• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The Highland Line: the welcome return of Highland League football

Forget the World Cup, you probably already have.

Forget the Commonwealth Games, although that would be rather difficult given you seem to get a TV/radio update even during weather forecasts. But anyway the point is that tomorrow (Saturday, August 2) sees the welcome return of Highland League football.

Loading article content

The champions Brora Rangers' open their season with a home game against Huntly at Dudegon Park. The big question is whether this will be the last time Sutherland's Rangers kick off in this league.

They had an impressive campaign last season winning 31 of their 34 games, drawing two and losing just one. It meant they won the first ever title in their 52 years in the league and by 20 points from Inverurie Locos.

The Easter Sutherland village of Brora only has a population of around 1,200. There was bad news this week with the largest private sector employer Serco closing its call centre with the loss of 21 jobs, the equivalent of 6,000 going in Glasgow. Yet the local team is effectively the Manchester City of the north. OK there is no Yaya Touré, but Brora has been attracting the top players available by offering good wages for the Highland League underpinned by mainstream employment opportunities.

The club's fortunes improved markedly with the arrival of a new sponsor in the form of Ben Mackay, managing director of CRC Evans Offshore who are part of the Stanley Black and Decker group. The company supplies "energy infrastructure technology and services" to the oil and gas industry. This is another way of saying they have quite a lot of money. Mr Mackay is to Brora what Sheikh Mansour is to Man City, very roughly speaking.

It has allowed Brora to recruit former Inverness Caley and Ross County players such as Ross Tokely, Grant Munro, Richie Hart, Joe Malin and Zander Sutherland, to very good effect last season.

Those who know about these things say Brora Rangers will dominate the Highland League again and come away with a second title. If they do, it could be their last as the 2014/15 season will see the winners of the Highland League face the Lowland League champions in a play-off for the first time. The winner will then take on the side finishing 10th in Scottish League Two.

If they won that one, they could then enter the Scottish Professional Football League, assuming they make the necessary investment to the ground to meet SPFL requirements.

However Mr MacKay has made it clear it will be the fans who decide whether they go to the national league or not. In a thoughtful interview with STV, or Grampian as some of still us call it up here, Mr MacKay said: "What we have decided as a football club and as a committee is if that eventuality happens then it will be the supporters of Brora Rangers that will decide what league we play in, not the committee or the Scottish league for that matter.

"If you talked to some Elgin supporters then there's some tough travels like down to Annan on a Tuesday night. I think the bottom two divisions in Scottish football should be regionalised. We can get 600-700 crowd at a Nairn County or a Wick Academy game. I think the crowds are telling people 'let's keep football as sensible as possible' and part time teams travelling possibly 300 miles on a Tuesday or Wednesday night is just crazy in my opinion."

But he said some on the club's committee would like the chance to join Scotland's senior leagues.

He said: "I would say there's a mixed opinion. If we had this conversation three or four months ago it would definitely have been a no. There is two or three people on the board now that have voiced 'we should try and be as big as we can be'.

"We've seen what Ross County and Inverness CT have done but we've also got to be realistic. They are from relatively big towns, we are from probably the third smallest in the Highland League."

Actually the population of Dingwall, Ross County's home, is not that big. It is around 5,000, all of whom could be accommodated in County's Global Energy Stadium, or Victoria Park as those of who still watch Grampian TV would say

But Ross Country draws right across the north with an average crowd of 3,786 last year. But you can add over 1,000 for some games against the likes of Inverness, Aberdeen and more for Celtic. Fans come from as far afield as Lewis, Skye and Wester Ross and Sutherland and Caithness in the east.

Does that strengthen Mr MacKay's argument? Do those wanting senior football in the north not already have it at Ross County in the top tier, not to mention Inverness Caley just down the road? Would they go and support Brora instead?

Nobody knows for sure, but there are many in the north hoping that Brora does make it to the senior league. Not least just to deliver another blow against the central beltism of certain big clubs who moan about travelling all the way to Inverness and Dingwall. Brora Rangers is another 47 miles from Dingwall, right up your A9.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

251720