The Highland League had to innovate with this weekend’s live-streaming of the League Cup semi-finals.
A first for teams at this level, Brora Rangers and Formartine United both compensated for the lack of fans at the games by giving supporters of their clubs – plus Buckie Thistle and Rothes – the chance to see some football.
The Highland League has been severely affected by the shutdown of football, first by the snubbing of champions Brora Rangers for a potential place in the SPFL. It left many disillusioned and questioning the integrity of the pyramid play-offs.
They were left waiting on information from the Scottish Government as to when they could start their season, with secretary Rod Houston and his assistant Graham Wilson working tirelessly to prepare the league and clubs for a start.
They had resolved not to start until such time as fans would be allowed back in grounds. Not just for the connection these clubs hold within their communities, but because the financial hole of staging games without ticket or hospitality revenue made it unfeasible.
The league would have been due to start this weekend just gone, but it became clear spectators coming back would be a no-go. Club chiefs took the initiative and opted to delay the season until November 28 at the earliest.
They also took the decision that with just three fixtures to be played in the 2019-20 Highland League Cup, there was an opportunity to get the competition finished within the current restrictions.
That is where streaming came in. Utilising the technology used by Brora for their Betfred Cup games against Cove Rangers and Dundee, they pulled together pay-per-view packages for supporters which, by in large, seem to have gone well.
With some doubt still existing over season 2020-21 – supporters may still be excluded from grounds by the end of next month – it may be the only football these clubs play before the end of the year. Trying to predict anything throughout the pandemic has made fools out of plenty.
But it shows the league is ready and willing to innovate. Had they not committed to completing the competition and tied it in with the 20-21 season getting under way, fans of football at this level would have had scraps to feed on since March.
The same technology will be required for the cup final this weekend, which will give the fans of Rothes and Buckie Thistle the chance to see their team go for silverware in some capacity, but only because they cannot do it in person.
Cup finals are the days remembered by fans of any club. A league success is rightly celebrated because of the consistency and dedication required across a full season, but very rarely does it come down to one day.
The anticipation and emotion around a one-off final make it a day to be treasured.