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Rising Higher with the Highlanders

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18 years ago, Ross County and Caledonian Thistle were both admitted as the first Scottish Highlands clubs to play in the SFL. Both teams have achieved considerable success by rising slowly through the leagues to the top division. They have done this without spending large sums of money in the manner of other newcomers such as Gretna and Livingston in order to climb through the leagues.

So what is the secret? What do they do differently from clubs of a similar size and stature? Well for one, good finance administration. Although County several years back did encounter some monetary problems, they cut costs and now operate on a more appropriate budget. Inverness had a similar experience at the turn of the century but local investment and cutting costs ensured a much sounder footing. In financial terms both clubs number among the best run in Scotland, with Inverness and Ross County making a profit several times over the last ten years. The wonder is financial success through attracting a large fan base from areas of small population compared to the rest of the country.

Ross County’s Dingwall home is a town of 5000 people, while the considerably larger Inverness still only houses just under 60,000 people of whom 4000 on average attend matches. Ross County have an average fan base of over 2,000, nearly half the population
of Dingwall! Both are community family clubs, advertise themselves as such, and make strenuous efforts to attract families to their games. They run summer youth programmes, ticket prices for families are competitively priced compared with similar sized clubs, and Inverness was recently labelled by the BBC as the cheapest ground for families in the SPL. They have also being able to offer a clean image which is very attractive for family support.

Youth development has also being key in the rise of both sides. They share youth facilities and programmes through the Highland football academy. It’s based at Victoria Park, home to Ross County, however the academy also runs a site at Charleston Academy in Inverness. The emphasis in youth development supplies the clubs with their own talent instead of having to rely on players from the central belt and further afield. One of the youth development programme success stories is Don Cowie, who recently played in the English League Cup Final for Cardiff City. Other notable youth development success stories are Grant Munro, Michael Fraser, Nick Ross and Shane Sutherland who have all progressed to the first teams.

Good management is also crucial. There have been six Inverness managers since entering the league in 1994, and while Ross County have employed nine, there were only three managers over a 18 year period between 1987 and 2005. Stable management leads to a stable team. Although it could be pointed out that Ross County’s greatest success (cup final and current table topping) has come during the period of six managers in seven years!

The secret to the Highland clubs’ success is simple and something many smaller clubs in Scotland are already trying to emulate. That good finance is crucial has never been more adequately highlighted than by the predicament that Rangers currently find themselves in.

The important path to becoming community family clubs begins with offering cheap tickets and by presenting a clean image that families will find attractive. Youth development is important in lowering costs and bringing through players that the local community can relate to, and it ties in to a community family club. Finally stability: it is important for clubs to have
stable management in order to succeed.

Both clubs are run by local businessmen and manage to attract a lot of local business money into the clubs. This helps make the club financially stable. The financial stability helps with funding youth development and creating low prices in order to attract families to the clubs. Youth development and a young family support provide a clean image attractive to local investors. All the points are interlinked and help make Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle the successful football clubs that they are.

If Scottish football is to survive and thrive it would do well to emulate the ideas and success of these two teams who have helped themselves progress from the Highland League to the Scottish Premier League in just 18 years.

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