Fort William have finished bottom in 14 of last 18 seasons
21 March ~ Observers of the Highland League will have noticed this season that something special is brewing in the north-west of Scotland. Not so much a case of sleeping giant as much as a comatose minnow, Fort William have gained notoriety during a decade of abject failure. That could be about to change with a win last Saturday, at home to third-placed Wick Academy, launching the team to the dizzying heights of 13th place.
Much as the town is towered over by Ben Nevis, football in Fort William has had to dwell in the not inconsiderable shadow of the local shinty team who until recently were one of the foremost powers in Scotland. The sparsity of athletes in the remote north-west Highlands has meant that the team has sometimes relied upon teenagers to make up their squad.
As well as competing for the best local athletes, Fort William have also had to contend with a punishing fixture schedule, hindered by their geographical location 65 miles south-west of their nearest rivals. The Fort often have scores of matches postponed every year, primarily for waterlogged pitches. As a result, for Fort William success has been relative with the 2001-02 and 2009-10 seasons proving to be particularly memorable as the only two occasions the team have registered more than 20 points in a campaign since the mid-1990s. Eleven of the last 18 seasons have seen points tallies in single digits. In 14 of those 18 seasons Fort William finished bottom.
It looked as though it would be much of the same from the Fort this season when by early November the team had amassed a typically low haul of five points from 16 games before the unexpected happened – Fort William started winning games. Buckie Thistle were the first to succumb to a 2-1 home defeat before Keith were sent packing from the picturesque Claggan Park with a 2-0 loss. Huntly were then emphatically dispatched 4-0 away before an enforced break over the whole of December (reports of warm weather training may have been exaggerated).
History was made on Saturday, January 3 when the Fort agreed to switch the venue of their home game against nearest neighbours Clachnacuddin to Clach’s Grant Street Park. The score was 1-1 when Kenny Mackenzie wrote his name into Fort William folklore with his first goal for the club sealing the win and confirming the Fort’s first ever four-game winning streak. Fort William have since reverted to form with two losses bookending the win against Wick but with several games in hand over the teams below them in the table it looks likely that the team will be celebrating a mid-table finish – street parties have been held for less. Sandy Beeson