Updated: Jul 27, 2019
WHY THE FORT WILLIAM DEAL IS BAD FOR SCOTTISH FOOTBALL
Despite what some think the worst team in Scotland are without doubt Highland League side Fort William. Last season they finished bottom of the table on minus 7 points after a points deduction for fielding an ineligible player, drew 2 games out of 34, lost the rest, scored 21 goals and conceded 245. The previous season they drew 5, lost the rest, scored 31 goals and conceded 184. No wins in 2 years.
You can't help wonder how the fans manage to keep going, why players would sign, how those who run the club keep going and what the point is. Alternatively you look at what you can do to improve things.
To that end Fort William this week announced what is claimed by the club to be a groundbreaking initiative with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. This initiative will allow ICT's young players 'to showcase their talents in the Highland League whilst supporting Fort William's existing players and help them improve and develop'.
All sounds reasonable when put like that, not that dramatically different from us taking a couple of lads on loan from Hibs or Hearts - everybody wins. Only in this instance ICT have loaned 9, yes nine, youngsters from their development squad.
This follows a rejection of ICT's application to enter a colts team into the league following Cove Rangers' promotion. Naturally both clubs are keen to deny any suggestion that this is in effect a takeover of Fort William by ICT. In their statement they end by stating they have driven the initiative forward, despite the fact at the beginning of the statement they say they were approached by ICT about working together.
It's easy to think this isn't really very important, after all who really cares about the bottom end of the Highland League. However, this follows on from the frequently raised spectre of SPL Reserve or Colts sides being entered into the Third Division a move that has been condemned by the majority of lower league fans.
This move by ICT is potentially the thin end of a very thick wedge. It will be viewed with interest by the SPL clubs, if we're not going to let them have B-sides in the league then they will look to 'partnerships'. What happens if Hearts want a partnership with say Bonnyrigg while Hibs decide to go in with Whitehill, then Celtic decide that BSC are a good fit while Rangers take a fancy to Dalbeattie. Before we know it non-league Scottish football becomes dominated by de-facto SPL sides.
The SPFL have clear rules on number of loan players which allow for two from one club to one n another division and a maximum number of four loanees on the pitch. I struggled to find the Highland League rules on this issue, however, ICT and Fort William clearly feel what they are doing is within the rules. Which further raises the question of what happens if Fort William are promoted - do they then have to go back to their previous player recruitment policy? If nothing else the initiative damages the integrity and independence of Non-League clubs and has a potential negative effect on crowds. In the end if you wanted to watch a development squad you would go and watch a development league game.
My view is that the authorities need to step in and stop this now before it's too late. There needs to be limits on players - including development players - allowed to be loaned from one club to another within the entire Scottish League system.