And then there was one. Or at a push, two. Or maybe none. Scott Boyd and Michael Gardyne are both, presumably, in negotiations with Ross County to return next season. If they do, they will be the last remaining members of The Invincibles, the Ross County squad which ripped asunder the First Division under Derek Adams.
Gary Miller was the first to leave. That was hard. When Gardyne left for an ill-fated spell at Dundee United, that was a wrench. But the news that the literal Captain Invincible Ritchie Brittain is to be released at the end of the season is genuine heartbreak for most Ross County fans.
There was the curling free kick against Celtic. There was the left footed screamer on a rain-soaked night at Tannadice. There was a hat-trick at Ayr. There were the tears at the end of the Scottish Cup Final defeat. And of course, there was the St Johnstone unpleasantness. But Brittain’s County career contains far more ups than downs, literally and metaphorically.
For me, Richard Brittain’s Ross County career can be summed up by one performance in County’s first season in the top league – the magnitude of which must sure not be lost on fans of Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and other far bigger teams who have all fallen well below the former Highland club.
County had started in mediocre fashion. The team which had steamrolled over the First Division had found its feet in the top flight, but had struggled to step on. The draws from the first few games had quickly turned to defeats. By the winter break of that year, the team was in a spot of bother. So Derek Adams took the squad to Spain for warm weather training and a good, old-fashioned team bonding. Some new faces came into the squad. And the team came back to wintery Scotland sitting second bottom of the league, facing St Mirren – a game broadcast on television.
Richard Brittain was, as usual, captain that day. He was, as usual, on set piece duty. A free kick opportunity arose early on. Craig Samson was unusually generous with his positioning, and Brittain took full advantage. After the goal he went mental. The team seemed to feed off it; the fans certainly did. The team came away with a 4-1 win. They would hardly look back that season, ending up in the top six to the surprise of almost everyone.
That one game, perhaps as much as being the Scottish Cup Final captain and the 40-undefeated leader is what Richard Brittain meant to Ross County. A guy who arrived from St Mirren with an internet-driven reputation of unfulfilled ability became a leader, a motivator and a bloody good player.
When he agreed his move to St Johnstone his form did not dip. Arguably, to use a horribly misplaced metaphor, he stepped up to the plate even more often. He raised his game. He didn’t disappear, as often pre-contract agreement players are prone to do. We’ve all seen it. It’s natural. It’s not deliberate, but the ties have been severed. The love just ain’t there. Nobody could ever accuse Richard Brittain of disappearing. And whatever you thing of the way the St.Johnstone move ended, it spoke volumes of Brittain’s qualities as a person.
Even this season, this horrible, beautiful roller-coster of a season, Brittain was at the forefront. Needing an operation, and lacking any viable alternatives, he played right back for a while (he never once grumbled about being shifted to right midfield either). County’s first half malaise was horrible to watch, but Brittain didn’t shirk responsibility, unlike others who are no longer at the club.
Jim McIntyre merits his position. Fans owe him the right to develop the squad in the way he chooses. There has been manifest progression over the course of his reign. Form, play and understanding has improved. The right players have been signed. The right players have been released. And so McIntyre’s decision to release Richard Brittain must
be accepted. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept.
The Invincibles have long since departed, but their achievements are in the record books. Richard Brittain was the captain of that team. He was our best midfielder for seven years. He helped keep the team in the SPFL when everyone wrote them off as relegation fodder.
Nothing about his Ross County career was predictable, but it was good. Boy, was it good.
Thank you, Ritchie. Free pints for life in Dingwall.