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Invergordon FC: The all-conquering North Caledonian League side with Highland League aspirations

Manager Gary Campbell and first-team coach Gary Kerr lift the lid on what makes the Recreation Grounds club so successful following a clean sweep of trophies.

Invergordon, with the 2023/24 North Caledonian League trophy. Image: Courtesy of Shaun Kerr
Invergordon, with the 2023/24 North Caledonian League trophy. Image: Courtesy of Shaun Kerr

Invergordon collected a clean sweep of trophies this season – with the North Caledonian League title the pick of the bunch.

Having lost the crown in 2023 to first-time winners Loch Ness, Invergordon were on a mission to get it back and managed to win the title for the seventh time in their history last month.

Annually, they play local rivals Alness United for the Jock MacKay Memorial Cup and won that along with the Football Times Cup against Inverness Athletic earlier this term.

Invergordon boss Gary Campbell, left, and goalkeeper Ryan Slaney. Image: Courtesy of Shaun Kerr

Last weekend, they won 4-3 against Loch Ness to clinch the North Caledonian Cup, and manager Gary Campbell, who has been assistant boss at Brora Rangers, was thrilled his players delivered such success.

He said: “At the start of every season, everyone is out to win as much as they can. Winning the league is the number one target.

“We’re delighted to have won the league and I think we have won seven out of the last eight trophies available – we’ve been doing alright and we’re moving in the right direction.

“I said to the boys you don’t often get the chance to win a clean sweep. Sometimes you need a wee bit of luck. But it was important to give everything we could.”

League success ‘on our own terms’

Campbell is a big admirer of rivals Loch Ness, who are led by Shane Carling.

He explained winning the league back had to be done in a style beyond the three points the Fortrose side were punished with for fielding an ineligible player. 

He said: “Last year, we had so many games to play within such a short period of time and it caught up with us.

“To be fair, Loch Ness have been very consistent, so there is not much margin for error.

“I am happy to have won it by more than Loch Ness’ three-point deduction. I didn’t want that said against our success. We have done it on our own terms.

“The worst we have finished over the last six or seven years since I have been involved has been second.”

The Pentland Ferries North Caledonian Cup winners, Invergordon, who won all trophies on offer this season. Image: North Caledonian FA

Professional approach by champions

Ex-Ross County, Wick and Brora player Campbell is quick to point out any success gained comes as a result of having committed and capable people around him – and not for the short term.

He added: “Once you do something, you want to do it to the very best of your ability.

“Loyalty is everything in life. I have been lucky to have Shaun Kerr (first-team coach) and Ali MacGregor (assistant manager) and (captain) Kyle Maclean to name just a few.

“I have also been lucky that the players I have brought in have bought into what we want to do.

“I know this is amateur football, but we do our work as professionally as we can. Hopefully that helps us be as successful as we can be.”

Kyle Maclean, left, and Cameron Mackintosh with the NCL trophy this season. Image: Courtesy of Shaun Kerr

Campbell paid tribute to his assistant Ali MacGregor, who is the son of Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor, and said his assistant is just as determined as him when it comes to earning success.

He said: “Ali is like part of the family here.

“He has got as much will to win as anyone. Believe me, Ali does not like losing. I am a bit like that myself.”

There are plans behind the scenes to get Invergordon’s Recreation Grounds into shape for competing in the Highland League, but they remain under wraps for now.

Campbell said: “Our aim is to reach the Highland League. We need to progress now. There is no point in us winning the league and stopping there.”

Invergordon captain Kyle Maclean, left, with first-team coach Shaun Kerr. They are joined by Kyle’s twins Aria and Kai, with Shaun’s daughter Ava next to him on the right. Image courtesy of Shaun Kerr

Kerr – No ‘big-time Charlies’ here

First-team coach Shaun Kerr, whose career started as a youth striker at Ross County, has played for Clachnacuddin, Nairn County, Golspie Sutherland and Invergordon where he’s been for the past seven years.

He stopped playing two years ago as his attention turned to coaching alongside Campbell and MacGregor.

Kerr believes a mixture of squad continuity and a demand for high standards set by the boss are the reasons for success.

He said: “As a club, we don’t change much every season. We’ve got a strong core of players, and we maybe change one or two every year.

“We don’t have any big-time Charlies. Everyone is in it together. Everyone works hard for one another. There is like a family spirit at the club, which is good.”

Kerr sees no reason why Campbell cannot show his potential as a boss in the Highland League, and he hopes he achieves that aim with Invergordon.

He said: “We do want to aim for the Highland League. Gary should be coaching at that level anyway. He is one of the best managers I’ve had.

“I’ve been full-time at Ross County, and I’ve not seen a manager like Gary (having worked under Neale Cooper, Alex Smith and John Robertson at County).

“Gary is so ambitious and hopefully this club can be in the Highland League in a few years.

“He is so passionate. He is a 100% winner. All the boys buy into it.”

Invergordon assistant manager Ali MacGregor.

MacGregor spurs the squad on

And he was also quick to point out the benefits of having MacGregor on board, with pre-match boosts coming hours before kick-off.

He added: “All the boys love Ali. He’s unbelievable and a great character to have at the club.

“Your phone is going off early on a Saturday morning with Ali sending us motivational videos. He loves it.

“If you see him at a game, he always has three scarves on – Ross County, Brora Rangers and Invergordon. He has the warmest neck in Scotland!”

Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor. Image: SNS

County chairman is Invergordon fan

Ross County chairman MacGregor explained he enjoys watching his local side compete in the North Caledonian League – away from the cut-and-thrust excitement of the Premiership Staggies.

He said: “When Ross County are not playing, that’s where you will find me. It’s my home town.

“In a way, it is like village football at its natural best and I quite like that.

“The players are playing for nothing and the people who come to watch on a Saturday afternoon want to support their local, or town, team.

“I like to see that, whether it is Halkirk or the Inverness teams (in this league), and it’s really refreshing.

“We’re living in a world where money dictates football, so this kind of mentality is nice to see.

Invergordon, after beating Inverness Athletic 3-2 to win this season’s Football Times Cup. Image: Courtesy of Ali MacGregor

“I see it in the summer leagues and it’s like shinty where teams are supported by people in their village or towns. I enjoy it.

“The club have done so well to win all the trophies this season.

“Gary has shown he has talent as a manager. You must have talent and persistence – you don’t succeed without it.”

MacGregor wants to see Invergordon continue to progress off the park too, with the Highland League a realistic target.

He said: “I know Invergordon are on a journey to gain promotion into the Highland League.

“They have gained success on the pitch, and they now need to get the off-the-park elements right with an enclosed ground and the like. They are an ambitious club.”

Long-serving Invergordon player Ken Morrison with the North Caledonian League trophy. Image: Courtesy of Shaun Kerr