By Keiran Fleming
Assistant Editor Keiran Fleming recently had the chance to sit down with Chairman of Highland League outfit Fraserburgh FC Finlay Noble to chat about promotion aspirations, the impact of the pandemic and the potential for Junior football in the north-east to join the pyramid.
Fraserburgh FC, which was founded in 1910, has become a mainstay in Highland League football since joining the division in 1921.
In their long history they have won the title three times and played a key role in arguably the biggest “Giant Killing” in Scottish cup history, a 1-0 win against Dundee in 1959.
Now they have set their sights on a new goal, promotion into the SPFL. Before football was stopped the Broch had won all three of their league games.
Finlay told NE98 that even though it will be difficult he really believed the club has what it takes to win the title this year:
“It’s the goal every year. We felt as though we had a right good chance this year but obviously there’s some good teams in the Highland League and with it being a half season, where we play everyone once, it makes it harder.
“Even a two week bad spell can put you out of the race because the likes of Brora Rangers, I would imagine to be the best team, we’d be looking for them to slip up and they haven’t been doing much of that lately. Hopefully the season will start up again and that goal will still be there.”
Previous Highland League winners such as Peterhead, Elgin City, Cove Rangers, Ross County, Inverness Thistle and Caledonian (who both combined to create Inverness Caledonian Thistle) have all made a significant impact in the SPFL.
The Broch are looking to win their first title in 19 years after coming runners up to Brora Rangers last season.
The Chairman thinks that the club is more than ready for the next step:
“You want to reach the highest you possibly can. We’re part of the pyramid so there’s good belief we could survive in that environment (League 2). If we don’t and get relegated back into the Highland League, there’s worse places to be relegated into.“
“There’s not that big a gulf between the bottom half of League 2 and the top half of the Highland League. Obviously since there are teams in League 2 with a full seasons experience (at that level) they would probably have the upper hand slightly. As Cove, Edinburgh City, Peterhead and Elgin have proved, Ok Elgin have remained in League 2 but they’ve survived, they’ve never been anywhere near being relegated.
“It’s something we could definitely budget for and survive in. We certainly wouldn’t hit the heights that Cove, Edinburgh City and Peterhead has done but we can run to our current budget and see where that takes us. If we get relegated so be it but I don’t think we would, I think we’d survive.”
The Scottish football pyramid underwent a huge change back in 2013 which saw the Highland League and Lowland League connected to the SPFL. In 2020 another change was made, The West of Scotland Football League, the East of Scotland Football league and the South of Scotland Football League were added to the pyramid as a feeder to the Lowland League.
Finlay Noble says that it is highly likely Junior Football in the north of the country could follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in the south and act as a feeder to the Highland League:
“There’s a meeting coming up on that subject between the Highland League and the Juniors. I think whatever’s below the Highland League would be the bottom of the pyramid in our area because obviously there’s a limited population and a limited amount of clubs.“
“The North Caledonian League are onboard so we’re hopeful that the North Juniors will also come onboard so that it allows clubs in the North-East of Scotland to get into the Highland League. I’m sure there are one or two clubs that could easily survive and it also allows clubs to find their own feet.
Dyce Juniors are in the Aberdeenshire FA, I think Bridge of Don Thistle are quite ambitious, Culter are certainly a capable club. Banks o’ Dee are very capable of getting into the Highland League they’ve proved that, and if they were to be in the Highland League they’re pool of players will be guys who want to be in the Highland League. What you’ll find is these clubs who want to get in the Highland League will attract the players who are happy to do that. I think one or two of them will be quite a good addition to the pyramid set up.”
The Highland League was suspended indefinitely in November after the second Lockdown was announced. Like many clubs across the world those at the lower end of the Scottish football have felt the effects of the pandemic.
Keiran was told that the Broch were one of the lucky ones because of the huge support they had from their fanbase:
“It’s certainly been tough because you never know what’s round the corner. We did get started but it was without supporters. We still had monthly outgoings, like electric bills and phone bills, that doesn’t stop.“
“We were very lucky with the community we’ve got behind us. The players stopped taking their wages during the first lockdown but we managed to pay them through selling season tickets. The vast majority of those who bought a season ticket didn’t want a refund.
“The SFA have done a fantastic amount of work in line with the Scottish Government grants and the SPFL have worked hard through their joint response group. Clubs like ours have been lucky to get funding through that.
“There was time in the Summer when the club was in danger of folding. We’ve come through that and thankfully there hasn’t been a club in Scotland that’s folded because of the pandemic.”
NE98 would like to thank Finlay for taking part in this interview and we wish those at Fraserburgh FC all the best for the future.