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Spiers on Saturday: Chairman keen to write another chapter in club's short history

How do Inverness Caledonian Thistle do it?

Kenny Cameron is happy with Inverness' progress since arriving in the top flight. Picture: SNS
Kenny Cameron is happy with Inverness' progress since arriving in the top flight. Picture: SNS

How has this small club managed to "punch above its weight" - a phrase detested by many in the Highlands - in Scottish football? Never mind riding high in the SPFL Premiership, Inverness this weekend are once again just 90 minutes away from a major cup final.

Turnover last year: £3.7m. The profit/loss on this: £22,000 in the black. No historic debt, no overdraft facilities required. With average home gates of just below 4000, and with 10 busloads of 500 fans embarking on a pre-dawn trip to Edinburgh tomorrow for the lunchtime kick-off against Hearts, this is a tight, responsible, community-oriented club that has added a fresh dimension to Scottish football in recent years.

It is not all perfectly smooth. Terry Butcher, who sometimes opened his big trap and ruffled feathers in Inverness, was a beloved, hugely successful manager, but now gone. John Hughes is still settling in, has his early critics, and faces a huge weekend ahead. In Inverness they view their football club with an admiring but not uncritical eye.

"We are no different from any other club in terms of trying to cope with the financial challenges of Scottish football," says chairman Kenny Cameron. "That said, we just get on with it. The financial rewards now are not what they were but we try to run our budgets accordingly.

"We made a small profit last season for the first time in a good few years - a trend we would like to continue. But that depends on getting good cup runs and finishing as high as possible in the league. But we're proud of the fact we have no historic debt and no overdraft."

Cameron points to a number of positives around Inverness, such as the club's under-20 team currently sitting joint top of their league. When season-ticket sales looked a little slow early last summer, some of the club's players were deployed to get on the phones to work their sales pitch on dallying supporters This is a club still seeking to expand, on this of all weekends.

"This is only our 20th year in existence following the 'merger' and for us to reach our first national final would be another step forward for the club," says Cameron. "We had the opportunity last season but came up short. Hopefully, this time round we can make the final as it would mean so much to so many of us in Inverness.

"We're really looking forward to Sunday - it's another opportunity to move the club forward, to add to our history. The majority of our fans will be heading off down the A9 well before first light for the 12.15pm kick-off. It's far from ideal but is something we just get on with.

"We're well used to such trips. We do it every other week. For instance, come Monday, win or lose, it will be business as usual as we prepare for a Scottish Cup trip to Stranraer - another epic journey for our players and fans."

A bugbear for the recently-departed Butcher was the size of crowds at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium. Depending on which stats you refer to - and they can vary - home crowds do appear to be waning. One source quotes their average crowd for season 2006-07 as 4878, then puts it at 4023 for 2011-12 and currently at 3854 for this season.

However, Davie Balfour, the chairman of Caley Jags Together, the supporters trust, insists that the fanbase of the club, in a truer context, remains pretty healthy.

"Our crowds are doing okay - with Inverness being the size it is, we're never going to be getting massive crowds," says Balfour. "When Terry [Butcher] was here he occasionally made a minor song and dance about it, which probably didn't help. Listen, I've got a lot of time for Terry, he was tremendous, but we are what we are.

"Around 10-15% of our fans are members of the Caley Jags Together group. That's pretty impressive, really, when you compare it to other, bigger clubs, who can't get anywhere near that percentage. We've got around 500 members.

"One problem we have in terms of our fanbase is that there is still this hangover in the area, of Inverness having lots of Rangers and Celtic fans, with [the former] Inverness Caley or Inverness Thistle being their 'wee team'. For older generations that is still how it is, in terms of Caley Thistle. But we are making good headway in getting younger kids just to be Caley Thistle fans in their own right. You can see it happening."

It has been said of tomorrow's cup semi-final in Edinburgh that it is a 'must-win' for Caley Thistle, just to prove that the club can emerge from its infancy-state, and join the rest of the Premiership big boys as major cup finalists.

Balfour, however, believes that Caley Thistle's emergence over the past two decades does not require that psychological step to be taken.

"We'd love to win it, and we're taking 500 fans with us to Edinburgh - our allocation is all but sold out. We are now maturing as a club and it would be a fitting thing to reach a cup final. In fact, we might not have a better chance of getting there.

"But I'd say this is a 'must-win' for Hearts, not for us. There is far more pressure on Hearts - this is all that is left of their season. We don't have that pressure on us. We are just going down there to enjoy the occasion, to see what we can do.

"We do okay at Caley Thistle. We are a prudent club, we've got our fans on board. I think we're in a pretty good place."

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