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From The Highlands To All Over Europe: A Ross County Story (FM 21)


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When most people think about football in Scotland, their minds will generally think about Rangers and Celtic. The two members of the Old Firm, and both clubs have dominated the Scottish football landscape for generations. They have combined to win every single league title since Aberdeen did it in 1984-85 under Sir Alex Ferguson. That has led to the narrative that Scottish Football is nothing more than just the Old Firm clubs, and everyone else battling for third. However, in recent years there have been clubs that haven't been in the Old Firm that have had moments to remember. Clubs like Ross County, Hibernian, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Aberdeen, St. Mirren, and Kilmarnock have won trophies in the past decade or so. The national team qualified for Euro 2020, and did draw at Wembley against England. But there is one club that is going to be the focus of this story.

Ross County was formed in 1929 after the merger of two local clubs, and played in the Highland League until the 1990s. They had developed a reputation as a side who would win against teams from higher divisions in the Scottish Cup. At the start of the 1994-95 season, the Scottish Football League had two extra slots due to reconstruction into four tiers. Ross County was elected to fill one of those spots, along with their Highland rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Ross County was able to adapt well to the lower leagues, and were able to improve under the management of a young Derek Adams. After joining the club in 2007, Adams guided the club to a Challenge Cup final in 2008, though they lost to Raith. After leaving in 2010 to join Hibs as an assistant, Adams returned in May of 2011. Under Adams's management, Ross County were promoted to the Premiership after winning the 2011-12 Scottish First Division title. Since that season, Ross County have spent most of their time in the Premiership, despite one relegation. They also won their first major trophy by beating Hibernian 2-1 to win the 2015-16 Scottish League Cup. Not bad for a club that is one of the younger clubs in the current SPFL, and especially being a Highland club. 

Ross County are nicknamed the Staggies, and play their games at Victoria Park in Dingwall. They share a fierce rivalry with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Highland Derby, as they are the two most successful teams currently in the Highlands. An interesting fact is that Victoria Park holds more people than the population of Dingwall. 

So why Ross County? I don't support them, have never seen them play, and have never been to Scotland in my life. Well, I think it's a fun save for a couple of reasons. First, it would be more of a challenge in overthrowing the Old Firm by using Ross County than one of the Edinburgh clubs or Aberdeen. Secondly, I've never done a long term Scottish save, and never used Ross County. My experience with Scottish teams in FM is mostly stops on journeyman saves at St. Mirren, Hamilton, and Edinburgh City. Plus, since I'm not planning to get FM 22, this can be a long term save. 

The next post will be introducing the manager, and setting up the narrative side of the story. 

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Thanks Neil. I haven't seen too many stories on here or FMCU with either Ross County or ICT, and figured that it would be a fun long term save with plenty of goals. How I plan to deal with those goals will be mentioned in the introduction of the manager. 

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21 May 2016, Hampden Park

As the Hibernian players celebrated winning the Scottish Cup after 114 years of hurt, one fan in the stands was wondering if that could have been him. Luke Jones was born in Edinburgh, and had grown up a massive fan of Hibernian. It had been his lifelong dream to wear the green and be part of the squad that finally broke the dominance of the Old Firm clubs. A central midfielder, he had joined the Hibernian academy at age 12, and was hoping that he could prove himself to the club and earn a chance to play at the top level of the Scottish game. Sadly, Luke would never get the chance. When he was 16, he had suffered a devastating leg break in an academy game against Aberdeen's Under 18 side. Luke would never play again as he had to retire under medical advice. Despite not getting to realize his dreams, he still went to Easter Road, and wanted to stay involved in the game, and began to plan for a future in coaching. 

After graduating from university, Luke began to take his coaching badges and started to work at the Highland Football Academy. Mainly working with the Under 12s, Luke found that he had enjoyed his work, and felt that he could make a life in the Highlands, as that way he could help get someone started who could do what he couldn't do in his own playing career. By the day of the Scottish Cup Final between Hibernian and Rangers, Luke was keeping an eye out to see if there was a club who would love to have him manage, and maybe at the SPFL level. 

24 July 2020, Global Energy Stadium, Dingwall 

"Mr. Jones, a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for agreeing to interview for the manager's position at Ross County. My name is Roy MacGregor, and I am the chairmen of the football club. Let me ask you, what is your experience like, and what do you think of the football club?"

