A modern-day success story, Ross County from little Dingwall won the Scottish League Cup in 2016 and have maintained a Premiership presence since 2012.
Attracting fans from across the Highlands, the Staggies are looking to improve on their debut season in the top flight, three points from a European place in fifth, above the likes of Aberdeen, Hibernian and Hearts.
Ross County also look to finish above local rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who joined the Scottish League in the same year, 1994.
Even as a Highland League outfit, Ross County were relatively late developers, winning the title in 1991 and 1992. The club had been founded in 1929 from an amalgamation of Dingwall Victoria United and Dingwall Thistle.
Joining the Highland League immediately, the Staggies barely challenged the big Inverness three of Thistle, Caledonian and Clachnacuddin. A rare title win in 1967 wasn’t repeated until the early 1990s.
With the reorganisation of the Scottish League in 1994, as twice recent winners of the Highland League, Ross County were admitted along with Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
By no means out of their depth, the Staggies achieved two quick promotions under Neale Cooper, who learned his managerial skills under Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen in the early 1980s.
After a poor run of form in 2002, Cooper was replaced by Alex Smith, who had also served Aberdeen as manager in the 1980s. The Staggies held their own in the second flight but needed 12 seasons and the stewardship of Derek Adams to reach the Premiership.
In his second stint as manager at Ross County, the former Staggies midfielder put together a team that included ex-Dundee striker Colin McMenamin and midfielder Richard Brittain, who had played with Adams at Livingston.
Brittain was captain of Ross County when they famously beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final of 2010. In their first major final, the Staggies lost 3-0 to Dundee United. Two years later, Brittain led out a County side that went 40 league games without defeat, allowing them to win the First Division of 2011-12 by a record margin. McMenamin was top scorer.
The run extended into the club’s debut season in the Premiership, Adams and Brittain again the key men on and off the pitch. Halfway through, Adams also brought back Neale Cooper as assistant coach and County flourished in the top flight. Also essential to a memorable campaign was Iain Vigurs. The speedy left midfielder had long established himself at County but his top-flight experience with Highland rivals Inverness Caledonian proved invaluable in 2012-13.
With Vigurs quickly picked up by Motherwell, County dipped slightly in 2013-14 and 2014-15 but, bankrolled by chairman Roy McGregor, still had enough in the locker to float above the relegation zone. McGregor had already modernised County’s ground in preparation for Premiership football in 2012, renaming it the Global Energy Stadium after his own local company.
Before 2015-16, a now injury-hit Brittain bowed out from County after seven seasons and some 250 first-team appearances, taking up a post as player-manager at Brora Rangers.
Taking the limelight has been prolific Northern Ireland international Liam Boyce, though it was fellow striker Michael Gardyne who scored the vital goal that beat Inverness Caledonian 2-1 in the League Cup to set up a semi-final with Celtic. The ticket-free provision of 20 supporters’ buses to Hampden and free entry for accompanied under-16s to the match underline the community spirit of this friendliest of Premiership clubs.
The fans were further rewarded with 3-1 victory to set up another visit to Hampden for the final with Hibernian. After Hibs had pegged the score at 1-1, a last-minute goal by Alex Schalk brought the first major silverware to Dingwall in front of nearly 40,000 spectators.
Formerly known and still often referred by its former name of Victoria Park, the Global Energy Stadium can accommodate more people, seated, than the population of the small town it serves, Dingwall.
Home of Ross County since their formation 1929 and Dingwall Victoria United before that, the Global Energy Stadium changed its name in the overhaul of 2012 on the eve of the club’s debut in the Scottish Premiership. Chairman Roy MacGregor, whose local company now sponsors the ground, had reasonable time to prepare for the task of hosting Celtic, Aberdeen and the like – County were leading the First Division by a country mile.
That spring, work started on creating all-seater stands behind each goal, the away Academy End to the north and home Jail End to the south. Executive boxes were added to both the main West Stand and East opposite.
Now holding 6,500 in comfort and set in pleasant, hilly surroundings, the Global Energy is one of the most convivial grounds to watch a game in Scotland. A tree-lined path, Ross County Way, now lines the route up to the stadium.
Note also the Highland Football Academy behind the away end (turnstiles 1-4), with its 3G astroturf pitch, three grass ones and complex of training facilities.
Another plus point in the stadium’s favour is its proximity to Dingwall train station a five-minute walk away. Turn right out of the station and you’ll see the stadium as you cross the bridge.
Tickets are available from the main reception (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match days) in the West Stand or online, registration required.
On match days, online sales close at 8am and a temporary ticket office is set up by the car park opposite the West Stand.
Availability is usually not a problem except for the visits of Celtic and Inverness Caledonian.
For phone sales and information, contact 01349 860 860.
Admission is set at £20 behind the each goal (home South/Jail End and away North/Academy End) and £24 on the sidelines in the East and West Stands. Under-18s, over-65s and students are charged £12 and £14 respectively, under-16s an across-the-board £10. Prices rise £2 for Celtic, Inverness Caledonian, Hearts and Aberdeen.
Accessed through reception in the West Stand, the club shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match days) proffers past programmes, County-branded cufflinks and, for some reason, a whole range of Staggies merchandise coloured bright pink – as well as the standard dark blue and red.
Nearly all pubs and bars in town (see Dingwall) are an easy stroll to the ground but easily the most convenient is the Mallard, accessible from Dingwall station, with benches out on the far end of the platform itself. Inside are seven screens showing games before and after the main event at the Global Energy Stadium just the other side of the railway bridge. Food and cocktails are now served but if you’re just after a couple of pre-match pints, this is where to come.
At the ground, the only alcoholic drinks are served to home fans in the David Hamilton Bar, accessed through reception in the West Stand from noon on match-day afternoons and packed by 2pm. Supporters then have to leave via reception and back through the turnstiles to see the match.