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Highland League officially ends as Brora Rangers named champions despite playing just three matches

By Alasdair Fraser

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Brora Rangers have officially been crowned Highland League champions – despite playing just three league matches amid the pandemic.

The SHFL football management committee moved to conclude their league season in agreement with all clubs in the north set-up.

Brora, quickly awarded last season’s title after 26 games when the Covid-curtailed campaign ended in March, were controversially denied a crack at last season’s play-offs by the football authorities.

SHFL members have now thrown their full weight behind the team that shocked Hearts last week in the Scottish Cup.

Brora manager Steven MacKay has welcomed the announcement.
Brora manager Steven MacKay has welcomed the announcement.

With Kelty Hearts declared Lowland Champions 24 hours before after 13 games, Brora’s backing will heap pressure on the SPFL and SFA to sanction play-offs this spring.

Delighted Brora manager Steven Mackay said: “This decision will fuel the conversation with the SFA and we’re grateful for the support of our fellow clubs in the Highland League.

“Kelty have been awarded the Lowland League and Brora have now been awarded the Highland League.

“It will start fuelling those discussions in the SFA and probably put them under a little bit more pressure to act.

“Brora don’t want to be winning leagues after three games, but it is a mechanism to get us there.

“To be awarded something after three games is borderline ridiculous and quite embarrassing from our perspective because we want to earn the right.

“But it is a mechanism now to push ourselves towards the play-offs with Lowland League Kelty.

“If the first step towards that is awarding us the league, I think that’s the right thing to do.”

Mackay believes that if the authorities don’t sanction play-offs this season, they must allow Kelty and Brora to step up through league reconstruction.

He said: “The Lowland League did the right thing. They awarded it on a points per game basis, albeit on a shortened season.

“But no-one in that league could deny that Kelty deserved the chance to play in the play-offs.

“Equally, I think we’re in the same situation, albeit we’ve only played three league games.

“I’m delighted the Highland League have taken this standpoint.

“It sounds ridiculous - we’ve only played three league games - but after what happened last season, there seems to have been a lot of appetite to and support to push Brora towards the play-offs this season - if the SFA decides to go ahead with it, which I think they should.

“It has to be one thing or the other - play-offs or reconstruction.

“I don’t think it should be just left, unfinished if you like, like it was last season.”

The SHFL league management committee (LMC) met on Monday night to decide on their next move.

Weighing up the circumstances - including the likelihood that testing will remain an expensive necessity until May 17’s easing of Scottish Government rules - it was decided to call a halt to the 2020/21 campaign and crown Brora.

An SHFL statement said: “The SHFL is a committed member league of the SFA Pyramid for Scottish Football.

“This commitment brings with it an obligation to produce a champion club to take part in the annual pyramid play-offs.

“The 2020-21 season has been shortened severely by pandemic circumstances.

“The league took great care to hold off beginning the championship until it could start at a stage at which it was as safe as possible to do so in the communities in which the league is based.

“This was also for the sake of people involved in the League’s activities – its sense of responsibility to that context is important – and it has been unfortunate that another suspension of play occurred, thereby further truncating the season.

“The Scottish Government has allowed the restart of Scottish Leagues 1 and 2, subject to weekly testing of all involved for the remainder of the season.

“The cost of PCR testing – at an estimated £1,500 per club per week – is beyond the sustainable resources of SHFL clubs for the length of even a shortened league campaign.

“It should be noted that, from the outset, the league’s top priority has been to seek to ensure that all clubs survive beyond the pandemic.

“Strict interpretation of the Pyramid Play-off rules means that the obligation to produce a champion club has to relate to the season in which the play-offs take place.

“The LMC therefore considered the matter using league rules and decision precedent of a points per game basis, and where necessary, goal difference as its guide.

“Consequently the LMC unanimously agreed that Brora Rangers FC should be declared the SHFL Champion Club for Season 2020-21 and be put forward as the SHFL’s nominated club for the SHFL/SLFL/SPFL play-offs.”

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