The secretary of the Highland League has welcomed the news that all of the division’s clubs will have the chance to play in this season’s Scottish Cup.
The Scottish FA have announced a revamped format for the 2020-21 tournament to allow it to be played in a shorter timescale with the coronavirus pandemic having an impact on the fixture calendar.
There had been talk of some Highland League clubs missing out on a place in the Scottish Cup if numbers were cut.
League secretary Rod Houston was involved in the consultation process and is pleased every side will have the chance to play. Buckie Thistle, Clachnacuddin, Deveronvale, Formartine United, Forres Mechanics, Fort William, Huntly, Inverurie Locos, Keith, Lossiemouth, Nairn County, Rothes, Strathspey Thistle, Turriff United and Wick Academy will enter at the second preliminary round. Meanwhile, last season’s champions Brora Rangers and second-placed Fraserburgh will join a stage later in the first round.
Houston said: “The Scottish FA consulted with us all about a possible format and as a result of this consultation they’ve gone away and considered things.
“They’ve come up with this format which affords all the Highland League clubs as well as (Junior side) Banks o’ Dee and (North Caledonian outfit) Golspie Sutherland the chance to play in this season’s competition.
“It’s also sensibly framed in terms of whether or not clubs feel they can make the commitment and have the facilities to host a tie.
“Clubs have got to make the decisions. It is not for the league management committee to take a position but I’m sure the various issues will be given an airing so clubs can make an informed decisions.”
Clubs will also have the opportunity to opt out of playing in the Scottish Cup if they feel they would be unable to compete because of current Covid-19 protocol.
Any side that withdraws would not be punished financially and would still receive a payment equivalent to being knocked out in the round they enter.
Houston added: “We live in strange times and things are very unusual and it’s very pleasing that the Scottish FA have managed to find a route to give clubs these opportunities.
“Whether there will be clubs who want to opt out at this stage I don’t know, it will be up to them to look at it.
“What is also really important is the financial side of it and the Scottish FA stressed at the very outset there would not be a financial penalty for clubs who chose not to take part, I think that was very important and provides also clubs with a degree of comfort.”
When the Highland League season will get underway remains unknown. The start date has been pushed back until at least November 28 as a result of no supporters being able to attend and could yet be delayed further with a league management committee meeting planned for early November to discuss the matter.
With the second preliminary round of the Scottish Cup scheduled for December 12 and the first round planned for Boxing Day might clubs’ decision about whether to play in the Scottish Cup be influenced by whether the Highland League campaign has started?
Houston said: “It’s a chicken and egg situation. Do they join the Scottish Cup because they’ve got Highland League football or do we try to get Highland League football going to assist them in the Scottish Cup.
“That’s a circular argument in a sense and I’m not quite sure what the outcome will be.”