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Caley Thistle legend Ross Tokely, 45, to finally end playing career after current club Nairn County meet first club Huntly this weekend

The defender is hanging up his boots - but Nairn boss Steven Mackay wants him to become the first granddad to score in the Highland League before he does.

Ross Tokely, centre, celebrate after scoring against Caley Thistle in this season's North of Scotland Cup semi-final.
Ross Tokely, centre, celebrate after scoring against Caley Thistle in this season's North of Scotland Cup semi-final. Image: Jasperimage

Ross Tokely will finish his remarkable football career back where it began almost 30 years ago when he bows out for Nairn County at Huntly on Saturday.

The defender has sampled life as a player from the Highland League all the way up to the top-flight with, most notably, Caley Thistle, as well as Ross County.

Tokely is rounding off his playing career as a North of Scotland Cup winner with Nairn this term.

The 45-year-old, who has also played and bossed Brora Rangers in the Highland League ranks, has defied his age, never once losing his love for the sport, but he’s decided now is the time to finally hang the boots up and watch from the stands.

‘Fitting finish’ with mixed emotions

Tokely has played more than 750 games, and he explained why he’ll bow out with a smile on his face after 18 enjoyable months at Nairn.

He said: “There are mixed emotions. Fitness-wise, I could have played for another year or two, but I’m doing this more for a better life balance.

“I have really enjoyed my last year-and-a-half playing for Nairn County. They are such a good club to play for, with a lot of good people.

“Saturday will be quite sad, but also quite fitting that I finish back at Huntly, where I had many good memories from when I was young.

“Since Christmas, I have been convincing myself, as has my Mrs, that this is the right time. I need to think about the future.

“I’ve a lot of good memories from my career overall. There have certainly been a lot more positives than not, which I have enjoyed. I have played with a lot of talented players.”

Joining Nairn was a winning move – and Tokely will miss football ‘camaraderie’

Running fan Tokely clearly has loved the past 18 months at Nairn since arriving from North Caledonian League outfit St Duthus and played starring (and scoring) roles on the way to their stunning North of Scotland Cup victory.

He said: “I don’t want to fanfare it, but I’d say by going to Nairn, I have done myself justice, made a difference and I’ve really enjoyed it.

“Also, to win the North of Scotland, which was exceptional – those were the things I wanted to achieve when I joined Nairn.

“It was not an easy journey to win the North of Scotland Cup, not just beating Inverness and Ross County, but we had difficult games before that as well (against Lossiemouth and Forres Mechanics).

“It’s testament to the lads how well we did. To see so many happy faces when we took the trophy back to Nairn was pleasing for me. It took time to soak in.

“I wanted to win another trophy before I retired, so that ticked that box.

“It has been nice to create memories at my age. I was also proud to win the players’ and supporters’ player-of-the-season awards at Nairn last year. That meant so much to me.”

Nairn County’s Ross Tokely accepts his supporters’ player of the season award last year from Shaun Smith, a former club committee member and fan. Image: Courtesy of Donald Matheson.

He added: “I am playing at the age of 45 and people can be a bit ageist and I hear some shouts (from supporters), which makes me laugh.

“Football is something I love, and it will be hard to give that up, but it will give me more time for me and my family.

“I’m quite thick-skinned, so it takes a lot for me to put me down.

“People need to think about why I’ve played for so long. I’ll miss the camaraderie and being in the dressing room with the boys.”

Nairn County defender Ross Tokely receives the players’ player of the season prize last year from club chairman Mark Kelman. Image: Courtesy of Donald Matheson.

Tokely keen to see ICT return to top table

Steve Paterson raided his old club Huntly to take Tokely to Inverness as a teenager and the whole-hearted star racked up almost 600 appearances for the club – more than any other player.

Part of the team who knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup on “go ballistic” night in 2000, he is also remembered for crashing home a stunner in the same competition to beat Hearts 3-1 at Tynecastle two years later.

Tokely’s 16 years with ICT saw him help guide the club through the senior leagues and mix it with the best in the country.

He is currently a youth coach with the club, and hopes the current first-team group survive their relegation battle in the Championship then regroup to achieve promotion back to the Premiership.

He added: “We had a lot of good times at Inverness.

“As a team, we fought hard to prove ourselves. That was down to the mentality, which has been the same for Ross County, in terms of location-wise and budget-wise. Both clubs have punched above their weight for many years.

“I’d like to see both teams competing in the top league again.

“Right now, the most important thing (for Inverness) is to stay in the Championship and refocus in the summer.”

Ross Tokely made almost 600 appearances for Caley Thistle. Image: SNS.

Boss Mackay hails Tokely’s impact

Nairn manager Steven Mackay, whose final match in charge of the Wee County is also this weekend after he announced he’s leaving the club, lifted the lid on parts of Tokely’s footballing life very few people get to see.

He said: “Ross’ contribution is there for all to see, none more so this season than in the North of Scotland Cup semi-final when he scored, assisted and then scored a penalty in the shoot-out, as he did in the final as well.

“He has been phenomenal for us – as we knew he would be. His will to win and leadership skills are exceptional. Even at his age, his fitness levels are fantastic.

“Ross is brilliant with younger players, too, and that’s something many people won’t see. I see him most Sundays (coaching) Caley Thistle’s under-16s as my son is in that team this year.

“All the parents see how passionate Ross is. He has such a strong desire to develop kids in the Highlands.

“To mention his commitment levels, he trains these kids on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, then he’s playing for Nairn on Saturdays, before being away with these kids on Sunday mornings to Morton, Livingston or Partick Thistle.

“It’s a huge commitment to play for Nairn, first and foremost, but his commitment to Caley Thistle on top of a day job – he deserves a huge amount of credit for that.

“Overall, he should be proud of what he has achieved in football.

“Very few will have racked up so many games across all these leagues including the Premiership. He has left his mark on Scottish football, but, of course, Highland football in particular.

“I am hoping he can nick a goal on Saturday at Huntly as I believe he’d may be the first granddad to score in the Highland League, so that would be an interesting one.”

Nairn County manager Steven Mackay, left, with Ross Tokely. Image: Nairn County FC.