Outgoing president Raymond Cardno believes the Highland League will be able to cope with any challenge it faces in the future because of the way it has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cardno will step down after three years as president at tonight’s AGM.
For the last 14 months of the 70-year-old’s presidency, the Highland League has had to deal with the myriad problems posed by coronavirus.
The 2019-20 season was ended early in March 2020 with Brora Rangers declared champions, although they were then denied access to the pyramid play-offs.
The 2020-21 campaign eventually began last November before football below the Championship was stopped in January and the season was declared over in March with Highland League clubs not in a position to conduct PCR testing to allow them to resume.
With all that has happened in that period, Cardno believes the Highland League has shown its strength and unity as an organisation.
He said: “It’s been an unusual three years as president, given what’s happened.
“The most important thing is that all the clubs have survived and everybody is now starting to think ahead and prepare for the new season starting on July 24.
“People are looking forward and it’s very positive stuff that we’re talking about now.
“Heaven forbid there is ever anything similar that happens again, but if there is then the Highland League as an organisation has a very sound base to look back on with what we did in 2020, because it’s been a huge challenge, but we came through it.
“With that base to look back on and plan from I think the Highland League will be able to handle whatever comes before it in the future.”
Those behind the scenes have kept the league going
Cardno praised the volunteers at every club and Highland League secretary Rod Houston and assistant secretary Graham Wilson for ensuring the clubs survived and were able to return to action last year.
He added: “I think the Highland League clubs have got to be praised for the work they put in to go back after the first wave.
“Rod Houston and Graham Wilson are also due a huge amount of praise.
“The two of them have put a power of work in going round all the grounds, letting the clubs know what they needed to do and checking all the grounds.
“The job Rod and Graham do is second to none.
“I think our facilities and measures stood up well and that was shown in terms of the lack of outbreaks at clubs.
“I think the volunteers at all the clubs across the league have to be complimented for the work they have put in to make sure their grounds were in shape to comply with the rules and allow football to be played.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to play too many games last season, but we did give it a real good go.
“I think everybody associated with the clubs has to be complimented for their efforts over the last year and more.
“The clubs in the Highland League may disagree about things from time to time, but overall they come together and work in the best interests of the league as a whole and I think that’s been shown once and for all during the pandemic.
“It’s not the most positive of things to be speaking about and it’s been unusual to be dealing with it during my time as president, but I’m really proud of how the clubs have come together and the effort they’ve put in.”
Cove’s ascent reflects well on the league
Another notable event during Cardno’s time as president was Cove Rangers becoming the first club from the Highland League to earn promotion through the pyramid play-offs.
He believes that reflects well on both the Aberdeen club and the Highland League.
Cardno said: “Cove getting promoted and doing very well in the SPFL has been a very positive thing for the Highland League.
“Cove’s progress also shows the strength of the Highland League, because they were used to playing to a high level week-in, week-out, and when it came to the play-offs they were able to cope very well and have progressed further since then.”
From player to president
Cardno’s involvement in the Highland League stretches back over 50 years having played in the division with Peterhead, Buckie Thistle, Fraserburgh and Forres Mechanics.
After he stopped playing, the former defender joined the committee at Buckie and is currently vice-president at Victoria Park, having also previously served the club in that role and as president.
Cardno said: “I’ve had great fun and made great and had great memories in the Highland League.
“Finlay Noble (Fraserburgh chairman) said to me that there’s not many people who will have started playing in the Highland League as a teenager, ended up getting involved at a club and then helping run the administration of the league.
“It’s never been easy, but it has been enjoyable and I’m thankful to have been president of the Highland League.”