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WILL CLARK: Scheduling not making Highland League title race level playing field

By Will Clark

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Dudgeon Park in the snow. Photo: Milo Ainsworth
Dudgeon Park in the snow. Photo: Milo Ainsworth

SOME of you will have no sympathy whatsover, depending on who your Highland League team is.

However, if you’re a fan of Brora Rangers or Buckie Thistle, your club faces a hectic schedule until the end of the season on Saturday, April 13.

That date has been set in stone for any team wishing to be considered title challengers so they can coincide with the start of the League Two play-offs.

Both Brora and Buckie have only played 14 league matches so far, with 20 left to play in the space 11 weeks. Not including cup fixtures.

Success in the Scottish Cup, where Buckie got to the fourth round and earned a glamour tie with Celtic, along with Brora, hopefully playing Cove Rangers on Tuesday night, meant other fixtures had to be rearranged. Their success means they are likely to be playing twice a week for the rest of the season.

To the credit of both clubs, they are not writing off their chances of winning the league, believing they can tackle the huge backlog of fixtures.

But have these clubs been unfairly disadvantaged due to their success in cup competitions?

For both Buckie and Brora, they should be lauded for reaching the fourth round, as in recent years, Lowland League teams have generally been more successful than their Highland League counterparts. What both teams have done is brought back a huge respect to the Highland League.

But now they are facing a punishing schedule to play so many matches in just two months.

Does the Highland League need to consider playing more midweek matches earlier in the season when weather will allow to ensure there is no repeat backlog in the future?

This season, there was only one Wednesday where league matches were played in August and only two league matches in total played during midweek in September. Although, there were midweek matches involving cup competitions, there were still spare Wednesday nights during those months where games could have been played.

Also, did the Highland League Cup really have to be crammed into the first half of the season? Could those matches have been spread throughout the entire campaign?

I am 100 per cent behind all Scottish football being shifted to a calendar year and being played through the summer. But there is zero chance of that ever happening, with one person pointing out to me, validly, grass doesn’t grow during the winter.

Also are there too many teams in the Highland League and it is time to consider introducing a Highland League second division?

I am all for clubs in the tier six divisions, (North Caledonian League, North Region Premier League and Midlands League) having the chance to progress.

But maybe there needs to be a new second division formed of teams which meet the requirements for promotion and reduce the Highland League as we know it to 16 teams.

Whatever the answer, there is no doubt current scheduling has proven a disadvantage to the title ambitions of Brora and Buckie due to their success in cup competitions.

There is the argument that weather damage to their pitches has been a detrimental element. But more could be done to the schedule to make the title race a more level playing field, regardless of cup success.

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