Fort football officials to meet Highland League in hope of resolving dispute

Fort William FC chairman, John Trew, pictured here oveseeing the grass cutting at Claggan Park at the weekend. Photograph: Iain Ferguson NO F17 FORT FC GRASS CUTTING 01
Fort William FC chairman, John Trew, pictured here oveseeing the grass cutting at Claggan Park at the weekend. Photograph: Iain Ferguson NO F17 FORT FC GRASS CUTTING 01

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Claggan Park officials will be pinning their hopes on a meeting with the Highland League this week in an effort to stave off Fort William FC’s looming exit from the competition after almost 40 years.

Fort FC informed the league on Friday it was withdrawing from Saturday’s first leg of the pyramid play-off matches against Banks o’Dee FC at Spain Park and this weekend’s return encounter.

The league expressed its extreme disappointment at the decision which came after discussions during the week on two issues, the most significant concerning player eligibility to take part in the play-offs.

The other issue involved the long-running saga over the condition of the Claggan Park pitch.

League secretary Rod Houston told the Lochaber Times this week that a meeting of league officials on Monday night had resulted in no change to Fort’s situation as far as they were concerned.

If the meeting with league officials proves fruitless, then Fort’s relegation will be cemented – barring any last ditch appeal to the SFA – with Banks o’ Dee promoted and the Claggan Park outfit most likely playing their football next season in the North Caledonian League.

Club chairman John Trew has been unable to reveal much but did tell the Lochaber Times at the weekend: ‘The stuff about us being unable to field a team is incorrect and that is about as much as we can say at the moment.

‘We’ve spoken to the SFA [Scottish Football Association] who are hoping we can resolve it ourselves with the league.’

In its response on Friday, the league published a long statement on its website detailing what it said were the problems.

In its statement, the league said three of the Lochaber team’s 12 players who took part in the Breedon Highland League match at Rothes on April 19 were ineligible for the playoffs.

‘Central to this is the fact the club’s first choice goalkeeper had returned home to Poland and his replacement was registered on March 31, 2022,’ continued the statement.

‘This meant the club felt it did not have enough goalkeepers for the playoffs as well as having few outfield players. So, on Wednesday April 20, 2022, it requested dispensation to play all three players in the playoffs.

‘Research by the league’s secretariat uncovered the fact Fort William FC had at that date five players registered who were described as goalkeepers. Consequently, the league’s office bearers declined dispensation for all three players and the club was informed accordingly.

‘During the course of Thursday and Friday, discussions continued and the club then submitted a second request for dispensation with regard to the goalkeeper signed on March 31, 2022.

‘Research by the league’s secretariat indicated that one of the goalkeepers had been deregistered but four remained on the books so the request for dispensation was denied.

‘Subsequent discussions with the manager led to the conclusion that club personnel were unaware of the existence of one of the two remaining goalkeepers. The secretary suggested this needed checking out.

‘The league was then informed that it appears that this person was unknown to club management and is a member of the armed forces currently away on duty. This had not been included in the second request for dispensation.’

The second issue related to the condition of Claggan Park. According to the league, a pitch and ground inspection by a league representative took place on Friday morning to confirm it as a venue for the second leg of the playoffs.

This apparently raised some concerns. The league says the club was then reluctant to accept its recommendations that the club roll the pitch, cut the grass and line it as if for a match so that a further inspection could be carried out.

And the league added: ‘Discussions continued throughout Friday and were effectively closed by Fort William FC when it decided to withdraw from the playoffs.’

Apart from Mr Trew’s comments, Fort’s Facebook page at the weekend published comments claiming many parts of the league’s statement were incorrect and that this would ‘become clear over time’.

The club added: ‘Because of this statement we will refrain from updates until the SFA and other relevant people have been consulted. The club is financially stable and ready for next season. ‘

Asked for its views this week, the SFA confirmed the issue was a matter for Fort William and the Highland League to resolve, although it confirmed it would be the body for any appeal.


Fort William FC chairman John Trew overseeing the grass cutting at Claggan Park at the weekend. Photograph: Iain Ferguson