Thurso boss says scrapping North Caley season was 'sensible conclusion'
Get a digital copy of the Courier and Groat delivered straight to your inbox every week
Thurso manager Stevie Reid agrees that declaring the North Caledonian League season null and void was the right thing to do, even though the Vikings were one of several sides in contention for the title.
Clubs met on Sunday and voted the cancel the league season, with no championship trophy awarded for 2019/20. The North Caledonian League Cup was also scrapped.
The league had been suspended on March 13 because of the coronavirus crisis, with Invergordon four points ahead of second-placed Thurso with three games remaining. Golspie were in third place, seven points behind with two games in hand on the leaders, while Orkney were also in with a shout.
“It’s disappointing but you’ve just got to look at the bigger picture – there are bigger things happening," Reid said. “Nobody knew at this horrible time if it was ever going to let up and when football could start up again.
"They’ve given it as long as they possibly could and it had to come to a conclusion.”
The much-improved Vikings had been having an excellent campaign despite playing all their home games away from their normal base at the Dammies due to drainage problems.
Reid insisted Thurso could have gone on to occupy top spot by the end of the season.
“Without a doubt," he said. "It was only four points between us and Invergordon. They had to come up here and they also had Orkney to play, and they’re one of the better teams, and also Bunillidh, who have improved no end this year.
“I think that was the reason most teams voted as they did. Yes, there were three games left, but it was only four points – and if Golspie had won their games in hand going into the last three matches they were only a point behind Invergordon.
“As harsh as it was, I think it was the sensible conclusion and most teams obviously agreed with that. There were big games to be played – four points is not an awful lot.
“But it’s done and dusted, it’s water under the bridge now.
“On the football aspect I can’t fault our guys at all. They’ve done exceptionally well despite not being able to play a home game really.
“We had to play a lot of our games latterly at Naver [the all-weather pitch] and a few of our boys just refuse to play on it because it damages ankles and knees. Every single person who was involved did exceptionally well.”
Thurso also had a North Caledonian Cup semi-final to look forward to before the season was brought to a halt.
Reid gave credit to the coaching team – his number two Michael Gray, along with Jimmy Canavan and Scott Davidson.
“They enjoy it, they have a bit of banter, and we hopefully try to get the best out of the players. We try to get them to enjoy their football, relax and see what happens," the manager said.
The players are keeping themselves in shape ahead of the 2020/21 campaign, although no-one can tell when football will resume.
"They’re all doing their own thing," Reid said. "We’ve got our own chat group and they’re ticking over."
Reid (51) is a relative veteran of the North Caley scene. As a "journeyman" footballer (his description) he turned out for Thurso and, briefly, Halkirk United as well as having spells with several east Sutherland clubs – Golspie, Bonar Bridge, Bunillidh Thistle and even Brora’s second string
“I made a lot of good friends in Sutherland and learned lots from them,” he said.
With that kind of experience, Reid is well placed to comment on the state of the league as a whole and he sees plenty to be positive about.
“It was always a step away from the Highland League and slowly but surely it’s building up again – there’s a bit more interest in the North Caledonian League," he said.
"For young Caithness lads from the Wick Academy under-17s, if they’re not getting involved with the main team then Thurso and Halkirk are a great step up for them. The North Caledonian is a great league for them to cut their teeth in adult football."
Announcing the decision to declare the 2019/20 season null and void, league secretary Sandy Stephen said: “With regard to the incomplete league season and North Caledonian Cup, we recognise that there is no outcome that will satisfy every club. As an association we have worked hard over the past month or so to reach a decision to conclude the season that reflects the will of our member clubs by a clear majority, which we now have.
“To not end the season on the pitch is naturally disappointing, but every league in Scotland is facing this same problem at the moment.
"For the North Caledonian FA, the fact that there were so many possible winners of the league championship speaks volumes for the competitive strength of our league at present.
"Our league continues to grow, and it will continue to go from strength to strength when the new season comes around.”
He added that clubs will reconvene in the coming weeks for a meeting to prepare for the 2020/21 campaign. It has been reported four teams are interested in joining the North Caledonian League next season – Alness United, Loch Ness, Nairn County under-20s and Scourie.