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Duncan Shearer: Not too late for Caley Thistle to change their mind over Fife move – as they risk ghost club status

The relocation plan risks severing the club's links with the Inverness community, writes Duncan Shearer.

The Caledonian Stadium, Inverness.
Caledonian Stadium, home of Caley Thistle... on match-days anyway. Image: SNS.

It is not too late for the board at Caley Thistle to change their mind on the decision to relocate the club’s training base to Fife.

The reaction to the club’s shock announcement on Friday they would base themselves at the home of Kelty Hearts for training purposes next season has, predictably, been met with anger and dismay among the support.

I can understand why emotions are running high. Having had a few days to digest the news, I keep feeling I have more questions than answers.

There are alarming elements to this decision – but my biggest concern is the lack of consultation from the board with the fans, shareholders and supporters’ trust.

The directors have entered into an agreement with a rival club in the division they will be playing in next season with no accountability whatsoever.

And I fear this will lead to more problems than solutions.

What happens to players on the books at Caley Thistle?

Inverness Caledonian Thistle striiker and captain Billy Mckay.
Caley Jags striker and captain Billy Mckay is based in the Highlands. Image: SNS.

I understand the football rationale behind this decision.

The majority of the first team squad are out of contract and it does not take a mathematical genius to predict the likelihood is those who are offered new deals will receive offers on reduced terms.

As a result there is a strong possibility they will be picked off by other clubs in the Championship who can offer higher wages.

That leaves Caley Thistle looking to pick-up as many young players from the likes of Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibs to bolster their ranks for League One.

Being able to offer young players full-time football and the chance to stay at home in the Central Belt could make Caley Thistle an attractive proposition to some.

But at what cost?

The hierarchy who run the club are not daft.

They are successful business people and clearly there has been consultation with the coaching staff about switching to a new training base.

But what about the players on the books who live in the area?

Take Billy Mckay, for example. Is he supposed to relocate or commute every day from the Highlands to Fife?

Club’s standing in the community is at risk

Caley Thistle fans
Caley Thistle fans are up in arms at the club’s plans to relocate training to Fife. Image: SNS.

I cannot stop thinking about the detrimental effect this will have on the club’s standing in the local community in and around Inverness.

I find myself wondering whether the loss of identity and standing in the local community is worth it.

It was only a week ago club stalwart Charlie Christie was calling for the club to use relegation as a chance to reconnect with the fans and build stronger links.

This move will do the opposite of that – and it’s clear the fans are not taking the news well.

Caley Thistle boast an average home attendance of just under 2,000.

When I checked yesterday an online petition from fans urging the club to keep the team in Inverness was closing in on 1,500 signatures.

That’s a significant number of the fanbase making their feelings known and I would urge the club to take heed of the depth of feeling about their plans for next season.

To be blunt, Caley Thistle could become a ghost club because of this and that is why I would strongly advise them not to go through with this.

Caley Jags are now in Ross County’s shadow

Caley Jags fans used to tease their neighbours and rivals Ross County that the Staggies were “forever in our shadow” as they led the way in rising up through the ranks to the top flight of Scottish football.

But the tables have turned completely and it is Caley Thistle who are now firmly in Ross County’s shadow.

Not only is there a gulf, but it is widening.

The decision to relocate first team operations is bound to impact the club locally, too.

If I was a parent of promising young player and had both Inverness and County vying for their signature, I’d be nudging my child towards Dingwall.

It’s the right move for me as a parent and, given how things are at the moment, the more stable option.

Ross County v Caley Thistle
When will we see Ross County and Caley Thistle competing against each other again? Image: SNS.

I don’t know if youth team players will be expected to relocate if they are deemed capable of making the step up to the first team.

The doubt about what the future holds if relocation does not work also has to be considered, and there would be a genuine concern about the club going part-time in the future.

That’s the considerations parents and young footballers in the Highlands will face because of the changes being made.

Do you put your faith in a Premiership club who offers full-time football or uncertainty at a club in the third tier of Scottish football?

I know which one I’d choose.

Lessons need to be learned at Ross County

While there is anger and uncertainty swirling around Caley Thistle, there were scenes of joy at Global Energy Stadium on Sunday as Ross County secured their Premiership status in style.

The Staggies cruised to a 4-0 win over Raith Rovers for a 6-1 aggregate win in the play-off final.

Compared to last year’s dramatic finale against Partick Thistle, this was smooth sailing for County.

Don Cowie has done a terrific job in steadying the ship after a difficult season for the club and deserves the chance he has been given of becoming manager on a permanent basis.

Picking Derek Adams to replace Malky Mackay instead of Don is chairman Roy MacGregor’s one big regret.

So it’s only right Roy has given Don the chance to show what he can do with a transfer window and a pre-season behind him rather than firefighting.

Don Cowie applauds Ross County fans after leading his side to Premiership safety on Sunday.
Don Cowie applauds the County fans after leading his side to Premiership safety on Sunday. Image: SNS.

I said last year I hoped lessons had been learned from County’s narrow escape and, at the risk of repeating myself, let’s hope the penny drops this time.

The Staggies have been fortunate to stay up for two years running, but you can only go so far down the well before you fall in.

It is crucial County regroup, strengthen and start next season better.

Every club goes through poor spells, but County seem to have discovered a knack of giving themselves a standing start in the last two seasons.

They need to find a way to come out the blocks quickly so that those tougher moments can be absorbed more easily.