The future of the only junior football club in the Highland capital was hanging in the balance last night after the local authority moved to kick them out their home.
Inverness City FC is facing its own personal “tragedy” and could disband next year because the team will have nowhere to host their home games.
Council chiefs have told the club that their five-year lease of a pitch at the Bught playing fields will not be renewed – despite the team having raised and invested £70,000 at the site.
North MSP John Finnie last night accused local authority leaders of failing to support the side.
Founded a decade ago to stop players having to travel out of Inverness to play junior football, the club has gone from strength-to-strength, and secured promotion to junior football’s North Superleague in 2014.
Their has been achieved despite taking years to find a pitch that was suitable for junior football.
Early plans to use Bught Stadium collapsed, forcing the team to play at North Kessock, and then the city’s Northern Meeting Park.
In 2012, councillors approved a five-year lease to allow the club to host matches at one of the Bught playing fields, at a rent of almost £3,000-a-year.
But it has now emerged that the authority, and its arm’s-length leisure group High Life Highland, has ruled out an extension to that lease.
Last night, club chairman Alastair Wardhaugh told the Press and Journal: “When the lease expires it is not being renewed.
“I haven’t been told the reason, I’ve just been told the lease will not be renewed.
“We’re struggling to find somewhere to go, really. There are no pitches in the city.”
Asked if the club would fold without a solution, he said: “Definitely. Unless we find a benefactor, but I can’t see that happening.
“It would be a tragedy for everyone at this club. We thought once we were in there and we behaved ourselves – which we have – that they would let us stay.
“The place was an absolute quagmire when we got it. We’ve had to do a lot of work to get it up to scratch.
“We worked hard for 10 years to get the money for the pitch.”
The club raised and invested £70,000 to put in new fencing and utilities at the Bught site, but will have to remove them before the lease runs out in October next year.
Mr Wardhaugh said club officials had contacted the University of the Highlands and Islands to ask about opportunities at its new Beechwood campus, as well as Culloden Academy and the developers behind the proposed new town at Tornagrain, but to no avail.
David Haas. Inverness city manager at Highland Council, said the club had been aware that the use of the Bught field was only temporary when the agreement was made.
“The council worked very hard together with the club to help them find a solution in their search for a home,” he said.
“We were really pleased to facilitate the use of the Bught, which was approved by the city committee in March 2012. It was agreed on very clear terms that it was for a period which expires in 2017.
“Essentially the agreement was put in place for that period to enable the club to find a solution that was long-lasting. We continue to provide help and support to help the club find a solution.
“The Bught is an open public space. The council made the decision at the time as an exceptional use of public space.”
But Mr Finnie, a Highlands and islands MSP who sponsors an advertising board at the Inverness City pitch, questioned the council’s level of backing for the team.
“Inverness City have been an extremely successful club in junior football, and that despite all the problems they have had finding a pitch,” he said.
“Disappointingly, in their search they encountered little in the way of assistance from the local authority and then, having eventually secured a home at the Bught, found burdens placed on them, above those which they were already required to meet to compete at the junior level.
“The city prides itself on supporting sporting success and it’s disappointing that hasn’t transferred itself into support for Inverness City.”