A NEW SEASON BEGINS
WE stand now on the verge of another Scottish Highland Football League season and we look forward to it with cautious optimism, with a belief in our management team and squad’s ability to do well but in no doubt that it is going to be another challenging campaign.
Last season, the team was effectively thrown together at short notice, with a number of young players given a chance in the first team from nowhere. That led to an element of the unknown for teams who faced us. But that has now gone. On the plus side, our manager Ronnie Sharp has had an entire pre-season to work with his squad this year and put them through a number of tough friendly fixtures.
We hosted two friendly matches at Station Park against St Mirren and Inverness CT and recorded an aggregate attendance of almost 1000 across both fixtures. Thank you to everyone who turned out to support the team and hopefully we will see you all over the course of the new season. Some of the feedback we received from our visitors from Paisley was fantastic and we are grateful to everyone who made the trip north for the game. St Mirren were also complimentary about the hospitality they received from our post-match hosts, the Royal British Legion, who will again be our Man of the Match sponsors on top of all of the effort they put in to ensuring all home and visiting players and officials are fed after weekend fixtures at Station Park.
We then visited Forfar Athletic, Nairn St Ninian and New Elgin and I would like to thank those clubs for their hospitality and for hosting games against us. At this point, I would also like to highlight the support of the Westerlea Hotel for ensuring that our players are fed and watered on the way to away matches with their supply of food and bottled water for our trips on the road.
Since my last update, we have seen Jamie Mackay and Wayne Mackintosh both choose to leave the club at the end of their contracts while as I previously reported, we allowed Paul Macleod to depart. Reece Barton was offered the chance to move up to the first team squad for pre-season training along with fellow under-20s squad members Craig Munro, Matty Macleod and Fraser Wilkie but turned it down as he wanted a fresh start elsewhere, so he was moved on to Strathspey Thistle.
All players who left us during the summer go with our thanks for their efforts while at the club and the best wishes of everyone at Station Park for their future careers.
Our recruitment has seen us bring in Adam Porritt, Adam Naismith, Ewen Urquhart, Max Ewan, Cohen Ramsay and Ryan MacDonald while we are close to concluding one other deal. I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of the new signings and I look forward to seeing you in action over the course of the new season.
We now have a squad of players which has an average age of just 22, which is a remarkable statistic for a Highland League club. Yes, we may lack experience at times when our older heads are unavailable but it is our intention to give these young players the opportunity to go out and express themselves at this level and prove they are worthy of a place in the team. We want to keep this exciting group of players together and we wait with anticipation to see how they all progress over the next few seasons.
At this stage, it is worth pointing out that all players who have joined us have done so on the same terms offered to the existing squad and again, no signing-on fees have been paid out to anyone at the club this year, despite what the rumour mill might tell you.
Yes, we paid out a nominal transfer fee to Huntly for the return of Adam Naismith with the figure comfortably within the club’s budget but I can promise you that this is substantially less than the figures I have heard bandied about.
Speaking of which, we are looking forward to posting some encouraging financial results which I hope will be heartening to all shareholders and supporters once they have been audited by our accountants. I have to thank all of the businesses and the local community for their fantastic support in my time so far as chairman. When I took over, year one was all about survival and nothing else and we have managed that thanks to the supporters, local businesses and the community, without whom there would no longer be a Nairn County Football Club. We have given ourselves solid foundations from which to build but we are under no illusions as to how difficult that is going to be, so we all have to be relentless, positive and determined to work together and do well for the club to see it move forward.
We have managed to do a couple of commercial deals with major concerns since my last update. We are delighted to welcome the Bandstand Restaurant as our new matchday hospitality partner and they will provide pre-match meals for our sponsors and guests prior to their arrival at Station Park. We have also teamed up with Tulloch Homes as our new training wear partner and we are delighted to welcome them back into the Nairn County family. It means that we now have sponsors for our under-15s squad (Ashers Bakery), under-17s squad (Ritson Young), under-20s squad (John Gordon & Son), first team travel wear (Sidecrystal donated to Highland Hospice) and first team training wear (Tulloch Homes) who all have strong roots in the local community and that is essential for what the Board of Directors and Management Committee are trying to achieve in improving the club. We also could not do it without the backing of our main sponsor, Reach Digital Telecoms Highland, whose enthusiasm, dynamism and ambition rubs off on everyone at the club.
