Home   Sport   Article

A look back at the Highland League season that involved just 16 fixtures played over seven Saturdays and ended with Brora Rangers being crowned champions


By Craig Christie

Get the Grampian Group sent to your inbox every week and swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper



DELAYED until November, suspended in January, finished by March - it's the story of the 2020-21 Highland League football season.

Michael Selfridge earned a first league win for Keith's new management duo. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..
Michael Selfridge earned a first league win for Keith's new management duo. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..

The increasing spread of coronavirus had halted the previous north campaign prematurely, with Brora handed the title as runaway leaders by the time the plug was pulled.

A dark cloud of uncertainty hung over the start of the next season, with a traditional July kick-off impossible and serious doubts that a 32-game programme could be fulfilled.

By October, the pathway was cleared for Highland League football to return, firstly with the completion of last season's League Cup which had reached the semi-final stage.

Dates were drawn up for a big league start on Saturday, November 28, before the plans were thrown into disarray with the withdrawal of Forres Mechanics over concerns for the safety of their staff.

Perhaps the Cans' crystal ball had revealed the murky waters which north football was about to sail into, as with hindsight it seems a sensible move for the Moray club to halt their operations for a year.

The remaining 16 plotted their course, oblivious of the barriers they would face on their journey.

The reduced time window meant a break from tradition with clubs scheduled to play each other just once over a total of 15 games each, instead of the usual home-and-away double headers.

Initially all matches were played behind closed doors for safety reasons, though a tiered system later incorporated was to allow fans to return to matches within Moray and Highland - but not Aberdeenshire - in limited numbers.

Week one saw a positive Covid case within Nairn County's camp force their entire squad into self isolation, wiping out their first two matches.

Fort William's unpredictable climate meant a Lochaber downpour had rendered their Claggan Park surface unplayable for their curtain raiser against Strathspey Thistle.

Six matches did get played, with newly crowned Highland League Cup winners Rothes spoiling new Huntly manager Allan Hale's first match in charge with a 1-0 sucess at MacKessack Park.

Rothes' Fraser Robertson celebrates scoring the only goal of the match against Huntly. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..
Rothes' Fraser Robertson celebrates scoring the only goal of the match against Huntly. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..

Brora opened their title defence in typically clinical fashion, perhaps helped by playing a League Cup semi and four tough Betfred Cup group matches before they made the trip to Deveronvale.

A 5-0 success got things going nicely for the Cattachs, while Keith's new management pairing of Andy Roddie and Tommy Wilson tasted a 2-0 defeat in their debut encounter at Inverurie Locos.

Improving Lossiemouth made things tough for a visiting Fraserburgh, who had to dig deep for their 2-0 win.

Buckie Thistle bounced back from their League Cup final loss to edge out Wick Academy 3-2 and Formartine United were 5-1 derby winners at Turriff.

A week later, eight fixtures were on the league calendar but just two made it on to the pitch.

More rain wiped out four matches, snow in Grantown kept Strathspey Thistle out of action and Nairn were left to self isolate for a second weekend.

Brora's 5-1 success over Wick and a 1-1 draw between Huntly and Deveronvale were the only two games to go ahead.

Gary McGowan scores a penalty in Huntly's 2-2 draw at Lossiemouth. Picture: Becky Saunderson..
Gary McGowan scores a penalty in Huntly's 2-2 draw at Lossiemouth. Picture: Becky Saunderson..

The preliminary round of the Scottish Cup took care of the following Saturday, with rescheduled ties restricting the December 19 programme to five more fixtures.

With Claggan Park still sodden, Fort William switched their match against Brora to Dudgeon Park and were duly swept away by a deluge of goals in a 10-0 Cattachs romp.

Michael Selfridge's strike at the death gave the Keith co-bosses their first win at Deveronvale, where Craig Stewart was in caretaker charge following Steve Dolan's departure from the hot seat days earlier.

Nairn's first outing saw them miss a penalty in a 1-0 home loss to Fraserburgh, and Lossie were off the mark thanks to Ryan Sewell's last-gasp strike in a 2-2 stalemate with Huntly.

Most impressively of all, Buckie gained sweet revenge for their cup final defeat to Rothes by coming from behind to thump the Speysiders 5-1 on their own patch.

Buckie Thistle gained revenge for their League Cup final defeat to Rothes. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..
Buckie Thistle gained revenge for their League Cup final defeat to Rothes. Picture: Daniel Forsyth..

Into the Christmas period, Boxing Day was all about Scottish Cup action which meant the league programme would resume in the new year - but only just.

The January 2 programme was severely hampered by outstanding cup clashes, more bad weather and another Covid issue, this time when Deveronvale had to self isolate and sit out their derby match at Buckie.

Turriff's trip to Fraserburgh was given the green light, much to the Haughs outfit's regret as they fell to the heaviest defeat of their Highland League history, a 13-1 mauling which led to manager Kris Hunter leaving his position.

Inverurie and Formartine both made it two wins out of two, the former coming back from two down to win at Clach and the latter just edging out Nairn at North Lodge Park.

No-one knew it at the time, but that proved to be the last league fixtures of a troubled campaign.

More wild weather led to two league postponements on January 9, along with a string of Scottish Cup ties.

Two days later the Scottish Government announcement came that all football below Championship level would be suspended as of midnight, returning all clubs to a state of limbo.

How the Highland League table looked when play was suspended in January - never to restart.
How the Highland League table looked when play was suspended in January - never to restart.

And while Scottish Cup football was allowed to resume in March with Covid testing in place, the crippling costs of such a procedure meant the Highland League season frittered away to an unsatisfyingly incomplete conclusion.

Sixteen fixtures, 14 wins and two draws, 76 goals scored, the full story of a campaign which no-one who followed it will ever forget, but few will wish to remember.


Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.


Get a digital copy of the Grampian Group delivered straight to your inbox every week allowing you to swipe through an exact replica of the day's newspaper - it looks just like it does in print!

SUBSCRIBE NOW


This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More
');