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Highland League

Clachnacuddin’s last Highland League title success remembered 20 years on

The manager Robbie Williamson and striker Bruce McCraw reflect on the Inverness club's last title triumph in 2004.
Paul Chalk
Clachnacuddin celebrate winning the 2003-2004 Highland League title. Image: DC Thomson
Clachnacuddin celebrate winning the 2003-2004 Highland League title. Image: DC Thomson

Twenty years ago today, Clachnacuddin won their last Highland League title,  in a double-winning campaign where they were a penalty shoot-out defeat away from a treble.

The Inverness club – one of the seven 1893 original members still in the division, alongside Forres Mechanics – have won 18 Highland League crowns, more than any current member.

In 2003-2004, Robbie Williamson’s Lilywhites saw off the challenge of Buckie Thistle, winning 21 of 28 fixtures, to secure the title by five points and end what was then a 29-year wait for league success.

Williamson recalls the day – April 24, 2004 – the championship was confirmed with a 2-1 victory at Cove Rangers thanks to goals from Steven “Biscuits” MacDonald and Davie “Daisy” Ross.

Williamson said: “It was my birthday the next day and I think I missed my birthday for three days because the boys were at mine for that period.

“We won 2-1 at Allan Park, Cove, having been 2-0 ahead. We managed to see it out and it was a fantastic achievement.

“I was born and brought up not a by-kick away from Grant Street, so it was special for me.

“I support the club and played for them.”

Clachnacuddin’s title-winning manager Robbie Williamson. Image: Clachnacuddin.

Highland League title ‘greatest achievement’ – Williamson

Highland capital native Williamson shone as a youngster and was snapped up by Graeme Souness’ Rangers, but it was a short spell and he returned to Inverness.

With Clach in financial difficulties and playing as struggling amateurs, he moved to Ross County and was part of the Dingwall side who won entry into the Scottish Leagues in 1994, going on to help the Staggies win the Third Division, now League Two, in his final season.

Williamson said: “I then came back and, I must admit, my legs had gone as a player.

“When I broke my leg for a third time (at County), I wanted to get involved in the coaching and management side.

“It was the greatest achievement in my football career, without doubt.”

The Press and Journal reports Clachnacuddin’s title win from April 2004.

Clach chairman David Dowling laughed at manager’s title hope

Before becoming Clach boss in his own right, Williamson learned plenty from being assistant to “methodical” Brian “Lofty” Black, who had won the Highland League with Inverness Thistle.

When work commitments led to Black stepping down, Williamson was given the chance to lead from the top.

He explained how he had belief early on that he could deliver success within a three-year period.

He said: “When I took over, I said to the chairman David Dowling I’d try and win the league for the club within three years, and he laughed at me – and I can understand why he did so.

“I got on well with David, but he took a massive gamble by giving me the opportunity (to become the boss) when I had very little experience. To gain experience in any walk of life, you have to be given that opportunity. I was grateful for that.

“I was nipping away at one or two players, and I could see the jigsaw puzzle coming together.

“We were a big, fit and strong side. We had a fantastic team spirit.”

Members from Clach’s 2004 double-winnings season met up this month for a 20-year reunion. Image: Clachnacuddin FC

‘Nobody gave us a wing and a prayer’ of winning the league – Williamson

Williamson underlined such team unity was evident even this month when the group – who had lost the Scottish Qualifying Cup final to Buckie Thistle earlier in the campaign, before going on to win the Highland League Cup final against Forres Mechanics – reunited to mark the anniversary of their double success.

He added: “I said to the boys, we should not underestimate the magnitude of that achievement.

“Nobody gave us a wing and a prayer when that season started. I thought, when I got that team together, we had a very good chance.

“We missed out on the treble with a penalty kick in extra-time with nine men which was unbelievable.”

The 2003-04 season was great for the city of Inverness overall – with John Robertson’s Caley Thistle going up to the SPL, or top-flight, for the first time. ICT also won the Challenge Cup to secure a double.

A joint civic reception was put on by Highland Council to mark the achievements of both clubs.

Clach manager Robbie Williamson, left, and Caley Thistle boss John Robertson, who led their clubs to doubles in 2004. Image: DC Thomson.

Bruce McCraw: Williamson recruited winners

Former striker Bruce McCraw spent 14 years with Clach, scoring more than 120 goals in 300-or-so games.

The potent finisher thinks their manager recruited well to shape a side capable of grasping the crown from Deveronvale.

He said: “Once we signed players such as Dave Mackay, Biscuits, Daisy and Mike Sanderson, you would have looked at our team and felt we had a chance.

“They all had extra experience within the Highland League and Scottish League.

“Looking back, Mike Sanderson and I seemed to score or assist one another so often. Something worked well between us.”

Clach’s Bruce McCraw, right, celebrates a goal with Davie ‘Daisy’ Ross. Image: Clachnacuddin FC.

Clach were soon the team to beat

A storming start to the 2003-04 campaign saw Clach go unbeaten in their first 14 fixtures.

McCraw felt picking up this early momentum really worked in their favour.

He said: “Once we got on a bit of a roll, everyone wanted to beat us. It was like that every week, even against teams near the bottom of the league.

“You, of course, had the big games against the east coast sides like Fraserburgh, Buckie Thistle and Keith, who were all strong, but all the local teams wanted to put one over us as well.”

McCraw admits doing the double meant a lot personally.

He said: “I had won the Inverness, North of Scotland and Qualifying Cups, so the double in 2003-04 completed the set, which was so special. It was a hell of an achievement.”