Fan's eye view: No 202: Scotland's Highland League

Click to follow
Away in the far flung outposts of the north of Scotland lies Britain's most northerly based, senior part-time professional league, known as The Highland Football League.

South of Aberdeen, little is known of this proud league because of its geographical obscurity. Only when the Scottish FA Cup comes round do clubs such as Elgin City, Huntly and Buckie Thistle enter the national spotlight, and with regular consistency knock out Scottish League clubs.

It is a Scottish League club's worst nightmare to be drawn away in the Cup to a Highland club. Apart from a potential thrashing, the Southerners cannot cope with the staple diet of porridge, wild haggis smoked raw and neat whisky for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Aye, it is a real man's game up there, kilts, bagpipes and all.

In 1968 many fans will remember Elgin reaching the fifth round of the Cup only to lose 2-1 to the full-time First Division club, Morton. In the previous round Elgin had defeated the Second Division leaders Arbroath at home in front of 14,000. The Arbroath manager, Albert Henderson, said before the match: "If we can't beat Elgin City, then we have no right in thinking of going into the First Division." Elgin won 2-0 and Arbroath were promoted - and also subsequently bought Gerry Graham, Elgin's prolific centre-forward.

The previous season Elgin had beaten Ayr United, of the First Division, 2-0 in the third round. Ally McLeod, the Ayr manager, was in tears that Wednesday night in Elgin in February 1967, as the fourth round had already been drawn. Elgin were summoned to Parkhead to face Celtic and were "narrowly" beaten 7-0 in front of 36,500 fans later that same month.

Then there was the famous Cup-tie at the North East fishing port of Fraserburgh in January 1959, when Dundee came north with their star-studded side full of internationals like Bill Brown, Alex Hamilton and Jimmy Gabriel. Johnny Strachan, a Gas Board clerk, scored the only goal of the game to send the "fishermen" through to the next round, causing one of the great shocks in Scottish Cup history.

The Highland League was formed in Inverness in August 1893, mainly by railwaymen of the Highland Railway Company. The Scottish equivalent of the GM Vauxhall Conference, the Highland League is a 16-club competition covering the north coast from Aberdeen, the home of Cove Rangers, to the picturesque fishing towns with clubs such as Peterhead, Deveronvale (in Banff), Lossiemouth, Nairn, Brora and Wick, and into Speyside with clubs at Keith, Rothes and Forres.

Three years ago the Highland League lost three of its clubs to the Scottish League through reconstruction, Ross County, of Dingwall, and two of the three Inverness clubs, Caledonian and Thistle, who amalgamated to form a potentially powerful Scottish League club. Inverness Caledonian Thistle, full of former Highland League players, are currently the leaders of the Scottish Third Division.

The future is bright for the Highland League as, for example, there are two strong North-East junior clubs keen to join. There is also a review of Scottish football at all levels taking place at present and, who knows, this may well create further opportunities for the Highland League.

Some great players have come out of the Highland League to grace both the Scottish and England Leagues in recent years: Stewart Imlach (Lossiemouth, Nottinghan Forest, Derby and Scotland), John McGinlay (Elgin, Bolton and Scotland), Colin Hendry (Keith, Blackburn and Scotland), Ian Wilson (Elgin, Everton and Scotland), Kevin McDonald (Caledonian and Liverpool) and Duncan Shearer (Clachnacuddin, Aberdeen and Scotland).

Publication of results in the British national press has given the League the recognition it deserves, bearing in mind it is of a higher standard, better equipped and supported than, for example, the League of Wales.

Whatever happens through reconstruction, I am sure the Highland League will prosper and remain a prominent force, continuing to create the customary shocks in the Scottish FA Cup.

Comments