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Highland League secretary Rod Houston has pledged to make the 16-game season fixture list as fair as possible to all clubs

By Craig Christie

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A “CHALLENGING” Highland League fixture will aim to strike a fair balance between all clubs for their 16-game season, says league secretary Rod Houston.

A fair deal on the Highland League has been promised.
A fair deal on the Highland League has been promised.

Teams will contest just eight home and eight away matches in a one-off format finalised at last Saturday’s league management committee meeting.

The shortened programme, beginning on October 17, has led managers to pray for the luck of the draw when the fixtures are drawn up, and Houston has given assurances that fair methods will be used.

He said great thought was put into ensuring that one club would not face a significantly more difficult fixture programme than any other.

“It has actually been quite a challenging fixture list,” Houston said. “Although it is half the usual it has been much more challenging.

“You never get the perfect fixture list, people have to realise that this is making it more challenging.

“What we have done is try and make sure that clubs have a balance of home and away games against teams in their part of the league over the last three years.

“We’ve looked at the pattern of fixtures. For instance, the top seven clubs over the last three years have been consistent enough to give us a sense, and with these clubs you would have three home and three away matches against each other .

“So it would create some degree of balance when acknowledging that it’s a wee bit of a sprint for a league championship.

“It’s very simple. I’m sure none of them want to go and visit the defending champions, but eight clubs are going to have to. And equally Brora are going to have to visit eight clubs.

“It’s trying to find an appropriate balance within the limitations.”

Houston said the release date of the eagerly-anticipated fixture card was dependent on the Scottish FA’s decision on the format for next season’s Scottish Cup.

“The Scottish FA are still deliberating on the structure of the 2020-2021 Scottish Cup and we await the outcome of these deliberations so we can finalise our fixture calendar. I’ve got the league fixtures done, I’ve got the group stages of the League Cup done but I cannot apply dates to the fixtures yet.

“Traditionally we would clear two Saturdays for the Scottish Cup so we need to know if they are needed and when, before we can finalise the detail of the fixture calendar.

“What I did say to the clubs on Saturday is that I will give them four weeks notice at the shortest of at least the early season fixtures if the Scottish FA still have to work something out with regards to the Scottish Cup.”

That means a worst-case scenario of another fortnight for clubs to wait before they discover who they host and who they visit in the coming campaign.

Houston added that in a measure to reduce club’s travel during a season when safety measures will be in place due to the coronavirus situation, no club will face two away matches against the most distant clubs, Wick Academy and Fort William.

Of course, the proposed season start depends on the pandemic and no further spikes in the virus affecting areas within the Highland League spectrum.

“All the science suggests that with the return to schools and the gradual easing there is going to be an upturn in cases. We just have to hope that it doesn’t affect our area.

“We have worked the programme in the knowledge that there is a significant risk, that there may be a local lockdown that materially affects it.

“So we have gone for compact competitions which we are more than hopeful that we complete. The last thing we want is another incomplete season again.”

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