9 March ~ The assumption that perennial strugglers Fort William will finish bottom of the pile in the Highland League is being challenged this season by Strathspey Thistle, from Grantown-on-Spey. Having lurched into 2012 in the unenviable and almost unbelievable position of actually being below Fort William, the Jags have suddenly discovered what passes for them as top form and have just leapfrogged Fort into 17th, or second-bottom position, a full point clear of their rivals. These giddy heights were achieved by remaining unbeaten throughout February. True, due to snow, ice, wind, rain and other apocalyptic conditions which befall the Highlands in winter, it meant that they actually only played two fixtures during the whole month.
Nevertheless Thistle remained unbeaten, recording a rare and wholly unexpected point at Buckie Thistle, followed at the end of the month by a two-nil drubbing of hapless Brora Rangers. This propelled them onto five points. Guess where their only point was gained in the first-half of the season? Yes, away at Fort William (a 2-2 draw).
Whether this astonishing mini-revival can be put down to the arrival of one Paul MacArthur is open to debate. In Wikipedia's entry on Strathspey Thistle, the recently-signed MacArthur is listed as their only player of note. However, we discover by clicking on his name, that he is not just a footballer, but rather a star of nearby shinty club Newtonmore, one of the the most successful clubs playing this brutal Scottish version of roller hockey. Newtonmore were crowned Scottish Premier Division champions in November 2011 and MacArthur celebrated, we are told on the website by: "posing naked at the top of Creag Dhu." Before you ask who Creag Dhu is, I am happy to report that this is not a person, but rather a mountain. It's noted that that MacArthur then "signed for Strathspey Thistle, the struggling Highland League football club from Grantown."
All this should add spice to this weekend's fixture which sees Fort William head to Seafield Park (which is located 35 miles from the sea) for the return fixture against the mighty Thistle. Quite what Paul MacArthur, or any of his teammates have planned should the Jags secure victory and with it probably second-bottom place in this season's HFL is probably best left to the imagination. Colin McPherson