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Ross County

The game that missed the deadline: 30 years on from Ross County’s memorable final meeting with Caledonian

The Staggies triumphed 4-3 against Caley in front of a bumper midweek crowd at Victoria Park.
Andy Skinner
Former Ross County manager Bobby Wilson. Image: DC Thomson.
Former Ross County manager Bobby Wilson. Image: DC Thomson.

As Ross County prepared to step up to the Scottish league in 1994 – their final match against Caledonian gave them the opportunity to lay down a marker.

The Staggies had successfully been voted into the Scottish league setup in January, along with Caledonian and Thistle who would amalgamate that summer to form Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

In a midweek encounter which took place 30 years ago today, a bumper crowd arrived at Victoria Park to witness the final meeting between County and Caley.

Bobby Wilson had led the Staggies to back-to-back Highland League titles in 1991 and 1992 – while Caledonian last won the league in 1988.

Although Huntly were well on their way to wrapping up the title on this occasion, the encounter between two of the league’s most prominent sides of the time captured plenty local attention.

A crowd estimated to be over 2,000 arrived in Dingwall – which prompted kick-off to be pushed back.

As a result, the conclusion of County’s thrilling 4-3 victory was too late to receive more than a passing mention in the following day’s Press and Journal.

How the Press and Journal reported on Ross County’s 4-3 victory against Caledonian in April 1994. Image: DC Thomson.

A fitting finale between two strong sides

Wilson insists it was a fitting way to bring the curtain down on a rivalry which had intensified since he took over in 1987 – at a time when County were fresh from finishing bottom of the Highland League.

Wilson said: “My head was away by that time because we were in the Scottish league. We had been accepted in the January.

“Against Caley it was always a hard game. They were always good derby games.

“Maybe early on in my time at the club it wasn’t the same, but it was later on when we came good that Caley realised they had a real game.

“We had a chance to win the league, but finished third, but we had won it twice in the years before that.

Ross County manager Bobby Wilson celebrates with his team after clinching the TSB Highland League title by beating Huntly 2-0 in 1991.

“I would say Caley were probably the strongest team in the league when I joined, but eventually you could probably see we were up there beside them.”

Staggies’ final Highland League success came that season

Both sides would ultimately finish 18 points adrift of champions Huntly, with manager Steve Paterson leading them to the first of five consecutive league triumphs. Caley ultimately finished in second, ahead of County on goal difference.

It was still a fruitful campaign for the Dingwall side however, given they had defeated the Black in Golds 2-1 after extra-time in a thrilling Qualifying Cup final at Borough Briggs the previous November.

That would go down as the Staggies’ final trophy as a Highland League outfit and one which remains well remembered within the Wilson household as his son Barry, a 21-year-old winger at the time, was left out of the side.

Wilson added: “Huntly scooped the league that year but we had beaten them in the Qualifying Cup through in Elgin.

How the Press and Journal reported on Ross County’s Qualifying Cup final victory over Huntly in 1993. Image: DC Thomson.

“It was an amazing game which went to extra-time.

“They were quite a strong team and I wanted to keep Barry back from going on. I had to go through to the bedroom on the Friday night to tell him I wasn’t playing him.

“I thought if we had held it, the power and forward running he had would be effective later in the game.

“He ended up going on a wee bit earlier because Johnston Belshaw got injured, and I think Gordon Connelly did as well.

“We scored late on, and then we scored again in extra-time.”

Barry Wilson was relishing Scottish league chance

Barry Wilson was among the goalscorers in the final meeting against Caley, with Brian Grant netting a double and Alan Duff also on target.

In spite of his goalscoring exploits – Wilson revealed his father once again withdrew him from the side for the subsequent league game against Peterhead.

Wilson, who went on to play for Caley Thistle in two separate spells, says the Staggies were already starting to look ahead to their future as a Scottish league outfit.

Wilson said: “Alan and Brian were the top scorers for a few years, and I got around 12 or 15 goals that season from out wide which was not bad.

Barry Wilson.

“I scored and we won 4-3 – but he put me on the bench on the Saturday against Peterhead.

“We had lost to Huntly on the Saturday, so that probably would have been the end of our league challenge.

“We actually had not a bad run at that point though, after being voted into the league in January.

Huntly worthy league winners

“I think both clubs probably took their eye off the prize a bit – although that’s taking nothing away from Huntly because they won by 18 points.

“I remember they were top of the league anyway by that stage. But they beat us twice in the last 10 games, whereas if we had beaten them it would have been a lot closer.

Former Huntly manager Steve Paterson

“Huntly were a fantastic team that year, with top players such as Eddie Copland and Martin Stewart. They went on to win it five times in a row.

“Thistle were not the force they had once been, so the Caley game was the bigger one.

“It was quite ironic that County beat Caley and Thistle at the end of that season, and then Caley Thistle beat County in the first league game. It was probably honours even – which is quite nice considering I played for them both.”