International football rolled into Inverness 15 years ago in the shape of the Scotland ‘Future’ squad.
The Caledonian Stadium hosted what was effectively the Scotland ‘B’ squad match against Turkey and there was plenty of local interest.
Local clubs’ players in the Scotland spotlight
At that point there were five players with Caley Thistle and/or Ross County connections. A crowd of 5481 lapped up the action on a chilly mid-March evening.
They were goalkeeper Mark Brown, midfielders John Rankin and Ian Black, winger Barry Robson and forward Craig Dargo.
Goals from Steven Naismith and Lee Miller on March 15, 2006 were not quite enough to prevent a 3-2 home defeat, which led to the visitors winning the competition.
Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic were also involved.
The now defunct Future squad concept was to allow players with the potential of making the senior team to the chance to show what they could do in the navy blue.
Of the 16 players involved that night, half of them did go on to win full caps with Scotland.
The pick of the bunch was Steven Naismith, who has 51 caps to his name. The current Hearts skipper has guided the Jambos back to the top-flight with a Championship triumph in the season just finished.
Another ex-Jambo, Christophe Berra, who is joining Raith Rovers next term, also faced the Turks and went on to collect 41 full caps.
The next in line was ex-Caley Jags star Barry Robson, who played 17 times for the full team.
Surprise call-up for Rankin
John Rankin moved to the Highlands as a young player from Manchester United in 2003 to sign for Ross County.
When this glamour match for the north public arrived, the silky middle man was an Inverness player.
The 37-year-old, who now coaches Hearts reserves and under-19s, remembers fondly being selected for Walter Smith and Ally McCoist’s team.
He said: “I wasn’t expecting a call-up. There was nothing to suggest that was happening.
“It was very unlikely at that time for a Championship player to be called into any sort of squad. It was a privilege. I was honoured.
“There were a number of guys who I knew, having come through the youth systems. I didn’t feel any different, although I was from a Championship club.
“I was 21 or 22 at the time and staying in Inverness at the time and we stayed in the Thistle Hotel and it was strange staying there, in the city you live in.
Cheltenham fever in the camp
“We trained at Charleston Academy for two or three days. I recall it was Cheltenham Festival week.
“Away from the match preparations, Ally McCoist, being one of my heroes growing up, and Walter Smith were enjoying the thrills of Cheltenham.
“Ian Black and Craig Dargo, team-mates of mine at Inverness, were involved. Steven Naismith, who is close to Dargs, I work with here at Hearts.
“I remember playing a Victory Shield game when I was 15 or 16, which would have been ’98 or ’99. That was at Victoria Park in Dingwall against Northern Ireland.
“Not often did international games get played in the Highlands, so the Futures match against Turkey was a big thing, especially with the players from Inverness and Ross County.
“It was a great experience for us. Barry Robson, for example, went on to win a number of caps for Scotland. It was a game that I enjoyed and still look back on.”
Euro squad announcement excitement
Although Rankin never went on to score a full cap for Scotland, he admitted: “It was a great pathway for players to go on and gain full international recognition.
“I would have loved to have gained a full cap, having played at every other level. That was my only disappointment. You have to accept there are players better than you.”
Former Dundee United and Hibs playmaker Rankin is eager to enjoy the Euro finals when Scotland take on the Czech Republic, England and Croatia next month.
To have a trio of young guns in Billy Gilmour, Nathan Patterson and David Turnbull picked within the 26-man pool is exciting for the Tartan Army and Rankin shares that feeling.
Tears of joy as Euro qualification
He said: “When you see the squad announcement, you start to get a bit excited by the Euros. Guys like Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour getting called up.
“They have been involved in teams I have taken against them, so now you can see a pathway opening up for the kids. It makes it all relative.
“David Turnbull is another called up and this is going to be a great experience for these players to try and become a mainstay in the team for two or three major campaigns.
“I have got kids now and they were in tears the night Scotland qualified for the Euro finals. We’ve never experienced this before.
“We have missed generations to inspire, but now it is up to these players to inspire a whole new generation of Scottish kids to go and kick on.”
Scotland strips back on our streets
The Bellshill-born coach, who has this year earned his Pro Licence, wants to see Scotland shirts back on the streets as the nation falls in love with the team which has been absent from major tournaments since France ‘98.
