In the latest in our series of Talking Kit, Neil Sargent looks back at Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s memorable 2003/04 campaign.
When Highland League rivals Inverness Thistle and Caledonian merged in 1994 to form Caledonian Thistle (Inverness was added to the name a couple of years later), the colours and design of the kit the new team would wear became a talking point in the Highland capital.
The name gave equal prominence to both founder clubs, while the new badge featured both Caley’s famous golden eagle motif and Thistle’s Highland flower. Similarly, the famous red-and-blue jerseys we now associate with ICT are a result of the amalgamation of colours from both original clubs, although it took a bit of time to settle on the final composition.
Inverness Thistle had traditionally worn red and black vertical stripes while Caledonian wore blue shirts with white shorts. After the new team was voted into the Scottish Football League in 1994, the first strip worn by the team was almost an exact replica of a Caley strip - blue shirts with white shorts and blue socks, featuring no red or black in the design at all.
Over the years, however, the strips evolved to reflect the history of both founder clubs, with red becoming a prominent part of the Caley Jags outfit the following season and remaining so to this day.
After gaining promotion through the divisions and making history by knocking Celtic out of the Scottish Cup in 2000, Caley Thistle achieved promotion to the Scottish Premier League for the first time in their short history at the end of the 2003-04 season.
Having worn a red and blue-striped kit between 2000 and 2002, the team had returned to a principally blue number, with red panels down both sides and white trim along the sleeves. It was manufactured by Italian sportswear company Errea, who produced the Inverness kits over a 16-year period from 1999 to 2015, and was sponsored by Inverness Medical - the only season that this company’s name would appear on the jersey.
Managed by John Robertson, the team included household names such as Charlie Christie, David Bingham, Barry Wilson, and Ross Tokely. Their main rivals for the title were Clyde, who led the Highlanders by two points going into the penultimate match of the season at the Bully Wee’s Broadwood Stadium.
With just over 10 minutes remaining and the score tied at 1-1, Steve Hislop pounced to fire the winning goal for the visitors and send them to the top of the table with one game to play.
The following week, in front of more than 6,000 fans at the Caledonian Stadium, David Bingham, Barry Wilson and Paul Ritchie scored to give them a 3-1 win over St Johnstone and send them into the top flight after less than 10 years in the senior game.
While fans of most football teams take pride in their team’s colours, when Inverness Caledonian Thistle supporters pull on the iconic blue and red stripes it not only represents their heritage and history but also their present and their future.