Fast forward a few months and we can look back with the benefit of hindsight and congratulate Rod Houston, the Highland League secretary, for pencilling in those early season games as had he not we would have been in a near impossible position of finishing our league program before mid April 2018.
All clubs received a letter from Rod this week, and I append below the major points, which highlight the difficulties which all clubs now face into.
As things stand, we are 69 League fixtures and 1 first round League Cup fixture behind. Having looked at the weather forecast for the forthcoming week, it is difficult not to see this backlog increasing.
In addition to the backlog, there are 2 rounds of League fixtures scheduled plus 7 League Cup ties to complete the competition. This adds a further 25 matches to the equation.
Between now and 14th April, we have 6 Wednesdays and 6 Saturdays to determine the Champion Club and to complete the League Cup. Clubs have a range of League fixture backlog at between 5 and 11 matches and, as is the nature of these things, the pattern is best described as ‘lumpy’. The backlog also contains a noticeable number of fixtures between clubs at a considerable distance from each other - the wish to play these on a Saturday remains but may be compromised by calendar pressure.
The last LMC was agreeable to the season running beyond 14th April for clubs other than the Champion Club and I think that’s inevitable. A number of clubs have requested specific arrangements for dates to suit functions - I will attempt to meet these requests but it may affect fixture rescheduling.
While this is probably not news for you, it is important to set the matter out before making some key points in asking for all the help clubs can give - the willingness of clubs to suggest solutions to fixtures has been most welcome and I would ask for your continued contribution in that regard.
There are five main points I wish to set out:
Notification - the aim is to notify clubs as timeously as possible of my plans for fixtures, not least to minimise the element of surprise but this may not happen in every case; if so, please just get in touch and I’ll be happy to discuss
Venue availability - in the circumstances, we may have to find a venue for a fixture other than the regular pitch on which a club plays - please make every effort to meet any such request
Short notice rearrangements - given the pressure of time, it may be expedient to rearrange fixture(s) at short notice - this may especially be the case for games involving any club that may become the Champion Club and so I’m asking in advance for your forbearance in this circumstance. I would anticipate looking at the weather forecast any given week and perhaps setting up an either or scenario, should it be necessary
It may become necessary to play matches on weekday evenings other than Wednesday - any such request will be discussed with clubs involved beforehand but I would ask for assistance as this will be a last resort
Regrettably, there may be occasional long range Wednesday matches - again, the aim is to keep these to a minimum and such fixtures will be discussed with clubs beforehand.
As this picture has developed, I’ve instigated approaches to the SLFL & SPFL to see if the deadline of 14th April might be pushed back a little. This will not be resolved immediately, but at least these organisations are prepared to consider the matter. This week’s weather serves to highlight the issue.
The above is all perfectly reasonable stuff from Rod, and by reading such I am sure that all supporters will appreciate any short notice rearrangement or changes of fixtures.
Turning to more specific matters,our league campaign has been a little inconsistent this season, and it looks very much now as if Cove Ranges will be crowned Highland League champions this year, and go on to contest the lucrative pyramid play-offs.
However whilst we currently sit seventh in the league, with many games in hand, Ross and the boys will need to be absolutely focused as we pick up our league campaign and I would like to think that we can still achieve a second-place finish, although Fraserborough, Inverurie Loco’s and Formartine United will have something to say about that.
A second-place finish will give us a bye in the first round of the Scottish Cup next season, and we have all seen the benefits which a run in that competition brings. Remember too that the top four clubs will compete in next years Irn-Bru Challenge Trophy, and again we have seen from past experience the financial benefits that this brings to a club in the early part of any season.
As I write this on Tuesday 6th March, I’m hopeful that our derby against Wick Academy can go ahead tomorrow evening at Dudgeon Park. A big thank you to all those who have been working on the pitch and around the ground, and with a little good luck, their efforts will see the game played.