Now 29, Luke took a look at the chairmen and the rest of the board. He cleared his throat, and began to speak. "Thanks again for the chance, and I'm glad to share what I can offer to this great football club. I played as a youth in the Hibernian academy before getting injured and having to retire. For the past 7 years, I have been working at the Highland Football Academy where I have coached various youth sides, and have had success in helping to develop 5 players that have gone on to play in the Highland League or in League Two. My thoughts are that the club has been a success story since joining the senior leagues. They have been competitive in all of the divisions, and have been able to build a fantastic fanbase. I have a plan that would allow this club to stay in the Premiership, and eventually build the club into a strong position based on what I think is the way to break through the glass ceiling that clubs outside the Old Firm have."

MacGregor looked back at Luke, and saw that the young man was serious about his thoughts. "You are certainly ambitious, and I would like to hear what you think would be your plan of attack." The rest of the board nodded, as they took notes. 

Luke stood up, and grinned. "Of course. What I envision for Ross County is to make sure that the club stay in the Premiership, with an eye on having some good results in the cup. The facilities that the club have are very good, and my plan is to have a good homegrown core that can be supplemented by younger signings that need to get first team football. Then, I plan to have us build up where we can challenge the likes of St. Johnstone, the Edinburgh clubs, and Aberdeen to be the best of the rest. Then, with the extra cash from cup runs and maybe even European runs, then we can build up to challenge the Old Firm. It will take time, but I want to make sure that the club are profitable and can use that cash to enhance our revenue streams and invest into the youth academy. I've seen firsthand that the investments that both this club and Inverness Caledonian Thistle have made into the Highland Football Academy, and I want to leverage my knowledge of youth development to produce good players that can contribute here, even if they have to be sold on. I do respect that the Old Firm have advantages, but at the end of the day Celtic and Rangers are football clubs. There is no rulebook that mandates they win the league all the time, and why not Ross County?"

30 July, Global Energy Stadium

Luke sat down at his desk, getting ready to take his first look at the Ross County players that had been assembled. He was glad to have gotten the job, especially as the national media were wondering who the former youth coach was with no experience at the professional level. But Luke wasn't concerned about what others were thinking. This was going to be an interesting ride.

Ross County Background

Stadium: Victoria Park, seats 6,541

Youth Facilities: Good

Training Facilities: Great

Junior Coaching: Adequate

Youth Recruitment: Average

Finances: (618,375 pounds in the bank)

Transfer Budget: (150,000 pounds)

Wage Budget: (31,232 per week, spending 27,932)


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  • 3 weeks later...

1 August 2020, Dingwall

Luke sat down at his office desk, and glanced down at the team sheet.  He then glanced at his assistant manager, and smiled. "Thanks for working with me Richard. It's great to have someone with the experience and knowledge you have of this club."

Richard Brittain nodded. He had played for Ross County from 2008-2015, and had been coaching at the club in various roles since 2018. "No problem Luke, you seem to have a great plan for the club, and I appreciate you coming up here. I didn't go to the Highland Football Academy much in the past, but you did help develop players in this area. This should be fun, and I hope that everyone in the backroom team can push this club forward."

Luke was learning more about the club in his first days as manager. Richard was a club icon, and it made sense to keep him on as an assistant manager, as he had professional experience at a level that Luke never did. The Highlands were a great place to build a home, and he appreciated that there was an increasing talent level coming through, thanks to investments made by both Highland clubs and the SFA.  "So, what do you make of the current squad?"

Richard cleared his throat, and pointed at the team sheet. "Well, I think that we do have a decent squad, but we need depth. We do have some good youth prospects, and I think that if we can give them some chances, then we could have something."

Ross County Projected First Team Squad as of Now


Ross Doohan: 22 years old, Scottish. On loan from Celtic, and is rated 3*/5*. Will be the first choice goalkeeper, and has lots of ratings in the 10 or above. Has 8 U21 caps for Scotland, and needs to prove himself at the Premiership level.

Ross Laidlaw: 28 years old, Scottish. Rated as 2.5*/2.5*. Going to be the backup keeper, and isn't as good as Doohan. Has good reflexes, and can be a good backup, but probably is going to be that way as my plan is to invest into youth at the goalkeeper position with upgrades to the youth academy later on in this save. 

Right Back:

Connor Randall: 24 years old, English. Signed on a free this summer, and is rated 3.5*/4.5*.  Originally from Liverpool's academy, he has a lot of pace, and looks like a player coming into his prime. Someone who I anticipate will be a key part of the wide game and the pressing football that I intend to play.

Keith Watson: 30 years old, Scottish. Is rated 3*/3*. Is more of a physical player than Randall, and is experienced at SPL level based on his stints here, at Dundee United, Hibernian, and St. Johnstone. A good backup, and someone who brings experience to the team who can be trusted. 

