Fort William FC have not given up on their dream of staying in the Highland League after taking their case to the SFA.
The club withdrew from the play-off against junior club Banks o’ Dee on the eve of the first leg two weeks ago.
The Highland League subsequently issued a statement stating issues regarding player eligibility and the poor condition of Fort’s home pitch at Claggan Park were behind Fort’s decision to withdraw from the play-off.
Fort William insist they decided to pull out of the game because they believe the Highland League’s management committee was unaware of its own rules.
A club statement from Fort read: “In the week leading up to the playoff games the club contacted the LMC with requests regarding player dispensations due to our desire to fulfil the fixtures and our understanding of the Highland League rules regarding goalkeepers.
“Up until 3.30pm on the day before the game, the league management committee were unaware of their own rule regarding keepers and were wrongly advising the club.
“We were fully aware of the rules and as such did not want to enter into the fixture and be penalised should their mistake be found out.
“We had a squad ready to play, we understood the rules, our paperwork was all in order.
“The league management committee decided that a pitch inspection was required at Claggan Park the day before the first leg.
“An unqualified person (contrary to the league management committee rules) inspected the pitch and declared the game should be moved.
“At no point were the club advised to roll and line the park prior to this visit.
“Fort William FC have been in talks with the SFA during the past two weeks regarding the matters and the issues raised have been escalated.”
Fort break silence after talks collapse
The Claggan Park outfit say they have so far refused to comment while talks have been taking place but have decided to break their silence after talks broke down.
The statement also contains claims the inspection of their home ground at the start of the season was not conducted properly.
Fort played the whole league season away from home after Claggan Park was deemed unplayable.
The Fort statement read: “The club has chosen not to make a public comment before now regarding the situation surrounding our withdrawal from the playoff games due to the fact that discussions were ongoing with the Highland League management committee and the SFA.
“However, after talks broke down at a meeting of the league management committee with directors of Fort William FC on Thursday evening we would like to make a number of things clear.
“Firstly, as many people are aware, Fort William’s pitch at Claggan Park was deemed unplayable by an unqualified person (contrary to league management committee rules) at the beginning of the 2021-22 season.
“The decision was made by the league management committee to make Fort William play their games away from home.
“Substantial work was completed and the pitch was deemed fit to play games in September by a registered SFA referee, however the league management committee decided to uphold their decision to make Fort William play away from home.
“This was not based on the quality of the park, but on their belief and assumptions about other factors relating to the club.
Having taken their case to the SFA Fort William have stated their hope a resolution can be found but it remains to be seen how a club can appeal its own decision to withdraw from the play-off.
The Highland League’s office bearers issued a brief statement in response.
It read: “There is one central incontrovertible fact at the heart of an issue in which many ill-informed opinions have been aired.
“Fort William FC withdrew from the Highland pyramid play-off and informed the league in an email on Friday, April 22, 2022.”