Fort William FC have, for one thing or another, been in the headlines in recent years. Their rather abysmal form in the Highland League – the bottom tier of the Scottish senior football – grants them the title of “the worst team in Scotland” leading to many, such as Rod Liddle from the Sunday Times to write about the team. The interest in a reality TV show based on the club by American Paul MacDonald also gathered media attention, though nothing was to come of it.
Worryingly, the future of the club was uncertain and only resolved via an EGM at Claggan Park on Wednesday evening. The news of a Scottish football club in crisis is not a new story to anyone following the events at Ibrox in recent months, but the circumstances at Fort William are unique in the sense that they are not financial. The standing down of joint chairman and secretary John Watssman created a void that could not be filled at last week’s AGM; it took an Emergency General Meeting (EGM) for these positions to be filled and sub-committees were created on Wednesday to ensure the guarantees their SFA licence. Had the EGM not been successful in recruiting members to the board, the club would not haven been allowed to partake in the Highland League and direct entry into the first round of the Scottish Cup (the latter a major privilege of SFA membership for clubs in the division). The club may have to enter the amateur leagues of Scottish football, and with the struggle they faced in the early 1980s to enter the Highland League, re-entry is unfeasible.
The problem for Fort William stems further back than just a case of vacant board positions. Apathy by locals is apparent, in what is a vicious circle: crowds are poor because the team is not winning, and the team is not going to get any better without any backing. Secretary at any SFA club is arguably the toughest position as he or she is responsible for the registration of all of the players. Their job is of the same importance as their equivalent from SPL clubs. If they can’t get people turning up on a Saturday at Claggan Park, how can they expect to find someone to fill positions like secretary or chairman? It begins to look like a daunting task.
If they can’t get people turning up on a Saturday at Claggan Park, how can they expect to find someone to fill positions like secretary or chairman? It begins to look like a daunting task.
Fort William’s biggest problem is the success that the town enjoys in shinty. In the town and outer regions, Fort William boasts three teams, two of which (Fort William and Kilmallie) play in the premier division and the other (Lochaber) qualifying for the MacAuley Cup final (shinty’s equivalent of the League Cup). With shinty there are greater chances of winning competitions, as well as the opportunity to represent your country in the annual international matches versus Ireland. With this in mind, the proposition of playing for a struggling football team in the middle of December, and travelling hundreds of miles to do so in some cases is significantly less appealing than the summer leagues and local derbies of shinty.
The relative success of Wednesday’s EGM lead to an outcome that prevented the premature end of Fort William FC’s stay in the Highland League, a league they have performed (or at least tried to) in since 1985. One worries for the future of the club though if the people of the isolated town are so reluctant to participate.