Anyone familiar with the Highland League knows the struggles Fort William have with their home ground are nothing new.
Fighting against the downside of their geography is often futile; the amount of games lost to a waterlogged pitch at Claggan Park, owing to its location at the foot of Ben Nevis, is now innumerable.
The latest issue, however, appears to be a more significant one and threatened Fort’s participation in the Highland League this season.
A member of the public reported concerns over the state of the pitch at Claggan, showing a number of bare patches. A league inspection determined there was little chance any football was going to be possible there this season.
Rod Houston, the league secretary, indicated they were not prepared to wait on the “off-chance” it would be playable in the future.
— Fort William FC (@FortWilliamFC) July 27, 2021
The fact it was reported by a member of the public and not Fort William should be a concern in itself. They were due to play at home to Fraserburgh this weekend.
That left a choice: play all the league games away from home or take a year in abeyance to sort the problems out. The first option was deemed the lesser of two evils.
Fort have had issues with vandalism, given the park is a public area and they were unable to lock the gates. Drainage work had also taken place last season to try remedy the waterlogging problem but it seems to have done more harm than good.
The club now hold the lease to Claggan Park, taking over from Highland Council, which vice-chairman Colin Wood indicates will allow them to tighten up security and hopefully reduce vandalism incidents to zero.
They have fundraised in the past for ground repairs and look set to be doing so again. Travel costs will spiral with having to fork out for double the trips to Aberdeenshire this season.
It comes at a time when their recruitment drive has taken a left-field turn. Manager Ashley Hollyer has certainly been pro-active in bringing in players, with a number coming from a background in English non-league football.
Darren Brew, Junior Caulker, Marios Avraam, Cameron Adisi and Robbie Foster all hail from south of the border and there has to be a degree of praise given for thinking outside the box to tackle Fort’s long-standing problem attracting players.
But it is going to require even greater personal sacrifice from them if they are travelling from Sheffield, Liverpool or London without the possibility of playing home games. Particularly when midweek fixtures are factored in.
Fort have been perennial strugglers in the Highland League but they cannot, or should not, take any satisfaction from that or look for sympathy.
The introduction of relegation play-offs in the league this year opens the possibility of the bottom team dropping out of the division for the first time. Banks o’Dee have claimed a good number of Highland League scalps in cup competitions in recent years and will start as favourites to make the step up.
The committee at Fort William want to maintain Highland League football in the town. They had the chance to drop down to the North Caledonian League in 2018 when the entire board re-signed but opted to keep going.
If Fort are to retain their Highland League status again, these might just be the most significant odds they have faced.