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Football league invites players and supporters to open up their scrapbooks with launch of memories group

By Niall Harkiss

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Players and supporters across the north have been digging into old photo albums and scrapbooks following the launch of a new historical group which celebrates the history of one of the Highlands' oldest football leagues.

North Caley Memories was launched last Saturday and has amassed almost 250 users in just a week.

The new forum, a public group on Facebook, is described as a platform for "supporters, former players and officials to look back at the history of the North Caledonian League."

Over the past week, the group has seen users from Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Inverness and Orkney join the group to share scans of old team photographs, press cuttings and anecdotes from as far back as the 1960s.

Balintore football club enjoyed a number of cup successes during the 1980s. Photo: James Oliver
Balintore football club enjoyed a number of cup successes during the 1980s. Photo: James Oliver

League secretary Sandy Stephen said: "It is something we have been hoping to do for a while. Someone did something similar for the Highland League during the pandemic, but this is the first time we have opened up a forum for people to share their memories of our league.

"The league has such a rich history, particularly as it has evolved and changed so much over the past 50-60 years. Many teams have come and gone, and with so much of that in living memory, it is great to be able to open up this platform for people to share their memories and reconnect with people they perhaps used to play with, or watch from the sidelines.

"Next year, 40 years will have passed since the league changed its name to the North Caledonian League. This could perhaps be the beginning of us looking at ways to commemorate that."

Cup triumphs and award presentations have been a theme for many of the posts shared, with several of the league's present member clubs taking a look back at their early days – such as Golspie Sutherland, Bonar Bridge, Thurso, Tain St Duthus and Invergordon.

Bonar Bridge football club pictured before a friendly match against Inverness Thistle in 1970. Photo: Ryan Maclean
Bonar Bridge football club pictured before a friendly match against Inverness Thistle in 1970. Photo: Ryan Maclean

Many posts have also placed the spotlight on teams that are no longer competing or have fallen into abeyance, such as Bunillidh Thistle, Muir of Ord Rovers and Dingwall Thistle.

One user, George Mackenzie, recalled: "My first playing memory was in 1974 and going up to Golspie with a very depleted squad to play for Ross County's 2nd team, playing in it as a 14 year old.

"We lost to a very strong Golspie team 10 or 12-0, and after the game, the goalie, who I won't name, said – 'I don't care what anyone says, I'm only taking the blame for five!'"

Another, David Calderwood, shared memories of a cup final, saying: "My best early memory of Second Eleven football for me (was this final). Although I wasn’t involved in the game that day, that’s me in the back row at age 14-15. I still have not forgiven Willie for leaving me out of the fifteen that day!"

The North Caledonian League was first formed in 1895 as the North of Scotland Junior League. For many years thereafter, it was referred to as the North Reserve, or 2nd XI League due to it being used as a league where reserve teams from the Highland Football League could compete alongside amateur teams from the north.

This changed in the 1960s with the emergence of several amateur sides across Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and by the mid 1970s, only a handful of Highland League reserve sides remained in competition.

In 1984, in an attempt to 'shake' the stigma of being a reserve league, the league committee voted to re-name the organisation to the North Caledonian FA.

By the 2010s, the league had become a recognised competition within the Scottish FA, and today it now forms part of the Scottish football pyramid, representing the north of Scotland at Tier 6.

Most recently, the league was guaranteed a Scottish Cup place for its winner.

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