Fort William Football Club are one of the most unique football clubs in the United Kingdom. Located in the western Scottish Highlands the club plays its football in the northerly Highland League the 5th tier of Scottish football. Picturesque and in the shadow of Britains highest peak Ben Nevis, the home ground Claggan Park is exposed to the elements during the winter months. While the prize for the winners of the Highland league season is a play-off match to enter SPFL League 2, it’s unlikely the ‘Fort will appear in the play off anytime soon.
This season (2018-19) sees Fort William sit bottom of the table on -8 points. Putting players on the field each week for fixtures is a struggle both home and away and the club after 14 games has conceded an incredible 104 goals.
Mon’ the Fort
Fort William is a relatively young settlement. The town actually grew out of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (English Civil War) thanks to a wooden fort that was built in 1654 as a military base for English troops. Post Oliver Cromwell – after the restoration of the Royal Monarchy in the United Kingdom – the location was named Fort William after King William of Orange who had ordered that it be refortified to control the Highland clans who were located in the region.
Subsequently the town grew in size as a settlement and it became known as a strategic military point for armies. It was used as a base by military leaders to gather troops used suppress the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century.
These days the town is sizable despite its outlying rural locality. It has a population of over 10,000 people and is a major tourist centre being a key summer destination for outdoor enthusiasts especially during the summer months. More commonly it is known as being at the start/end of the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way which are used by cyclists and hillwalkers alike.
If whisky tasting and hillwalking attracts thousands to Fort William each year unfortunatly Claggan Park does not attract the same numbers. The ground which is leased from Highland Council manages to capture the imagination of some loyal locals and visiting team fans (sometimes 1 or 2 visiting coaches) but attendances seldom get above 200 thanks to the distances involved.
To give anyone an idea of the distances involved a fixture between Fort William FC and Wick Academy will involve an 8hr (400 mile/650km) round trip for the teams and visiting fans.
Despite being a welcoming and picturesque venue Claggan Park has two enclosed stands that in total only accommodate up to 140 spectators. Currently the older rustic rundown stand of the club is seldom used by fans.
It is regarded by many as one of the most scenic grounds of all clubs in the Highland League and has been known to attract a crowd of up to 1,500 for a Scottish Cup tie. While the scenic appearance of the ground appeals the reality of a August to April season means that for fans who wish to stand it is also one of the most exposed grounds in the UK. Often during the autumn and winter months many home matches are postponed (usually due to a waterlogged pitch) – a consequence of the heavy rainfall the town experiences. Moreover, during a cold snap it is not unusual for temperatues locally to dip consistently during the night towards -8 meaning Claggan Park with its grass surface often has no chance of hosting football.
This season (2018-19) has been one of damage limitation on and off the park. On the pitch Polish goalkeeper Mateusz Kulbacki is sporadically having to pick the ball out of the net as opponents pass the ball between themselves before creating multiple chances. Off the field the players lack access to all weather training facilities and in the boardroom there has been resignations.
Before the season started a threat to withdraw from the Highland League came to nothing.
However, having a continous presence in the Scottish Highland League set up is something that everyone in the Fort William region is rightly proud of even when results often end up in double digit defeats to the more successful teams.
Gaining entry to the Highland League set up was a fight back in the 1980’s before admittance was gained. Stepping away from the Highland League will result in a decent into the local amatuer leagues and a unique club with tradition and character being lost to senior Scottish football.
Follow fortunes of Fort William FC on Twitter @FortWilliamFC.
The club recently put together a video showing just what football means to the town and the club. See the video here.