Non-League Football: Unity in the north

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The Independent Online
THE FIVE Scottish non-League clubs contesting the two vacancies in next season's expanded Scottish League enjoyed an equal share of the spotlight in Glasgow yesterday - and a club whose existence was in doubt until the start of this week can feel confident that they are at the top of the queue for promotion to the elite, writes Rupert Metcalf.

Ross County, Elgin City, Gala Fairydean, Gretna and Caledonian Thistle, from Inverness, each gave 15-minute presentations to the 38 member clubs of the League, who will consider the five bids before their decisive vote on 12 January.

The fractious merger between two Inverness clubs, Caledonian and Inverness Thistle, was finally settled on Monday, when it was agreed that the new club will be called Caledonian Thistle, and will play at Caley's Telford Street ground next season, rather than at Thistle's Kingsmills Park, as had been intended. The following season the united club will move to a new stadium.

The discord over the merger had threatened to scupper the chances of Inverness being represented in the League, but the indications last night were that Caledonian Thistle will secure one of the vacancies. 'They are trying not to appear too confident, but they seem to have their place sewn up,' Bill McAllister, the editor of Highland Football magazine, said. Caley's player-manager, Sergei Baltacha, the former Soviet Union, Ipswich and St Johnstone sweeper, is expected to become the manager of the united team.

It had been assumed that the League would favour one club from the north and one from the south. However, there is growing optimism in the north that, assuming Caledonian Thistle are voted in, one of the other Highland League sides - Ross County, from Dingwall, or, more likely, Elgin City - will accompany them, at the expense of Gala Fairydean, from the rugby stronghold of Galashiels, and Gretna, of the Northern Premier League.