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Brora aiming to reach the next level after being crowned champions

By Alan Hendry

Wick Academy's Alan Farquhar tackles Paul Brindle of Brora during the north derby at Dudgeon Park on March 7 which turned out to be the last game of the season for both clubs. Picture: Mel Roger
Wick Academy's Alan Farquhar tackles Paul Brindle of Brora during the north derby at Dudgeon Park on March 7 which turned out to be the last game of the season for both clubs. Picture: Mel Roger

Newly crowned Highland League champions Brora Rangers remain focused on stepping up to the next level of Scottish football, the club's chairman has said.

William Powrie was speaking in the wake of last weekend's league meeting at which clubs agreed unanimously to call a halt to the 2019/20 campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic. All football activity in Scotland has been suspended since March 13.

Brora, with a commanding lead at the top of the table, were declared champions for the third time in their history. Inverurie Locos finished the season in runners-up spot.

The Sutherland club will now wait for the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) and the Lowland League to make their decisions on their own seasons before finding out if and when they can compete in the end-of-season play-offs to determine who will start next season in SPFL League Two.

Powrie said the Highland League clubs showed "great leadership" in arriving at their decision.

He reiterated his support for Annan Athletic's idea to prevent relegation by extending the Premiership to a 14-team division, with the top two teams from each of the leagues below being promoted.

That would involve Brora and Lowland League pacesetters Kelty Hearts being automatically elevated to League Two, thus extending the number of SPFL teams to 44.

Powrie said the Cattachs would not object to gaining promotion through a league shake-up.

“Our ambition is to get promoted and progress into the next tier of Scottish football," he said.

“Should a situation come to pass that two teams are promoted to avoid the scenario of relegation, of course we would welcome that.

“It would see us promoted to that next level, and we would be able to test ourselves.

“We would take such an elevator if it was offered to us as a solution, and then we would then have a season to prove our worth.”

Powrie reckons cancelling relegation but rewarding teams on course for promotion could help to keep a larger number of clubs satisfied.

He added: “Whether you are on the cusp of promotion or relegation, you are going to take a different view about what the potential solution should be.

“We put our faith in those people who are making that decision to come up with the most equitable solution.

“There is certainly some merit in it. I think it would probably put a tick in most people’s boxes.”

Reflecting on the shortened campaign, he praised manager Steven Mackay and the coaching staff and said: "While of course we would have preferred to win the title after the final whistle of a game had blown, circumstances well beyond our control intervened to prevent this outcome.

"I don’t think the early ending of the season diminished our achievement in any way, and I’m so very proud of everybody involved at the club. Okay, it will be a slightly different title, but a title nonetheless."

He also highlighted the financial cost of the shutdown. “It’s not just the gate money from not playing games we are losing out on – there’s also hospitality, the knock-on commercial activities we do during a match day," he said. "We have our golf day coming up in the not too distant future, and our annual club dinner.

“There’s a drip effect for what could be two or three months in advance where we would normally start building up money for next season. The next six months will be very challenging, not just for Brora Rangers but for every football club in Scotland.

Brora striker Paul Brindle agreed that the Highland League showed great integrity by awarding the title to the Dudgeon Park club.

Even Fraserburgh, who could theoretically have cut the gap to eight points, backed the decision as just and sensible.

Brindle felt it was a fair outcome given Brora’s overall dominance.

The 27-year-old said: “I think it was the right and fair decision to make, but I’ve got to applaud the other clubs for being brave enough to come out and declare us champions. I was delighted but, if I’m honest, it was a very different feeling than you expect after winning a league.

“I was just in my house watching the news when I heard. We’ve all been given personal plans to stay fit, so I’ve been doing a bit of that.

“For this to be voted through unanimously just makes it easier for anyone looking in from the outside to know it was valid and recognised by other teams.”

Highland League secretary Rod Houston said: “The clubs took their time, reasoned and deliberated – and then came up with what they felt was the best solution.

“We are aware it could be some time before football is played again. Some of the dates we are hearing about for a restart suffer from a serious overdose of optimism. Fraserburgh’s support shows how unanimous this was.”

Wick Academy ended the season in 10th place.

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