At Station Park, you will see a few improvements made to the surroundings over the close season. It has been great to be able to concentrate on carrying out this work this close season instead of being constantly engaged in meetings like last summer!
The major works carried out was the painting of four of the floodlight towers. This was work that badly needed done to prevent the metalwork from falling into a state of disrepair and becoming unsafe, thus putting our SFA Club Licence (and therefore our ability to operate as a football club) at risk. This was funded by the Fans Fund, which was setup last summer for supporters to contribute a donation of £10 per month to the club which would be used for projects such as this and any essential running costs which became a burden on club funds.
The netting behind the goal at the Queenspark End of the ground that helps prevent footballs from flying out of the ground was no longer fit for purpose due to sagging and having several holes cut in it when birds had become tangled. This was repaired, replaced in sections and extended along so that it now reaches the steel emergency exit at the corner of the hospital entrance. This could not have happened without the help of John Gordon & Son, who supplied to replacement poles to hold up the net and Las Plant Hire, who supplied the cherry picker to allow painting of towers and net fitting.
Finally, we took on board feedback from the last fans meeting and have dismantled the TV tower behind the away dugout, which was obstructing the view of the pitch where a large number of supporters congregate to watch the action. This will now be assembled on the Davy Johnston Enclosure side of the ground at the Queenspark end.
Our groundsman, Robbie Stuart, his able assistant, Alan Watson and their volunteer helpers have been working hard on the playing surface to ensure that it is back in its usual immaculate condition in time for the start of the new season and I would like to take the opportunity to thank them both for their continued hard work. They do not take a break at any time in the year because as soon as the season was finished, they were eager to begin the remedial work to repair the damage done to the park after a hard season of 40 games on the pitch and they have been putting in so many hours to ensure it is ready to go when we welcome Deveronvale for our first home match of the season on Wednesday August 2nd. I have to also thank Donald Green and Greens Nurseries for their assistance with the supply of products for the surface, which I know has been of great use to Robbie and Alan.
We have welcomed brand new coaching teams at under-17s and under-15s levels in recent weeks. Mark Greig and Max Campbell take over the under-17s having previously worked at Ross County. It is a real coup for the club and what we are trying to achieve with our youth development programme that we have been able to attract coaches of such calibre and I know their players are already enjoying working under them.
Our under-15s will now be coached by Paul Morganti and Andrew Colliar along with Stephen Grant, who remains from last season. Paul is a former youth player with the club who went on to play at Nairn St Ninian while Andrew is an existing member of our under-20s squad, so both fit in well with the structure we are looking to put in place, which will see coaching teams at all levels work in sync with one another to ensure the improvement and progression of all players at the club to give them the best possible chance of making it to the first team.
The appointments mark a complete turnover of staff in all football positions at the club over the last 12 months with a new manager, assistant manager, director of football, head of youth development, under-20s coaching team, under-17s coaching team and under-15s coaching team and indeed, myself as club chairman. It shows you the magnitude of the transition right across the board at the club over the last year but I am hopeful that things will settle down and now that we have the structure in place, the hard work really starts.
It seems like only yesterday that last season was drawing to a close but we are ready to go again with the new campaign and I look forward to see you all at Mosset Park on Saturday to support the team in our opening fixture of the Scottish Highland Football League season, if not then at Station Park the following Wednesday evening when we host Deveronvale or at some point throughout the year.
I would like to wish all clubs competing in this year’s championship the very best of fortune and everyone at Nairn County looks forward to welcoming you to Station Park and to visiting you at your home ground.
Best wishes to all.
DONALD L. MATHESON
Nairn County Football Club