Now on an even footing as managers, Terry Butcher calls them brothers-in-arms. More accurately, though, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager and Derek Adams, his Ross County counterpart, are much further removed than the geography of their clubs might allow.
With a friendship spanning the Highland divide, the two managers took the unusual step of staging joint interviews over lunch on the eve of tonight's historic Highland derby. It was not a move you could envisage many Old Firm managers embracing ahead of simmering encounters. Then again, Butcher and Adams are no ordinary managers – and, in many ways, are the least likely of bosom buddies.
Their personalities can be caricatured but their differences are still pronounced. There is Butcher, a lover of fine wine, and Adams, the strict tee-totaller; Butcher, the hell-raising heavy-metal fanatic with a penchant for colourful language and Adams, the polite and reserved Christian, a man who wouldn't swear even if you asked him politely. Beneath such disparate and well-established traits, though, there are certain things which unite them.
For a full hour off-record on Wednesday, the pair sparred verbally, reminiscing on incidents during their time together at Fir Park and cracking jokes at one another's expense. When the serious stuff started, though, what shone through was a great mutual respect and trust. That is likely to prevail no matter whose team ends up on top tonight.
Butcher could always count on Adams in the heart of a Motherwell midfield featuring the likes of Scott Leitch and Stephen Pearson. Financial travesty had torn the club apart, but under Butcher the team earned a top-six place against huge odds. Adams was every bit the ruthless, combative performer Butcher had been as a player. Now, those fiery passions have followed them into management, with both known for the odd run-in with referees and SFA disciplinary committees.
For Butcher, though, Adams is breaking the mould in management in a way he never envisaged back in those days at Motherwell. "I remember well my time with Derek there and what he did for me there," said the Inverness manager. "He was fantastic – a big part of that Motherwell success when we reached the top six coming out of administration. He will always be part of my past and the success we achieved and I wish the very best for him – and Ross County. Not on Friday night, of course. On Friday, I wish them and him the worst, as I'm sure he does for me.
"We are maybe different characters, but there is one thing we do share and that's a passion for the game. Derek, like me, was a very passionate player and is now a passionate manager. But I must admit I never really saw it working for him in management. I thought 'he doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't swear - he's got no chance.' Well, he has certainly proved that one wrong."
The exceptional feat which disproved Butcher was County's 40-match unbeaten league run, form which will have tested Adams as he both endorsed the achievement and fought to keep his players grounded. "That 40-match unbeaten run is just the stuff of pure fantasy. It is really unbelievable," said Butcher. "There are not many other teams in the game who have ever gone on that kind of sequence. He has taken Ross County from the second division to the SPL. The last few years in Highland football has been incredible and tremendous for the whole area."
The pleasantries were returned by Adams. The sheer presence of Butcher would prompt most to pick their words carefully, but the County manager is well-acquainted with the former England captain and was thankful as he spoke about Butcher's influence. "We get on very well with each other," he said. "That is obviously different from some managers in derbies who perhaps don't particularly like each other. I like Terry just now . . . but you can ask me again after the game.
"For me, it is great being a younger manager coming up against a person I used to work for and now have to work against. I learned a lot from him. Terry says I learned how not to do it but I learned from him the importance of being totally focused. He also has a great way with people and he's trustworthy. Passion is a big thing in football and he's worn that famous white bandage with blood on it, metaphorically, for many years."
Such sentiments may become lost between the dug-outs inside the Caledonian Stadium tonight, and the mood changes markedly as both managers are invited to allow their competitive sides hold sway. They will be on show to a wider audience as the Highland derby is played out in front of a live television audience.
"I don't think fans of Ross County and Inverness could ever really have believed they would have two SPL sides up here in the north. I'm sure they dreamt it, yes, but believed it? Inverness have been promoted to the SPL twice which says a lot for them and now we have joined them," said Adams.
"I really enjoyed the first division experience of being manager in derbies. They were great occasions. Being a player in a derby match was always good, but being manager was a wee bit special. This is extra special, being the first SPL derby. I think that's great for the Highlands.
"We have so many people who have a negative approach to two teams from the Highlands being up here at this level now. But it just shows how much the two clubs have come on over the years. There are clubs and managers who don't want either team in the league because of the travelling, but we will stick together as clubs."
Butcher is not a bad ally to have when it comes to fighting a battle on multiple fronts. "You could say Derek and I are brothers-in-arms, trying to force the Highland name and reputation by saying we are here and here to stay," said the Englishman. "At Caley Thistle, we have been in the SPL for a while but it is still tough to survive. It will be a major challenge for both clubs but it is great that Ross County are there with us too. We have this stage to ourselves and everybody feels on a Friday night especially that they want to go out, put on a show and give it all they can."
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