North Caley president hopes more clubs will aim higher in football pyramid
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North Caledonian League president Iain Whitehead says he hopes the increasing strength of the division will encourage more teams to push for promotion.
As the line-up for next season stands, only Golspie Sutherland and Fort William – whose appeal against relegation from the Highland League has been dismissed – would be eligible to go up.
However, the North Caley has grown significantly over the last few years, a far cry from when its future was in doubt because of a lack of clubs.
With increased numbers has come a more professional approach to training, and more competition for the league title and cups.
Loch Ness joined the league in 2020 and were soon competing for honours.
Whitehead hopes that will spur on more clubs to look further up the Scottish football pyramid to Highland League level.
“It would take a miracle for some clubs but I think the opportunity is there for others to push,” he said. “Hopefully they will be ambitious to go for it.
“There’s Halkirk and Thurso who have the facilities close to that level, they just have to improve them a little. St Duthus are there, Invergordon have a decent team and they’re a good club. It would be good to see.
“I would like to think that if teams are playing in a well-run and vibrant league, there’s more chance of them pushing on.
“I think we had a while where teams were just ambling along, and the league almost folded, because there was no incentive.
“The tables have turned, and there’s more of a spotlight on the North Caley, so players are more willing to play in it now than they were before when they weren’t that bothered about it.
“Clubs like St Duthus, Inverness Athletic, and now you’re seeing Loch Ness getting into it. Although it will take a while to upgrade their facilities and find parks for some of these teams, hopefully they will look at it."
Halkirk United managed a third-place finish in the North Caledonian League in 2021/22, with a 2-0 victory at Alness United on the last day of the season lifting them above Golspie. The Anglers recorded 13 wins and one draw in their 20 league games, giving them a total of 40 points – five behind champions Invergordon and three adrift of runners-up Loch Ness.
Halkirk also reached both cup finals, losing on penalties to Thurso in the Football Times Cup and being beaten 1-0 by St Duthus in the North Caledonian Cup.
Thurso made a poor start but recovered well in the latter part of the campaign to finish seventh in the 11-team division. The Vikings had won four games in a row before rounding off the season with a 3-3 draw against Inverness Athletic.