup third round win over Celtic inspired a celebrated newspaper headline and still holds its charge to this day.
Then, just seven years ago, Inverness went a few steps better and lifted the trophy itself with a 2-1 win over Falkirk at Hampden Park.
As they travel to Arbroath for tonight’s Championship play-off semi-final second leg, it may be unsettling for Inverness to consider that they are now cast as the villains. The beguiling story of the part-timers with a nickname derived from beacons guiding fishermen into harbour has captured the imagination of football supporters all over Britain.
Dick Campbell, Arbroath’s bunnet-wearing manager, has had plenty of exposure in recent times. However, he can’t help but prove endearing. The 68-year-old spent yesterday afternoon mowing his lawn as he prepared for the next biggest game in his managerial career.
“I have already done my football chat this morning,” he said. “My brother and I sat in the office for an hour and went through everything we are going to do.”
His brother is of course his twin, Ian. “Pink” is Dick's boss by day at the recruitment company they own and then his assistant at weekends and on nights like tonight, when one of football’s greatest double acts aim to prolong Arbroath’s promotion dream. If not, one wonders what awaits? Campbell did admit, in an interview with The Scotsman earlier this year, that he felt he had one more big job in him.
There are full-time clubs with vacant and soon-to-be vacant posts who would be negligent if they failed to consider his track record.
“My own stock is pretty high,” conceded Campbell. “The club’s stock is high. We now have over 1000 season tickets. The average crowd is 2,500 at home. There’s work getting done on new dressing rooms, new dugouts and the pitch. It is fascinating what’s going on.” As many as 4,500 are expected at Gayfield this evening.
An injury time defeat in the top-of-the-league showdown against Kilmarnock, after which Campbell said he had never felt so deflated in football, seemed to prove a sobering return to reality for the Red Lichties. But Arbroath have not allowed themselves to be blown off course. They have shaken off that disappointment to stand just three matches from the Premiership.
A 0-0 draw in Tuesday night's first leg in Inverness underlined their resilience. Some would now have Arbroath as favourites to reach the final, where both they and Inverness now know they will face St Johnstone.
Campbell is relishing this late season drama. He had planned to take his players to the National Performance Centre at Oriam in Edinburgh on the eve of tonight's second leg to help them recover from their exertions earlier this week. Then he re-considered and gave them the day off instead. When he greets them tonight at Gayfield he will not have seen them since the early hours of Wednesday morning.
“These players are all working,” he explained. “They did not get home ‘til 2am. I decided to leave them and get them up an hour earlier tomorrow, which is when we will prepare for the game in terms of set pieces and all the rest of it.”
The slightly laid-back approach reflects how he views the tie. He believes people still expect Inverness to prevail even though the scoreline is level and the deciding leg is at Gayfield, Arbroath’s own little fortress.
Billy Dodds’ side will travel on the day of the game, as they would for a regulation league fixture. “Travelling is in our DNA,” said the Inverness manager. Dodds, too, seems calm and collected.
Scot Gardiner, his chief executive, has hailed Dodds for succeeding in getting Inverness back on track after some dark days this winter, when they failed to win in 11 games. “We were on the edge of a crisis,” admitted Gardiner.
Relations between the clubs are very cordial. Gardiner will bring a bottle of eight-year-old single malt Culloden Whisky to present to the Arbroath chairman, Mike Caird, on arrival.
The Inverness chief executive is conscious that he wants a reversal of the result of that battle when the Lowlanders triumphed over the Highlanders, although of course it was a lot more complicated than that. Gardiner has been assured by his hosts that the bottle will be opened after the final whistle whatever happens.
There is, though, slight disagreement about one aspect of the do-or-die clash. Which club needs victory more? Who is operating under the most pressure?
“I don’t want to get personal,” says Campbell. “But you look at Inverness shouting their mouth off about being a Premier League club. There were 2,200 at the (first leg) game. We will have 4,500 there tomorrow. I don’t know where all this is coming from.
“You would have to say there is far more pressure on Inverness. Inverness need to get up. We don’t need to get up. We need to earn the right to get up.”
Dodds felt slightly more divided on the subject. He’s not sure about Arbroath being the neutrals’ choice. “Maybe,” he says. “I've not looked enough into it. It is certainly a fairytale for a part-time team getting to where they are.
“Dick and his team have been fantastic, but I don't buy into the neutral thing. Neutral Highlanders want Inverness in the Premiership as quickly as possible. “The teams are so evenly matched. We have to respect the opponent and realise what they have done this season. But we've had a right good season as well and are in a good place.”