It is with some frustration, then, that a well-run club which harbours ambitions of following Ross County and Inverness into Scottish football’s top flight is preparing for its third successive campaign in the relative doldrums of League Two.
They are strong favourites to win the title this term, as they were two seasons ago before Rangers dropped down to muddy the waters last year. Having spent healthily – in League Two terms, at least – on wages and seemingly rediscovered their equilibrium under Jim McInally, right, the feeling is that the Blue Toon are in the process of reversing a decline which set in under Neale Cooper and continued under John Sheran.
Asked why they’ve found themselves back at square one having displayed such intent in the mid-Noughties, chairman Rodger Morrison said: “It doesn’t matter how ambitious we are as a club, it still comes down to the man we appoint to run the team. Obviously at times in the past we haven’t had the right manager in place. This time I think we do, without a doubt. Jim’s happy here and I think he’ll give us what we’re looking for.”
And what Morrison is looking for, ultimately, is a pathway to the Scottish Premiership. A £7 million “sports village”, being funded with the aid of the local council, will improve the club’s infrastructure and enhance their potential. “We always look to emulate Ross County because, at the time they got voted into the league, they were six places below us in the Highland League,” he recalls. “They’ve spent a lot on infrastructure but we’re looking to do the same. I certainly feel more clubs should be doing what Ross County and Inverness have done.
“I remember being really disappointed when we missed out on a place in the First Division. Our fans thought it would have been a step too far for us, but I certainly didn’t. I don’t think the Premier League is a step too far for us. The leagues are getting closer in standard. Once upon a time if we played Rangers, Aberdeen or even Ross County, you would really have seen the difference, but you don’t see such a big gulf any more. I don’t see why we can’t make it to the Premiership, all things being equal.”
So can the Blue Toon get the ball rolling this season? “We had a strong finish to last season [to finish second to Rangers] and we’ve looked impressive so far this summer,” Morrison noted. “We feel like we’ve got the right manager and the right squad in place, so we’re quietly confident.”