Caley Thistle and Fort William have announced a joint partnership that has seen nine of the Championship club’s youngsters join the Highland League side on loan.
Goalkeeper Martin Mackinnon, defenders Donald Morrison, Gabriel Hastings, Ryan Fyffe and Harry Nicolson, midfielders Jack Brown, Kieran Chalmers and Ross Gunn plus striker Roddy Kennedy have all been loaned to the Lochaber side.
Fort William finished bottom of the Highland League last year with -7 points and a -224 goal difference. That came after they mulled over pulling out of the league and dropping down to the North Caledonian League.
Following Cove Rangers’ promotion this summer, Caley Thistle had put forward a proposal to the Highland League about entering a colts team, which would keep the league at 18 teams. However at a meeting of the league’s management committee, this was rejected with members opting to remain with 17 teams.
The Caley Jags do not have a reserve side and the players are too old for the under-18s age group.
Fort William said in a statement: “It has been well documented the difficulties our club has endured both on and off the park over the last two-and-a-half years. We were close to shutting the door last summer but the dedication of a few hardy souls kept the club alive and got a team on the park. There were a few highs and many lows and I salute the resilience of our young team throughout last season.
“A few weeks ago we were approached by Caley Thistle to discuss the possibility of working together in some way to allow some of their talented young players to continue their development. Our policy has always been about nurturing young talent whilst at the same time improving our team so this was clearly attractive to us.
“After lengthy discussions an agreement was reached that will see the best of Caley Thistle’s young footballers showcase their talents in the Highland League whilst supporting Fort William’s existing players and help them improve and develop.
“We understand that some might be concerned that this is some sort of take over from Caley Thistle but this is far from the case. We at Fort William FC have driven this initiative forward and believe it will benefit ourselves, Caley Thistle and Highland football as a whole.”
Mackinnon, a Fort William native, has spent time on loan with the Claggan Park club before, while Chalmers was with Clach last season. Brown made his debut as a 16-year-old during the 2017-18 campaign.