Brothers Stuart and Andrew Ross plan to mark their 100th game as co-managers of St. Duthus F.C. with a win over Inverness Athletic this weekend.
Now in their sixth season in charge of the team, Stuart and Andrew remain at the forefront of the club’s enduring commitment to move forward, having done so since they first participated in the initial talks of reviving Tain St. Duthus in February 2016.
Along with eventual club chairman Niall Harkiss and Dale Finlayson, a newly formed committee put the foundations in place for a model that would see St. Duthus F.C. generate a groundswell of interest in the town, offering immediate personal reward for their efforts in reestablishing the town of Tain on the senior football map.
In 2018 and 2020, the club lifted silverware, first winning the North Caledonian Cup and then the Football Times Cup, shortly before Covid-19 reared its ugly head. Stuart and Andrew had built a side of winners, not once but twice, and with ever improving league positions in the North Caledonian League, people now look at St. Duthus as contenders, leaving a new weight of expectation on their shoulders.
By their side throughout has been physio Ian Christie, who too has been a mainstay in the dugout for those 100 games, as another original member of the committee and backroom team. The trio have been the recognisable face(s) of the Saints technical area since 2016 and have enjoyed the successes together.
Pictured above: Andrew Ross, Ian Christie and Stuart Ross celebrate winning the Football Times Cup in January 2020.
But not every step has been a forward one. There have been challenges along the way, most recently in dealing with the struggles of the pandemic and the implications that it has had on players, committee, volunteers and just playing football in general. The past couple of seasons have been fraught with new rules and restrictions, requiring an adjustment to a very different, and sometimes difficult, way of running a football club. It would have been quite easy to simply call it a day.
Stuart Ross is acutely aware of the ways in which his role has changed, even in the past year.
"It’s not been easy for anybody." Stuart said in his July programme notes.
"Mental health in particular has really come to the forefront during the pandemic and the message that 'It’s Okay Not to be Okay' is definitely out there."
"We have boys here who have been in a routine of home life, young families, work, football - and then all of a sudden a big part of their social life and freedom has been taken away from them. Then you bring the typical trappings of managing a squad into that and it does bring its challenges."
"Some guys have just got on with it, and some were in touch more than others. That’s the nature of the beast - but as a club we have got through it and we’re still here. We now need to rebuild and that goes from the committee, fundraisers, the squad and all of our volunteers and people who come along to support us. We have been lucky to retain the support of several local businesses who sponsor us, and that has been invaluable, but we could always use more help - the more the merrier when it comes to volunteers especially."
Following the long period of inactivity brought about by the pandemic, a squad rebuild is now underway. Eight new arrivals have boosted the club’s options as they seek to establish a regular group capable of consistently representing the team.
Results have been mixed between pre-season and their opening matches so far though, and the team are working hard to turn the corner. Sitting on one point from nine, this weekend’s match has far greater significance than any anniversaries or milestones. A win for Saints could immediately push them back into the middle of the league table, helping to set the ship back on course while it is still early enough to do so.
The significance will not be lost on Saints’ opponents either. It is quite fitting that Inverness Athletic, formed in the same year that Saints rejoined the North Caley, are the team coming to Tain for this particular fixture, having been the first club to visit Tain on league business following Saints’ successful revival back in 2016. Add to that the fact that Athletic have had an equally disappointing start to the league campaign and you have a recipe for a fierce contest. Both teams are looking for that first win.
And so, onto Saturday. The crunch game kicks off at 2pm at Grant Park and we hope that you will join us in wishing Stuart, Andrew and the lads all the best for the game. If you are in the area, please come down and cheer the team on from the sidelines while enjoying a hot pie and a tea or coffee. It's time like these that we appreciate your support more than ever.