Caley Thistle manager John Robertson has been blown away by the response of over 6,200 sales from a virtual ticket initiative for the Championship fixture against Hearts later this month.
Inverness launched the scheme at the weekend, allowing supporters to purchase virtual tickets priced at either £5 or £10, after the Federation of Hearts supporters contacted the Highlanders to explore ways of assisting them during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The upcoming fixture between the sides at Caledonian Stadium has been switched to Friday, February 26 for live television coverage, meaning Inverness would stand to miss out on income from Jambos fans for their online streaming service.
The goodwill between the two clubs stretches back to 2013 when Inverness made a donation to the Hearts 1874 fighting fund during the Edinburgh club’s financial problems, contributing £5 for every away ticket sold above the then average visiting attendance of 650 for an encounter at Caledonian Stadium.
Inverness were also one of just two Championship clubs, along with relegated Partick Thistle, who voted against the proposal to end last season which ultimately went through and saw the Jambos demoted to the second-tier.
Robertson, who is Hearts’ all-time record goalscorer and also managed the Tynecastle club, is thrilled with the way the two clubs have once again rallied together.
He said: “It has far exceeded what we expected.
“I’d love to say I’m surprised at the Hearts fans, but I’m not. I know what they’re like and they’ve got the bit between their teeth.
“It was a fantastic initiative from the club and it has been an unbelievable response.
“Again it shows the bond between the two teams, which goes way back to 2013, initially, and then obviously there was the alliance in the summer where we were very much on a path not to demote Hearts, Partick Thistle or Stranraer.
“The response has been unbelievable and not just from Hearts fans, it has to be said.
“Around 95% is Hearts fans, but our fans have rallied to the cause as well and there’s been a pocket of fans from other Scottish clubs who have seen what’s gone on and decided to get involved. It has also come from abroad.
“It just shows you how Scottish football can get together at times and show an alliance and partnership, which is how it should be.
“Obviously, I have history with Hearts, but I have a huge history with Inverness as well.
“For both these clubs to come together like this, from my perspective, is absolutely fantastic.”
Although the match will be played behind closed doors, the ticket sales are on course to exceed that of Caledonian Stadium’s record attendance of 7,753, which was set at game against Rangers in January 2008.
Robertson added: “We were half-joking that it could break our attendance record. I know what Hearts fans are like – once they get on board for a campaign it is like a runaway train
“At 6,200 with three weeks to go, the record could be under threat.
“It is a bizarre situation – we could have a record crowd for a game no-one was at.
“We’ve even had one man who has asked if he could be named as the virtual streaker. He was happy to buy an extra five tickets as long as he could go down as that.
“I don’t know what he has got planned. Someone has also asked to be the virtual mascot
“It just seems to have caught everybody’s imagination. It has just grown arms and legs.”
And so it begins!
As incredibly we pass the 6,000 virtual tickets sold, the Gaffer signs the first 200 thank you letters this afternoon.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) February 8, 2021
Those paying £10 for a ticket will receive a hand signed thank you letter from Robertson, who has now started the time-consuming task.
He added: “I look forward to starting the signature aspect of it. I’ve been trying to get around the players to see if any of them are expert forgers, but apparently it is their wives who are good at forging their signatures.
“The least I can do is spend a few hours a day responding to those who have been fantastic for us.”