Fort William v Rothes
Ground: Claggan Park, Fort William
I have never visited a game in the Highland League so far. And that’s remarkable, as it’s a tier 5 league which technically covers Dundee (although the closest teams for me are in Aberdeenshire). The most isolated team in all of Scottish senior & junior football is undoubtedly Fort William FC, with their ground being seen as the most scenic one in Scottish football. For this reason this ground has long been on my list of places I wanted to visit. From Dundee I went to Glasgow, where I took the West Highland Line. A journey of over 3.5 hours through mostly stunning scenery took me to Fort William. I first visited the lovely town before walking to Claggan Park.
Fort William FC got founded in 1974, playing mainly friendlies and cup competitions. In 1983 they joined the North Caledonian League, finishing runners up in their first season, followed by a championship a year later, they also won several cups in those 2 seasons. This resulted in them finally being admitted to the Highland League in 1985, a league they tried to join for a long time. They finished 12th out of 17 in their first season, but the isolated location and the fact that shinty is the most popular sport in the region and not football meant that they have been struggling most of their seasons, finishing bottom 14 out of 18 seasons between 1996 and 2014. In 2018 they finished bottom again, with only 5 points. Their future in the Highland League was in doubt, but the club managed to continue in the league for this season. They are struggling again this season, with 2 draws and 16 defeats in their first 18 games. They are on -7 points as they had a 9 point deduction due to fielding an ineligible player. They only scored 13 goals and conceded a staggering 131, including a 13-0 loss against Fraserburgh and another 5 defeats with double figures. The first game against Rothes, today’s opponents, finished 11-1.
Fort William FC play at Claggan Park, a ground near Ben Nevis with stunning views over various mountains. Just for the views of the surroundings this visit was already worth it. The ground itself is simple, but decent. On one long end of the pitch was covered terracing, but this is now closed and fenced off. On the other side there are 2 small modern seated stands, with standing room around the rest of the pitch. There is an old social club and a modern building containing the dressing rooms and catering. Remarkably there is a small greenhouse within the ground, next to the male toilets. The ground itself isn’t the most special ground you’ll find, but the landscape around it makes it one of the most stunning places anywhere to watch football.
Early on it was already clear that Fort William were heading towards another defeat. Rothes were easily the better team. They scored early on and never looked like giving it away. At half time it was 0-3, in the second half they didn’t put too much effort in anymore, but still scored another 2. Had they been fully focused all game this would have been another large scoreline. The level of football wasn’t great, but the ground was worth the visit. Also, I can only have respect for a small team like this staying alive against all odds, thanks to the hard work of local volunteers.