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Highland League: Fort William take training sessions online during football’s shutdown

Claggan Park, home of Fort William.
Claggan Park, home of Fort William.

Fort William have moved their training sessions online in a bid to keep players’ spirits up during the Highland League break.

Manager Ashley Hollyer and his coaching staff will lead the sessions over Zoom, to keep the squad engaged with one another but also to keep them prepared for when the season may resume.

Hollyer has players based in Inverness and Fort William and prior to the latest round of restrictions, had been holding separate training sessions during the week for the two groups.

However, with the Highland League on pause for at least the next three weeks while Scotland is under level four restrictions, Hollyer has had to think outside the box.

He said: “It’s about trying to keep them together and keep spirits up. It’s not easy when you’re locked down in your houses and can’t go out for exercise more than once a day.

“Rather than travelling to do anything, it’s limited to your own household but we’re doing the session together.

Fort William boss Ashley Hollyer.

“Everyone has their own ideas. I’d never heard of Zoom until about six months ago, like everyone else. It gives them something to look forward to.”

Hollyer also stressed the mental health benefits of doing their training online, particularly for those players who may live alone.

He added: “Some people can’t see their family or friends, so it means they’re still getting that dialogue with their mates in the group chat, or doing these sessions once or twice a week. It keeps them together even though they’re not able to get together.”

The Fort manager used something similar during the last lockdown, using online quiz nights to get his players together while he was still in charge of Inverness amateur side NMM Sam’s.

The decision to shut down the Scottish football season below the Championship is one Hollyer, who took over at Claggan Park in October, is wholly behind.

He added: “Without a doubt, it’s the right decision. Especially when it’s up here and getting worse, you need to look at the bigger picture – there’s more to life than football. People’s lives go in front of football.

“I think every club is in a similar situation with travelling. Every area has got cases and it’s a risk for everyone, especially for those with families or partners with underlying health conditions.”

Highland League secretary Rod Houston is optimistic the league can be completed despite the lay-off, which sees the postponement of all fixtures up to January 30. The league had already cut its fixture list in half this season – to 15 games – to give it a chance of finishing on time.

Fort had managed just one league game prior to the stoppage, a 10-0 defeat to Brora Rangers, while they also lost 5-1 to Keith in the Scottish Cup.

Hollyer added: “It’s the million dollar question. No-one really knows (if the season will finish). Hopefully we will be back playing.

“It’s going to be at least three weeks but no-one can predict what’s going to happen.”

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