Aug 062010

By Dave Innes.

Two weeks in advance of the undoubted sterile dull predictability that will be the 2010-11 SPL, the Highland League kicked off on 30 July, with deposed champions Cove Rangers setting the early pace with a 5-0 win away at Nairn County.

Buckie Thistle, league winners last season for the first time since the late 1950s, opened by beating Clachnacuddin 3-1.

It’s good to see the Invernessians solve their financial problems – the idea that the Highland capital itself might have gone unrepresented in the Highland League would have been absurd.

Up at hostile Bellslea, Deveronvale, never far away from the top, had a bad afternoon and fell heavily 4-1 to Fraserburgh, who will, as always mount a challenge for the title themselves. Broch’s demanding and highly-vocal manager Charlie Duncan would have it no other way. At Harlaw, Inverurie Locos won by a similar comfortable margin over perennial strugglers Fort William, a good start for Locos’ new management team, Kenny Coull and Scott Buchan.

Strathspey Thistle, wooden spoonists in their debut season, lost narrowly 2-1 in Grantown to two late Lossiemouth goals, but those who know the Highland League suspect that before long the Jags will get to the pace of the league and begin to cause problems. Formartine United, also in their second season in the competition, had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Brora Rangers at Pitmedden. United’s strong and experienced squad will, without doubt, be involved in the challenge for honours after impressing spectators and writers alike in 2009-10.

There are few bad games in the Highland League

The biggest shock was Rothes’s 3-2 home victory over Huntly in front of their own colourful and entertaining 59 Club fans, although it’s easy to forget that Rothes finished last season strongly as Highland League Cup runners-up to Forres Mechanics, the squad’s confidence boosted as a result. Forres themselves beat Wick Academy 2-1 in their Mosset Park opener, despite missing a number of key players. Wick too, are predicted to be challengers along with their Morayshire opponents.

I attended Kynoch Park to watch Keith overcome a strong and hard-running Turriff United 5-3. The five Maroons’ goals consisted of a hat trick for striker Cammy Keith, now back to his best form following two years studying in the US, and two from Dean Donaldson. It was outrageously-entertaining apart from the eight goals and further evidence to back up my constant mantra, “there are few bad games in the Highland League”. Add in typically meaty challenges, hotly-disputed refereeing decisions and yellow cards all in a Banffshire monsoon and there’s no doubt that this was worth seven quid of anyone’s money. Give it a go.

This week’s fixtures (6 August)

Brora Rangers    v    Buckie Thistle
Cove Rangers   v    Inverurie Loco Works
Deveronvale   v    Clachnacuddin
Forres Mechanics    v   Rothes
Fort William   v    Formartine United
Fraserburgh    v    Turriff United
Huntly    v   Keith
Lossiemouth   v   Nairn County
Wick Academy    v    Strathspey Thistle

Now there’s a mash-up of tasty local derbies, potential table-top six-pointers and difficult-to-predict early season possible upsets. Just another Saturday in Scotland’s most competitive league, in fact.