The new Highlands & Islands League kicks off this weekend

A new Scottish Women’s Football (SWF) league has been created for the 2019 season, the Highlands and Islands League.

This league, which will sit outside the current Scottish Women’s Football League (SWFL) pyramid, has been born from the amount of interest from teams in and around the area. Previously these teams would have had to compete in the traditional SWFL pyramid and/or participate in a Scottish FA North Region lead tournament held once or twice a year. Teams though often found it impossible to enter the traditional league structure due to the large amount of travel, which was often made impossible with games required to be played on a Sunday.

Lewis & Harris are one of the teams to enter the new league. Their Club Secretary, Euan MacLeod, said: “We were delighted with the idea. It was exactly the direction our group of players were needing to continue their development.

“Prior to the League, we would wait for our Scottish FA Development Officer to organise a festival in Dingwall. The festivals would normally consist of at least four games of 25 mins, so it was a great opportunity to take a large squad, try new things, and ensure everyone got lots of game time, whilst in a competitive, but very fun environment.

Unfortunately the Festivals were run a couple of times a year, which was enough to whet the appetite, but not enough to keep players fully motivated.”

Photo: Lewis & Harris WFC

Inverness Caledonian Thistle WFC will be entering a Development team into the league, with their senior team playing the SWFL Division One North. Club Secretary, Karen Mason, said: “We were very pleased when the proposal was put forward. Our development squad had looked at the possibility of entering the SWF youth leagues but due to many of the teams in the North being largely based in Aberdeen it wasn’t deemed viable at this stage. So with this creation of the league with its flexible fixtures and less mileage to cover it was fantastic news.

“For our development squad who will be competing in this league the games have been very few and far between. Friendlies and festivals have been the main source of game time but these have not been as regular as we would have liked. Our girls have been training together for a couple of years now and are in need of more games to continue with their development.”

SWF Executive Officer, Fiona McIntyre, said: “The Highlands and Islands League has come together with the help of the Scottish FA North Region and the clubs themselves. SWF and the Scottish FA North Region have been aware of the need for a form of regular competitive football that comes with flexibility. We appreciate the amount and type of travel that is required for these teams. The ferries are one example of transport for Highlands & Islands team which are weather and timetable dependent. Therefore, there are less strict rules regarding when fixtures need to be played.”

Scottish FA North Region Girls’ & Women’s Club Development Officer, Joanne Murphy added: “We are delighted that this league has come to fruition. Everyone involved in the girls’ and women’s game wants the sport to be accessible in a structured and viable way.

With all the work that has gone in to make this happen, it’s is another step in the right direction for the players, teams, and clubs in the Highlands and Islands.”

Talking about how important the Highlands and Islands League will be, Euan added: “The League has provided an avenue for our more senior players to continue to play regular, competitive football. Our local Youth League allows U17 Girls to play in the U15 Boys league but once they have passed through the Youth Football system in the Western Isles, our over 17 players were very limited in what was available to them.”

“The opportunity to play representative football is vital to the continued development of the game in the region. For some of the younger girls, this will be their first experience of non-school, all female competitive football and will hopefully act as a bridge for them to play at higher levels, both for the Region (at the World Island Games) and for Clubs in SWPL

Karen said: “It (the league) will give more opportunity for competitive football and a stage for players to perform closer to home, whether that is for those who have aspirations of moving up to our first team or simply those who want to play more often. For many of our players the only competitive football they have had is at school so having this league will provide a better progression and pathway up to the higher levels of Scottish women’s football if they so wish. For our area it will definitely give women’s football a big lift and show that there are more opportunities to play at different levels.

“I think it is a great move for this to have happened and for the Highlands and Islands to catch up with other regions around us. It is important that players in our region get the chance to compete, be a part of a club and enjoy the benefits that playing football can bring.”

The Highlands and Islands League kicks off this weekend, 16th/17th March. The first round of fixtures are:

Nairn v Lewis & Harris – 16/03/2019 – Nairn Showfield (IV12 4RY) – 13:00 KO
Buckie v Kirkwall City – 17/03/2019 – Brora Community Centre – 12:00 KO
Caithness v Brora Rangers – 17/03/2019 – Naver (all weather), Thurso – 13:00 KO
Clachnacuddin P-P Inverness Caledonian Thistle Development