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Relegation dawns for Highland League clubs as tier six north set for next season

By Alasdair Fraser

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RELEGATION play-offs will be introduced in the Highland League for the first time next season after talks with three ‘tier six north’ associations concluded successfully.

Clachnacuddin and Fort William have struggled at the bottom in recent years.
Clachnacuddin and Fort William have struggled at the bottom in recent years.

The historic change, now set to be officially ratified by the SFA’s pyramid working group, will open the dreaded trapdoor to Highland clubs for the first time in the league’s 128-year existence.

The plan was unveiled in April this year, but the HFL has since presided over intensive talks to reach agreement with the North Caledonian FA and the Scottish Junior Football Association’s north and east regions.

The green light means title-winning clubs from the North Caledonian League, the North Junior Super League and the Midlands League – covering Tayside outfits – will play off next season for the right to face the bottom HFL side.

Even if successful, only clubs able to fulfil full SFA licensing and membership requirements would be permitted to make the step up into the HFL. Currently, only Golspie Sutherland and Banks O’Dee satisfy that criteria.

Confirming that talks had finally concluded, HFL secretary Rod Houston said: “It is all sorted and ready to go. The three tier six groups are all on board and the pyramid working group is now due to meet in the near future and that will put the final seal on it, but it’s all done. It was just a case of making sure we had the regulatory framework in place. It was all very straightforward.

“It creates a natural progression from tier six to five, although it is quite a big jump in that you have to become a licensed club.

“That’s a condition of membership of the Highland League. That takes a lot of work, but if a club has ambitions they now have an avenue through which to realise those ambitions. It is about providing opportunity.”

Full licensing covers ground facilities, coaching qualifications, player considerations and other matters of club governance.

In the Lowland League area, there is already a clear pathway upwards from tier eight.

The inclusion of the North Super League – featuring mostly Aberdeenshire juniors and Nairn St Ninian – creates a north pathway from tier eight.

Houston felt there was broad acceptance within HFL circles that change was necessary adding: “I’m sure clubs traditionally at the lower end of the league will carry some concerns, but they have a playing opportunity to deal with it. There is no automatic relegation.”

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