After switching from St Johnstone, Paul Cherry couldn’t wait to help drive Caley Thistle up from the old Division Three in 1996.
The then Perth-based midfielder was tempted north by manager Steve Paterson and chairman Dougie McGilvray, who even allowed him to be based in the Fair City and travel north for matches.
Cherry loved being part of a special squad, set to move to the new Caledonian Stadium, much like he had encountered when Saints moved to shiny McDiarmid Park in 1989.
Caley Thistle, just two years into the senior leagues, had big ambitions to climb the leagues and Cherry, who won Division One with St Johnstone, couldn’t wait to be part of a silverware-winning group.
He said: “With St Johnstone, I had been there when we moved to the new stadium, McDiarmid Park.
“Dougie told me before I joined Inverness that a new stadium was being built s,o having been there, I knew there would be a buzz. It lifts the entire place.
“It was like a mirror. At St Johnstone, we were an attacking side moving to a new stadium and Inverness had the same feel, with people taking an interest and coming from all over to see the team.
“It generated a lot of interest, not just in the Highlands, but throughout Scotland.
“Winning the Third Division (in 1996-97) and getting the trophy at the Caledonian Stadium was my Inverness high point.
“The first aim was to get promoted and we achieved that. Part-time football is not nearly as stressful as full-time, but you are still left with special memories.”
‘We’d rather get beat 4-3 than 1-0’
Cherry speaks with plenty of fondness about Paterson, who guided ICT up to DIvision One before taking on the Aberdeen job in 2002.
He said: “Inverness was the most enjoyable time of my career, largely down to there was no real pressure.
“Steve Paterson was the best man-manager that I ever played under.
“He knew how to get the best out of players and make them reach their potential. That was reflected in the way the team played. We’d rather get beat 4-3 than 1-0.
“The people in Inverness, from the tea-lady to the backroom staff to Tommy Cumming, the kitman – it had a really nice atmosphere.
“We had a really good team, with players like Barry Wilson, Charlie Christie and Iain Stewart, who couldn’t run away from my gran, but could score goals.”
Cherry on giving drink money and chip shop order to kitman before away games
The 56-year-old, who runs Murcia-based estate agent Chersun in Spain, admits McGilvray made the move to Inverness more than worth it with a signing fee many times more than he expected.
Furthermore, he’ll never forget his first ever matchday experience – even before he’d got off the team bus.
He explained: “The first game of the season was, I think, away to Stenhousemuir. The team bus stopped in Perth, where I stayed. We would have our pre-match meal in Perth and go on from there.
“At Stenny’s Ochilview, Dougie McGilvray on the team bus grabbed the microphone and urged us to get off to a good start because we wanted to win the league (Third Division).
“He said, more importantly, if you give Tommy – the kitman – your drink money, he’ll sort that out as well as your orders for fish or pie suppers. This is the start of the season and I was thinking it was ‘Boys on Tour’. I couldn’t believe it.
“However, it did build up the team spirit. If you get beat, away from home, generally you won’t laugh and the heads are down.
“With Inverness, the odd time we did lose away from home, you would be on the bus with the lager.
“Charlie Christie always told us: ‘there’s always next week’. The bus would drop me up at Perth. Had we been at Stranraer, I could hardly walk.”
- Paul Cherry on his times playing football as a kid alongside John Robertson in Edinburgh.