Saints call to the community

A message from club Chairperson, Niall Harkiss.

ON THE face of it, it’s been a quiet summer for St Duthus Football Club, or so it would seem if you have been following our social media channels or reading the news on our official website. In truth, we have quietly gone about our business, focussing on the process of preparing ourselves both on and off the field for a series of new challenges.

It began with our newly formed youth team securing a place in the Scottish Highland Football League U17 North in May. Following a well contested campaign in the SYFA affiliated Ross-shire Youth League during the summer, we were delighted to be accepted as guest members of the SHFL’s youth programme. Behind the scenes, the process of ensuring our club’s compliance with coaching, disclosure, and first aid criteria has been a daunting yet enlightening experience. Back in March, I was pleased to attend a Scottish FA Managing Children’s Wellbeing course in Dingwall along with our Child Wellbeing & Protection Officer Steve Spence. It is safe to say that belts and braces are being applied to all levels of youth football in Scotland in a very significant way. It is reassuring to know that although the work required behind the scenes to ensure our compliance will on occasion be time consuming and shall present us with bumps in the road, we also know that there is plenty happening to suggest that club attitudes are ever-improving across football in the North and that we at St Duthus Football Club are getting involved at the right time.

At the time of writing the Young Saints, as they have been donned, are now five games into their maiden season under the leadership of the management quartet of Mark Stainke, Gavin MacDonald, Davie Borland and Steve Spence. Our young group of players have certainly impressed. With six points on the board so far they are placed 7th in a league of 12 teams. There is no shame in some defeats being suffered along the way – that is part and parcel of the game at the development level - but for our new squad to already be competing with some of the SHFL’s most established youth setups in the Highlands is very pleasing and each member of our U17 squad and coaching team should take great pride in that. Everyone at the club is looking ahead with anticipation to the rest of the season. On behalf of the everyone at the club, I wish to also extend our thanks to Global Project Services who have shown their support as the main sponsor for our U17s for this season.

Club committee wise, I was personally delighted to welcome Tony Farquhar and Kevin Gilmour on board as office bearers this summer, accepting the roles of Vice Chairperson and Team Secretary, respectively. Both come into the club with experience in different guises, good footballing connections and a determination to help steer things forward. With several long-term improvements on the horizon for us at St Duthus, our goals will only be achieved by affording them the due time and effort – and the addition of both Tony and Kevin to our already forward thinking committee can only move us closer to that. In keeping with our efforts to continually improve, we also welcomed Andy Murray, trainee Sports Therapist to the club’s “backroom” team. Doubling up as a coach/therapist during his studies, Andy shall bring with him an ever-evolving knowledge of muscle and massage therapy, which can only be to the benefit of our players and their fitness and wellbeing.

Now on to our first team, who finished 2017-18 very well. Despite our mid-table position, we had a real say in where the North Caledonian League trophy ended up - and of course, it is great to be able to say that St Duthus FC are the North Caledonian Cup holders, having won the trophy in March after a thrilling and highly memorable match against Golspie Sutherland. The boys did the club proud that day, and our team management pairing of Stuart and Andrew Ross have done exceptionally well over the past two years to pull together a brand-new group of players and turn them into a team capable of winning silverware – especially in a very competitive and tightly contested league such as the North Caley.

We are now embroiled in a new season of course, with the honeymoon period of revival most certainly over. As is often the case with successful teams, the brightest stars are easily spotted. It has not been surprising then, that our management team have had to deal with a pre-season of player movements as a result. Most significantly, the semi-retirement of club captain John Skinner has left a space at the back, and the departures of Highland League bound Jon Campbell (to Brora) and Steven Martin (to Clachnacuddin) have left our club with big shoes to fill in key positions.

It’s never easy losing players, particularly when they were vital to past successes - but I know first-hand just how hard Stuart and Andrew have been working to replace those who are no longer at the club – and the pitfalls they have suffered in doing so.

Several new faces have been welcomed into the squad. Some with Highland League experience. Some with North Caley experience. Some with youth on their side and a hunger to follow in the footsteps of players such as Adam MacDonald, Cammy Mackintosh, Will Ross and Finn As-Chainey - four players incidentally who are each embarking on their third consecutive season with the Saints – each lad a shining example of the club’s determination to give young players a chance.

With changes in personnel and new personalities around the changing rooms, there is an essence of rebuilding in the air. A newness and a sense of anticipation. It may take time for Saints to find their stride again – but I have every confidence that we are not far away. While the derby match against Invergordon can rightfully be confined to the forgettable list, the Saints were very unlucky this past weekend against Alness, and they were even more unlucky not to defeat Nairn County earlier this month in the Football Times Cup. I enjoyed watching that game from the stand at Station Park, and the home side’s crop of Highland League youngsters were on the ropes with a minute to go before they snatched an equaliser. On another day and with more guile, St Duthus would have secured their place into the next round. We carry on regardless though, and with several players yet to even make their debuts this season, there is plenty more football to be had and lots more to look forward to. This weekend’s home game against Inverness could be the perfect chance to kick-start the club’s fortunes.

On a final note about the first team, we announced earlier this year that Robertsons of Tain had confirmed their renewal as our home kit sponsor for another season – a great gesture from a great Tain company who have not wavered in their support for St Duthus Football Club since our revival. With great pride, our new Nike home strips were on display against both Nairn and Invergordon. We remain indebted to them for the generosity.

It’s not all about the football at St Duthus Football Club, though. Since March 2016, we have prided ourselves on our continued attention to engaging the local community, encouraging volunteer participation and building valuable links with groups and associations in the town. We have been brilliantly supported by Tain, in the form of sponsorship and through the support shown for our key annual events such as our Sportsman’s Dinner and our Texas Golf Scramble. The success of these events has been down to the willingness of people in Tain to get behind what we are doing to improve opportunities in the town for children and young adults.

Engagement with people in the local community is absolutely vital to the success of any sports club or association. You don’t have to be a member of the “football fraternity”. You don’t even have to be a football enthusiast to be passionate about the success of your local football club.

Our good friends at Fort William Football Club are battling hard for their Highland League survival at this very moment and they have been calling upon members of their local community to help their case – and so far, it has been working.  But you don’t have to look much further up the Highland League table to realise that many of the league’s clubs emanate from towns or villages not much bigger, or in some cases a bit smaller, than our own Royal Burgh. Places such as Rothes, Banff, Grantown-on-spey, Huntly and of course Brora have all succeeded in running well-supported community minded clubs at the semi-pro level – in spite of their size. They are all, of course, long-established football clubs in their own right – and we at St Duthus in relative terms are still in our infancy, when it comes to aspiring to get to where some of these clubs are.

But the benefits of being a community minded club are there for all to see. The better supported we are as a club, the greater opportunities we can continue to bring for young people in the community. It’s that simple, really.

Since 2016, we have gathered together a small but steady band of volunteers to assist our committee with match-days and several of the other club duties which require attention from time to time. That said, we could ALWAYS use some more help. You can never have enough hands, and aside from pitching in on a Saturday, some of the real hard work comes when raising much needed funds to run the club. Initiatives such as running table stalls, selling raffle tickets, promoting games to increase attendance. Clubs who rest on their laurels in these types of activities ultimately get left behind to struggle, and yes, the adage that the hard never stops is quite true. But the rewards make it all worthwhile.

If you or someone you know would be interested in a voluntary role, with the flexibility of being able to give as much or as little time and commitment as you wish – please get in touch by sending an email to committee@stduthusfc.co.uk to let us know.

Thank you for taking the time to read this column. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday down the Links.

Best wishes,

Niall Harkiss

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