Childhood friends, now Highland derby foes.
A close acquaintance which has lasted 16 years will be put on hold for 90 minutes when Ross County’s Marcus Fraser comes up against Caley Thistle’s Joe Chalmers for the first time at Victoria Park today.
Defender Fraser and midfielder Chalmers both started out in Celtic’s academy at the age of nine, and spent 11 years together in the Hoops’ youth teams.
By the time both players left Parkhead three years ago, Chalmers and Fraser had struck up a close bond that has remained intact ever since.
As fate would have it, both players now find themselves at rival Highland clubs, with Fraser joining County upon his release from Celtic in 2015, while Chalmers has been at Caley Jags since last summer following a spell at Motherwell.
Staggies skipper Fraser, who has recently recovered from a calf injury, is relishing his first encounter with fellow 24-year-old Chalmers, and he said: “Joe was at Motherwell and he played up here in one game, but I missed out unfortunately because of my shoulder injury.
“I have never actually played directly against him – this will be the first time this weekend.
“I had been up here for a few years, and he just phoned me and told me he was going up to Inverness.
“He actually stayed at my house when he was going there to train. When he got a contract I was delighted for him, and obviously he has settled up here now.
“He’s getting game-time that he needs and he’s playing well. We still see each other quite a lot, we will go for a bite to eat and catch up.”
Chalmers, who is from Cambuslang, says he and Bishopbriggs-born Fraser quickly bonded following their first introduction at Celtic, and often spent time at each others’ houses, adding: “It was pretty instant. There were a good four or five of us who started together, but Marcus and I were always really close, as were our families just through coming to training and games.
“We were round each other’s houses all the time – FIFA on the PlayStation, all that stuff. Just the usual kind of things you do at that age.
“We’ve had some good games over the years, but Marcus hasn’t got a great temper on him.
“At Celtic, you’re training four nights a week, so you’re spending as much time with the boys at football as you are with pals at school.
“You’d come home from school and then have a couple of hours to get yourself ready for training. After a couple hours there, it would be a case of my mum getting me doing homework.”
Among the team-mates of Chalmers and Fraser in the Celtic youth set-up was Scotland skipper Andy Robertson before the left back, now at Liverpool, was famously released at under-15 level for being too small.
Chalmers is thrilled with the way Robertson’s career has panned out since he joined Queen’s Park following his setback, and he added: “It just shows you what can happen if you just keep the head down, keep working hard and enjoying your football.
“At the time Andrew left Celtic, he was small but he always had the ability.
“A lot can change. Some boys you don’t expect to kick on and boys you expect to fall by the way-side.
“John Herron, who was at Blackpool and Raith Rovers and is now at Glentoran, was there too. He hasn’t had an easy time with injury, but is a brilliant player as well.
“Then, as we got older and turned full-time, there are guys I’m still good pals with like Jackson Irvine. I still see him a lot.
“It is a brilliant feeling when boys you played with do well.”