Back in 1994, Inverness Caledonian FC and Inverness Thistle FC, once bitter local rivals in the Highland League, agreed to merge to form one club, with this the key in joining the Scottish Football League (SFL) at the time.
Fast forward almost thirty years later, and journalist Charles Bannerman, a shareholder of the merged club in question, Inverness Caledonian Thistle (ICT), recently said he thinks the club should merge again, this time with their current local rivals and Highland counterparts, Ross County, who joined the SFL at the same time.
As outlined in the Inverness Courier in March, Mr Bannerman’s financially driven thoughts, in which he saw “no other option” than for the clubs to merge, are linked to dwindling attendance rates and declining shareholder donations, whilst he recognised that the idea would not be well received by supporters of either club.
However, proposals for mergers such as this have not been uncommon in Scottish football. For example, there has long been speculation that Dundee FC and Dundee United might merge to form one ‘superclub’.
So, is this something that Scotland’s financially struggling clubs should be thinking about?
The anonymous Twitter user behind ‘Scottish Football Reconstruction’, an account dedicated to the discussion of league reconstruction, thinks that any potential merger should be solely decided by supporters of the clubs in question.
“It should ultimately be up to the fans of any club to decide whether they want to merge or not, after them being given all the information and scenarios they need to make that decision.
“In the past, there are examples of teams who have merged, which to their advantage has made them much stronger. But sometimes logistically and due to fan sentiment, this is not a viable option”.
The prospect of a Dundee-Dundee United merger gained momentum in the 1990s, causing massive uproar amongst both sets of fans. More recently in 2022, world renowned leadership guru Allister McCaw, upon visiting the City of Discovery, concluded that both clubs “struggle in more ways than one”, with the solution being to merge for financial and structural stability.
The best example of a merger in modern Scottish football, of which can be seen as a success from a domestic viewpoint, is that amalgamation between the two Inverness clubs previously mentioned.
Both Caledonian and Thistle had crowds in the hundreds prior to their coming together. But as one club, average crowds as high as 4,000 have been enjoyed, with the club achieving numerous spells in the top-flight, several national cup semi-finals/finals, a Europa League qualification, and silverware in the form of the Scottish Cup.
The financial boost, and indeed the domestic success, enjoyed by the amalgamated Inverness club for the majority of its nearly thirty years in existence is something any potential merger would be looking to emulate, along with a larger pool of fans to bolster its profile and size.
But in reality, the logistics of a merger can make the process very complicated, with the challenge of drawing a singular, unitary, and harmonious fanbase from two pools of rival fans continuing to prove difficult for Caley Thistle to this day.
Lynne MacDonald, an Inverness fan who grew up a passionate supporter of Caledonian, says that the merger between the two rival clubs in 1994 was a difficult time for the city, with it being hard for both sets of supporters to leave the traditions of their beloved clubs behind – which deterred many from following the new club.
“The merger was tough – it came at a price. It was a horrible poisonous time. Most folk had a big team and a wee team pre merger and a lot of folk that stopped going just gravitated to them.
“I really miss Telford Street (Caledonian’s ground). I grew up just beside the ground and when most of my friends were into posters in their teens I was in love with folk I actually knew and could speak to. I was young and it was a fantastic carefree time”.
The nearly three-decade old merger still divides fans, with some continuing to reluctantly pledge allegiance to a club that shares its identity with the fiercest rivals of their affiliated club.
However, Lynne thinks the tension between the founding clubs has been significantly diluted over recent years, with the now fully merged Inverness Caledonian Thistle being the first and only club for many in the younger generations, who cannot fully relate with the historic rivalry.
“I’d like to think it’s not really an issue now as a lot of ICT fans didn’t come or were not born pre merger. My heart bursts with pride when I watch my own boys, who really love the club the way I do. It’s their club.
“The merger was the right thing, but it’s taken a while to move on”.
But even for younger Inverness fans who have grown up without a strong attachment to either of the founding clubs, the fierce rivalry with Ross County has become the modern equivalent, with the proposed all-Highland merger a step too far for many.
22-year old Thomas Rocke, who has been a Caley Thistle fan his whole life without an affiliation to either Caledonian or Thistle, thinks another merger would be even worse from an Inverness point of view.
“I do think some would welcome it, more investment and more reputation, but I can also see a lot disagreeing with it; Caley Thistle was already founded by a merger, which I do think is why Caley [Thistle] fans are more likely to hate the idea than County fans.
“I think the rivalry is big and is something worth keeping, having two big clubs in the Highlands fighting in the top league is what would be the best to watch. Derby games have always been good games to watch and are never dull.
“They would be missed if the clubs merged”.
In line with this, it would appear that mergers between rival football clubs may not be the instant solution for success that fans, shareholders and board directors may be expecting.
But with Inverness having recently played their second Scottish Cup final, just eight years after that Scottish Cup triumph, it might suggest that in the long term, a merged football club can, in time, firmly root itself as a household name in Scottish football.