He recalled: “I remember being abroad in 2016 and Wales were playing Northern Ireland at the Euros.
“You might not see it for another 16 years but kids from those nations will have been inspired by that and will start coming through.
“Now, Andy Robertson, Keiran Tierney, John McGinn and Lyndon Dykes can help inspire a generation of youngsters in Scotland. Kids here can be proud of their country.
“Steve Clarke is giving youth players their opportunity. As the finals draw closer, you will see a lot more Scotland strips in our shopping centres and in the streets, rather than Germany, England, France or Italy.”
Who played for Scotland Futures team in Inverness in 2006?
Mark Brown (no full caps): The ex-ICT and Ross County goalkeeper enjoyed the bulk of his career in Inverness. He also played for Celtic, Hibs and Dumbarton but was at his peak in the Highland capital.
Martyn Corrigan (no full caps): The defender was best known for his consistently high performances at Motherwell, where he spent eight years since 2000. Had a brief spell at Ross County in 2009.
Adam Virgo (no full caps): The former Celtic central defender left Scotland in 2008 and played for Brighton, Yeovil and Bristol Rovers. He moved from Brighton to Celtic in 2005.
Christophe Berra (41 caps): The ex-Hearts centre half had a terrific career north and south of the border. Having made his mark at Tynecastle, he went on to star for Wolves and Ipswich. He returned to Hearts four years ago and, after 250 appearances for the Maroons, will join Raith Rovers in the summer. He had an established Scotland career and his last cap, in 2017, came against the Dutch.
Steven Hammell (one full cap): Known for two long spells at Motherwell, from 1999 to 2006 and 2008 to 2018, with two years at Southend sandwiched between. His only cap came against Sweden in 2004.
Steven Naismith (51 caps): The highest full cap earner from that evening in Inverness. The ex-Kilmarnock man is still thriving for his club at the age of 34. The lively forward, who has also shone for Rangers and Everton, last represented his country in a 3-1 win over Kazakhstan in 2019.
Brian Kerr (three caps): The experienced midfielder played for Motherwell, Hibs, Inverness, Dundee and Arbroath, having started out at Newcastle United.
Barry Robson (17 caps): Brought to Caley Thistle by Steve Paterson, Robson was always a livewire winger. Left the Highlands for Dundee United before also playing for Celtic then Middlesbrough. He headed Stateside to join Vancouver Whitecaps. On his return to the UK, he signed for Sheffield United where he was for three years until a 2016 return north to Aberdeen.
Michael McIndoe (no full caps): The Edinburgh-born midfielder was playing for Doncaster at the time. They were his main club, with most of his career being spent in England. In the latter days, he played for Stirling Albion.
Lee Miller (three caps): The striker had a varied career in England and Scotland, having started out at Falkirk. Perhaps his most fruitful period was at Aberdeen during 2006-2010. Finished his career where it all began, this year, with Falkirk.
Craig Dargo (no full caps): Showed plenty of ability with Kilmarnock before moving to Inverness in 2005 for two years and he netted 31 goals in that period. He moved on to St Mirren for four years after that, with Partick, Dumbarton, Dunfermline and Berwick all benefitting from his experience.
Iain Turner (no full caps): The goalkeeper started at Stirling Albion before joining Everton where he was put on on loan a number of times. Preston, Sheffield United, Tranmere Rovers and Southport were also on his CV.
David McNamee (four caps): After starting at St Mirren, the defender rose to prominence at Livingston over four years from 2002. Plymouth and Aberdeen were two other clubs on his list before finishing at Leamington in 2014.
Ian Black (one full cap): John Robertson signed ‘Blacky’ from Blackburn Rovers in 2004 and he started this game against Turkey but was also sent off late on. After ICT, he moved on to Hearts, Rangers then Shrewsbury Town. The competitive midfielder gained one full cap and that came against Australia in 2013.
John Rankin (no full caps): The classy midfielder, who was a youth at Manchester United, enjoyed three years at Ross County and four at Inverness. Also played for Dundee United, Hibs, Falkirk and Queen of the South.
Darryl Duffy (no full caps): The former Falkirk, Hull City and Bristol Rovers striker is still playing, at the age of 37, for League Two side Stranraer. In recent years, he has also played for Stirling Albion and Airdrieonians.