Center Back:

Callum Morris: 30 years old, Northern Irish. Rated 3.5*/3.5*. What I like about Callum is that he is your classic center back who can win duels in the air, and is tough as nails. He is one part of of my first choice pairing, and should help us stay up.

João Silva: 22 years old, Portuguese. Rated 3.5*/4*. This guy signed on a free looking for a chance, after bouncing around the lower leagues in Italy. A little speedier than Morris, he is a natural counterpart to his partner, and is someone I hope to develop as part of what I want Ross County to become.

Left Back:

Carlos Tremarco: 34 years old, English. Rated 3*/3*. A veteran player who joins as a free transfer from our local rivals in Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Might be starting on the decline, but has good mentals. If nothing else, he can be used with mentoring younger players, or maybe even a coach. Will give him a chance, but he might be replaced. 

Alex Iacovitti: 22 years old, Scottish. Rated 2.5*/4.5*. This guy is going to challenge Tremarco for a place in the team, and is looking like he could be quite good. Like his mental stats, and his physical stats can improve with more playing time. Look for him to get a look in during the Betfred Cup group stages, and he might get more playing time. 

Center Midfield:

Iain Vigrus: 32 years old, Scottish. Rated 4*/4*. A player who has bounced around, and is in his second spell with Ross County. He is a classic box to box style midfielder, with the ability to link up between the defense and attack. He is someone who still has a lot to give the club, and will be a key part of the midfield.

Stephen Kelly: 20 years old, Scottish. Rated 3.5*/5*, and has 2 Scotland U21 caps. Stephen is a heck of a young talent, but sadly is on loan from Rangers, and I don't think that Stephen Gerrard would like to sell it to us. He has a lot of technique for a youngster, and will be a more defensive midfielder, but he can play anywhere in the midfield. Hopefully he loves us enough to stick around.

Ross Draper: 31 years old, English. Rated 3*/3*. Ross is someone that I personally have used in an FM 17 save with Hamilton, and he has the abiltiy to play in midfield or as a center back. As a veteran SPL player who is no nonsense, I think that he can be able to cover in positions if need be.

Left Winger:

Michael Gardyne: 34 years old, Scottish. Rated 4*/4*. Michael has been with the club permanently since 2007, after coming through the Celtic youth system under Martin O'Neill. He is our captain, and someone I am not planning to sell as he would be someone that can provide both passes and shots from the wings, and considering that I prefer to have the wingers come up and attack, he will be critical.

Attacking Midfielder:

Reagan Charles-Cook: 23 years old, Jamaican. Rated 3.5*/4.5*. He is my attacking playmaker, and he has a ton of stamina, and has run for days across training and friendly matches. Not afraid to ask questions of the defense and with an aggressive mindset, he is someone who can and will be a good bet to get goals and assists all year.  Maybe even getting a callup in a CONCACAF qualifier? 

Right Winger:

Jermaine Hylton: 28 years old, English. Rated 3*/3*. Jermaine provides similar qualities to Reagan and Michael, though is more of a hard worker. He is someone who has a good work rate, and can compliment the attack. Another player who provides cover in multiple places, which every manager loves. 


Ross Stewart: 24 years old, Scottish. Rated 3.5*/4*. Ross is our first choice striker, and someone who can be counted on to finish with his good ratings in that area. He is also our main penalty taker, and can be targeted on offensive set pieces, even though I will admit that I'm not the best free kick and corner player on this board. He is going to be a fun player to have up front. 



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1 August 2020, Dingwall

Luke was reading the Guardian, who had just published a story about the upcoming Premiership season. Ross County would open the season at home against Motherwell. The board weren't expecting much from him, and were looking to make the relegation playoff this year, which meant finishing 11th in the league. As for the Betfred Cup, Luke was expected to have the team reach the second round. In the Scottish Cup, he was expected to reach the quarterfinal. All of that was decently achievable, and after an encouraging set of friendlies, he was expecting to do his utmost to achieve these goals. 

In a trip to Denmark, Ross County lost 2-1 to Lyngby, but rebounded to get a 2-0 win against Brondby. The friendlies were rounded out by a 2-2 draw against Northern Irish champions Linfield in Northern Ireland. 

Ross County Betfred Cup Group


Brechin City

Kelty Hearts


Ross County

All in all, a group that the Staggies should be winning. All of these clubs are lower league sides, and with some luck the club could avoid one of the big guns in knockouts.

2020-21 Scottish Premiership Predicted Finish






Dundee United


St. Johnstone


St. Mirren

Ross County



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