Our Marathon Man takes on Loch Ness

Brian Parish choses Scottish Premier League football over his beloved Dagenham & Redbridge….but for more reasons than just a decent pie.

Last year, I jetted off to Toronto to run a marathon that turned into a bit of an ice hockey fest as well. Attending two games over the course of three days could definitely be marked up as “ambition achieved”. Last year though, I had the holiday from work to be able to fly across the Atlantic for an eight day trip for running and hockey. This year though, having spent a fair few days visiting Olympic Park for various sporting events, I am a bit lighter in the holiday allowance than I was twelve months ago, so I have looked closer to home for my marathon trip.

Having done a bit of research, I came up with a trip to Inverness for the Loch Ness marathon. A few people from my running club had completed it, and it sounded like a good idea, so back in March, I signed up, booked my flights, and sorted out the hotel.

Of course, signing up for a trip like this meant that I also needed the fixture list to be kind, and therefore needed Inverness to be at home the weekend I would be in town. Not only that, but I needed them to be playing a league game that I could get a ticket for.

With all of the Rangers stuff going on over the summer, when the fixtures did appear with “Team 12” included, I didn’t know what to think; whether the list would be re-done, or whether they would stay as originally announced. The original list had Inverness at home to Dundee United on the marathon weekend, so I kept a watch on the fixtures. When this was confirmed, I bought my ticket and so the day before running another twenty-six miler, I finally get to go to my first game in Scotland.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle was a club born of a merger between two clubs that had over a century of history each. Thistle FC (formed 1885) and Caledonian (1886) joined forces when the Scottish league was expanded from thirty-eight to forty clubs in 1994. As with many mergers between clubs, this did not go down well with the support of both teams, but at least it bought the Scottish Football League to a region of the country that had (by the looks of things) only encountered them when the Scottish Cup came around. Having spent half of their first season playing home games at Aberdeen while their original stadium was made ready for the SFl, they eventually got back to the capital of the Highlands in January 1994, and beat Dunfermline in their first game back.

Perhaps the most famous night in the clubs history came in early 2000, when after winning a Scottish FA Cup tie at Celtic, the newspaper headline “Super Caley go ballistic, Celtic are atrocious” made headlines of its own all over the place, and made the club famous. All because of one result and a headline writer with a Mary Poppins song in their head.

Saturday 29th September 2012, Inverness Caledonian Thistle v Dundee United
Prior to heading out to the stadium, I have to go to collect my race number for the marathon, as well as timing chip and various other bits and pieces related to race day. Luckily, the race expo isn’t that far from my hotel, but although the walk to Bught Park doesn’t take long, there are a couple of short bursts of rain. The stadium though is in the opposite direction, and a bit further out, so having done what I need to do, I head back to the hotel to deposit my items in the room before making my way out to the stadium for the football. It’s a forty minute walk from the city centre to the stadium (via the industrial estate), and even then, there are a couple of short but sharp showers.

Inverness have made an interesting start to the season. Currently second from bottom of the SPL, they are only avoiding last place thanks to the hastily promoted Dundee occupying the wooden spoon position. Although they have only lost twice, they have drawn five or their seven games. Dundee United are coming into this one having been beaten 0-3 last weekend, and having started the season well, are suffering a bit of a dip in form. The visitor’s last win was in the derby against Dundee on August 25th, and they have now not scored a league goal in 289 minutes.

Whenever I have seen the stadium on the television, the camera position is such that it focuses on the main stand, with the water way behind it. My ticket is for the main stand, which denies me the chance to get a photo of the game going on with the Moray Firth in the background. Although the Firth maybe behind me, I do have a fantastic view of the A9 motorway, leading up to the bridge heading north.

Taking in the view prior to kick off, there is an ice cream van perched in the north west corner of the stadium, which given the weather on the way out to the ground is a tad optimistic. It does start to change, and as the teams emerge, the sun breaks through.

Seated as I am in the main stand, I am right next to the press box, and spot John Robertson, formerly of Hearts. I do think about asking for a photo, but he is one of several sporting those headsets used in radio commentary, and I am a bit reluctant to interrupt.

United start with a chance inside the first minute, although Gardyne’s effort is wide of the target. There are opportunities to score at both ends, but the referee earns his first barrage before we have played nine minutes. Gavin Morrison is booked for a foul, which from where I was sitting, was probably a caution. However, there are those around that argue that he should have been let off with a warning, as it was his first offence. I’m not sure why that should be, but there you go.

United still hold the advantage as the game progresses, although there really isn’t much in it. However, Inverness start to get a hold in the game, and just after the half hour, take the lead. An Inverness break leads to Andrew Shinnie heading towards the United goal. He has Richie Foran to his left, and as he advances on the penalty area, passes the ball to Foran. The pass is excellent, allowing Foran to strike it first time over the keeper and into the top corner of the net.

The home support doesn’t have to wait very long for the chance to celebrate again. This time, it’s a cross from the left wing from the impressive Philip Roberts that does the damage, and waiting at the back post is Foran again, to score with a free header. The game already looks over for United, who look shell-shocked at what has happened to them. The half closes with the home team leading 2-0, and being applauded from the pitch, although the officiating team gets another load from those in the main stand.

It’s an unwritten tradition of the game that, if decisions don’t go your way, then the referee kops a load when they leave the field at the end of either the half or the end of the game. While Stephen Finnie hasn’t had that bad a half, there have been a couple of decisions that have left the home team with arms in the air disappointment, and also with the referee having to chat to Inverness assistant manager, Maurice Malpas. Leading the game means that the home managerial team don’t worry about the ref at half time, but the home fans certainly let him know their feelings.

The second half starts with the home team on the attack, and you just get the feeling that if Inverness can get a third, that they will probably score again after that. Dundee United on the other hand, don’t look like scoring at all.

With twenty minutes to go, the game is over as Inverness make it 3-0. If the first two had been good finishes from Foran, then this one (knocked home by Shinnie from about a yard) is in large part down to good old fashioned bad defending. Niether Cierzniak or any of his defenders can clear the ball, and when they collide, it’s left to the home striker to score probably the easiest goal he will get all year. It leaves the away bench exasperated, and Cierzniak running from his area to remonstrate wildly with his back line.

Three minutes later, and the rout is complete. A free kick from the near side touchline is nodded down at the back post by Foran, and a short pass back is emphatically slammed home by Richards from the edge of the area. Like in the first half, the goals have come in quick succession, and it’s done for the visitors. There had been a few hundred make the one hundred and thirty mile (or so) journey from Dundee, and while there had been a few leave when it got to three, the fourth prompts a mass walk out, like a fire alarm had gone off. A few hardy souls remain, but the majority have seen enough.

There is no addition to the score, but Inverness have done more than enough. Willo Flood has a shot for United in injury time, but it rather sums up their day as it drifts wide of the post and into the advertising boards to the side of the net. There aren’t many home fans that have left, and after two minutes of stoppage time have been completed, they can celebrate their first league win of the season and in comprehensive style as well.

As I make my way back towards town, there are a steady stream of people heading in the same direction, which certainly hadn’t been the case on the way out. I wasn’t sure what to expect before the game, but it’s turned out to be quite entertaining. Comedy defending, a couple of good goals and my first Scottish game means that (coupled with the Daggers beating Wycombe 3-0), it has been a very good day.

And as for the marathon? Well, I got round in 4:21.21, which was my quickest for eleven years, and was very hard work. I have already asked my family and work colleagues to make sure that I do not enter another for a couple of years. I think I will stick to football for a while; it’s less tiring.

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