Published 05/11/18, The Times
The snow-capped peak of Ben Nevis peers over the summit of Meall ant-Suidhe, rising behind the eastern goal of Claggan Park, where the sun hangs like a jewel in the sky. It is a sweeping, breathtaking vista and one day I would love to see it. On Saturday, however, dark, ominous skies, peaks shrouded in mist and sheets of rain swept in from the Atlantic and the picturesque home of Fort William FC looked more like a scene from the kingdom of Mordor.
After boarding planes, trains and automobiles, embarking on a 1,000-mile round trip, an overnight downpour — and the prospect of paying the travel expenses of Huntly, their Highland League opponents — kiboshed any chance of seeing some football. “That’s the rain on again,” I say as we settle down in the sanctuary of the social club beside the waterlogged pitch. “We don’t say, ‘That’s it on again’ here,” Russell MacMorran, the Fort William club secretary, says. “We only say, ‘That’s it stopped’.”
Quite. Still, it could be worse: the coffee is strong, the Scotch broth hearty and warm, and the welcome wholesome. When you are here to visit the side regularly labelled the “worst team in Britain”, in truth you are not expecting all that much from the football. “We’re making progress,” MacMorran says. “But we’re under no illusions as to what we are up against.”
Fort William have finished bottom of the Highland League, the fourth tier of Scottish football, in 14 of the past 20 seasons. Perhaps you see their name flicker across a TV screen beside an unflattering scoreline every now and then, with Forres Mechanics, Inverurie Loco Works, Clachnacuddin or one of the other gloriously idiosyncratic Highland League team names. Fort have finished outside the bottom three just six times since they joined the Highland League in 1985.
They have not won a game since April 2017. Last season they finished with five points — all from draws — and a minus 153 goal difference but this season, to add insult to injury, they were deducted nine points for fielding an ineligible player, Aiden Taylor, in three league games in which they lost 11-0, 10-1 and 8-2. Having won only one point from a 1-1 draw with Strathspey Thistle in August, after 16 games they are marooned on minus 8 points with a minus 105 goal difference.
This is what Fort are known for. One witty caller to BBC Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball on Saturday evening suggested that Fort should be awarded the team of the day as for once they did not get beaten.
In the summer, the club’s former committee of local businessmen floated the prospect of Fort dropping out of the Highland League into an amateur division. But there is resilience and spirit in this corner of the West Highlands.