What happened to Fort William?

Discussion in 'Scotland' started by David Bolt, Aug 21, 2022.

  1. David Bolt

    David Bolt Member

    May 30, 2008
    Liverpool
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
    Nat'l Team:
    Wales
    [​IMG]

    A few years ago I wrote about Fort William FC, who were dubbed ‘Britain's worst team’, and of all the considerable challenges they faced. These ranged from being in a remote part of the Scottish Highlands compared to the rest of the league, with their nearest opponents being a 4-hour round trip away. They faced problems with their pitch, with drainage and even deer being a problem.

    They struggled to attract players; with football not being the only game in town and they just did not have the finances to be able to attract players to come like some other teams could. Those who did come to play for Fort William were not doing so for the money.

    It was little wonder then, that results on the pitch were so poor. This was a team that conceded 245 goals in the last full season pre-pandemic. A team that went nearly 900 days without a win.

    But, when all was said and done, this was a team that deserve respect rather than mockery.

    Unfortunately, since then things have not improved.

    Fort William tied to sort the drainage issues out on their Claggan Park pitch once and for all. They are located in the foothills of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain and as a consequence, there is a huge amount of rainfall, which makes the pitch unplayable.

    Unfortunately, the Highland League announced the season would start before Fort William were ready. As a result, they had to hurry the works up and before the season started, the league declared their pitch unplayable and ruled that Fort William would have to play every game away from home for the season.

    Even when the pitch was ready a couple of games into the season, the league still wouldn’t relent and Fort had to play every game away from home. This obviously put the team at a massive disadvantage. Things like having to make a six hour round trip on a Wednesday evening to Brora, followed by an 8 hour round trip three days later to Wick did not help.

    Halfway through the season, Fort appointed the very impressive Shadab Iftikhar as manager until the end of the season. Iftikhar became the first Brit of South Asian descent to take charge of a football club. He is a great story in himself, having managed in Mongolia, where he became national team manager, Samoa and he is regularly used as an opposition scout for Roberto Martinez’s Belgium.

    Under him, the club widened the net in terms of recruitment and became much tougher to beat. They finished the season bottom of the league again, for the 13th time in 19 seasons, but they were no longer the worst team in the country, with that dubious honour going to Lowland league side Vale of Leithen.

    However, last season the stakes were higher than usual, as for the first time, teams could be relegated out of the Highland League. This meant Fort would have to play Banks O’Dee, a highly ambitious, upwardly mobile side from Aberdeen.

    Things took a turn for the worse. The Highland League had ruled that no player who joined a club after 31st January would be eligible to play in a relegation playoff. This hurt Fort heavily, as a lot of their first team were suddenly ineligible. They appealed to no avail.

    Fort then asked for special dispensation as their first choice goalkeeper had gone back to Poland, and the backup had been signed after the deadline. The league again refused, stating that Fort William had 4 other goalkeepers they could play. Fort pointed out that one of the players was completely unknown to them (as he was signed before the previous board resigned en masse and turned out to be serving in the military, so was unsurprisingly not available), but the league wouldn’t budge.

    Once again, their pitch was deemed unplayable, so 24 hours before the first leg of the playoffs, Fort pulled out and were instantly relegated.

    This led to a lot of bitterness and recrimination. Fort appealed the decision, only to then withdraw that appeal when they couldn’t afford to put up the bond that was asked of them. Fairly or not, the way the Highland League had handled the situation led a lot of people to believe that they had engineered it so Fort William could not succeed because they wanted the league to be made up of sides closer to the Aberdeen-Inverness corridor.

    I’m not sure that that argument holds much sway. If it were the case that the league wanted Fort William out, they could have just introduced relegation before the season started given the likelihood that they would have finished bottom.

    That being said, it’s also not easy to see why the League decided to be so officious. It’s highly O’Dee, so I doubt it would have done much harm to allow Fort to at least have been allowed to play their goalkeeper.

    So, this means that Fort William will now be playing in the North Caledonian Football League. The bad news is that they face even further distances to games, including an 8-hour round trip to Thurso, and a trip across the sea to play Orkney. There are still no teams within a short distance for them to play.

    They also lost the services of Iftikhar, who has gone to serve as Technical Director for Thimphu City in the Bhutan Premier League. They also have appointed a young, hungry coach in Chris Baffour, who arrives after coaching Crawley Town’s under-23 team in England.

    But there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic. As it is a lower level of football than the Highland League, they should be one of the better teams in the league, and along with current champions Invergordon and highly-fancied Golspie Sutherland, should challenge for the title, and a possible chance to return to the Highland League via the playoffs.

    And, they are also able to play at home this season. They started the season yesterday with a 0-2 defeat at home to Golspie, but given that they were regularly losing games by 6 or seven goals last season, that’s a decent start. They play defending champions Invergordon next weekend.

    The pressure seems to be off Fort for the time being. They aren’t putting the pressure on themselves to get promoted back to the Highland League. Fort are taking the time to dust themselves down, rebuild and start to put things in place to ensure that the club should be competitive for years to come.

    Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to then move forwards. Maybe that’s what happening to Fort William now. Hopefully they’ll be able to win a few games, gain some confidence and then be able to move back to a higher level. Maybe they’ll even be able to make some headlines for the right reasons.
     
  2. dinamo_zagreb

    dinamo_zagreb Member+

    Jun 27, 2010
    San Jose, CA / Zagreb, Croatia
    Club:
    --other--
    Nat'l Team:
    Croatia
    Interesting read. Thanks for sharing. :thumbsup:
     
  3. bct81

    bct81 Member+

    multiple (DC United, Dortmund, Chelsea, Arsenal, Juve ....)
    United States
    Mar 17, 2007
    moving around the US every few years ....
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    thanks David - appreciate it. Fort Williams is a beautiful place.
     

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