5 May ~ Fort William had traditionally been seen as a bit of a joke when it came to football. A dead weight at the bottom of the Highland League and a seasonal goal difference of minus 100 or more, they have struggled to be taken seriously. Even a plan for an American reality TV show about the club was scrapped, as reported in the WSC Daily last August. Yet in November last year Fort William travelled to Turniff United – and won 2-1. To everyone who follows the Highland League this was a major surprise. Not only was this three points but it was also three points away from their fortress (for want of a better word) of Claggan Park.
A fluke, many argued. For Fort William to win a match was merely a case of mathematical probabilities. The formbook suggested otherwise, however. “The Fort” were losing more games than winning as before but, instead of their doing down 10-0, 9-1 or 7-0, most defeats were by the odd goal, or from conceding while pushing for an equaliser. For the first time in years Fort William were being competitive and not looking like the misfits they had been branded before.
And then, in the middle of April, it all clicked. A deserved 3-1 win away at Huntly was followed by a 2-0 win away to Brora Rangers four days later. Due to the vastness of the Highland region, the team bus clocked up 476 miles in search of these victories, a possible reason for losing their next game 4-1 at home to Formartine United. They bounced back to win 3-2 on Saturday at home to Inverurie Locos, a decent outfit from the north-east who reached the fourth round of the Scottish Cup last season. With three games to play, Fort William are sitting a vertigo-inducing third from bottom of the Highland League, with five wins and 15 more points than last season already – they have 16 points.
There are a few reasons why Fort William have done better this season. Calum MacLean, the long-suffering manager, has been given time to get things right with a small group of players (Fort William have a budget roughly a quarter the size of most Highland League clubs), while the discovery of a potent striker in Inverness amateur football, Sam Urquhart, has helped strengthen the team. The expansion of the league from 15 to 18 teams has not been a factor, however. Only one of the newcomers, Strathspey, sit below Fort William in the division. The club's recovery is all their own doing.
With Fort William being average just now (trust me, it's a compliment) the only downside is that the television cameras may never return to Claggan Park in search of diabolical football. The middle of the table is where the team set their sights for next season, and no one is complaining. David Childs