We, Strathspey Thistle, were formed on 18 April 1993.
However, what many people do not know is that the club owes its very existence to the success of another football club!
In season 1992/93, Lossiemouth United won a dramatic league title race in the last few seconds against Forres Thistle in what was then called The Morayshire Junior League. The Lossiemouth team contained no fewer than 5 players, who had also appeared for Grantown FC in the summer Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare League.
They were goalkeeper Deane Lawson, full back and future Strathspey Thistle manager, Brian Grant, centre half and captain of Lossiemouth United Ally Munro, who would also become manager of Strathspey Thistle, midfielder Eddie Morrison, who initiated the formation of Strathspey Thistle’s Youth Development programme, and last, but not least Bobby Beckwith – who became manager of Lossiemouth’s Highland League team and also assistant manager to Ross Jack at Elgin City FC.
This success sparked a discussion amongst the directors and football loving staff of local firm Mackellar Engineering, as to what would be their “dream team” if they were picking a select from all the aforementioned local Welfare League’s teams. Their discussions led to the formation of a team to play in the Morayshire Junior League the following season – a Club was formed and a committee elected after a meeting in the town’s Dunvegan Hotel – a name was now required…
After much debate the name STRATHSPEY THISTLE was chosen as it was agreed not to include the name of Grantown in the title to show it was indeed a district club and not just one town.
The new club however was not wholly welcomed. The Strathspey & Badenoch Welfare League raised serious concerns that a Junior team could jeopardise their league, however this was unfounded as many future players graduated to the club via the local welfare teams.
OUR FIRST MATCH / OUR COLOURS
Our first ever match, as Strathspey Thistle, was a home friendly against the then Highland League side Inverness Thistle, on the 19July 1993. Given that the club was only was just over two months old, a very entertaining match in front of a large crowd, ended up with Inverness Thistle winning 4-3.
For the Inverness match we played in the claret and blue strip of Grantown’s other welfare league team, Grantown United, and for a further four more friendlies, we borrowed strips of various local welfare clubs including Grantown FC and Cromdale FC.
Strathspey Thistle first ever registered home strip was akin to Patrick Thistle’s yellow and red stripes with black shorts and socks – and to save costs azure blue and black striped shirts was ordered as alternative/away colours, but using the same shorts and socks!
However, with the club’s first ever competitive fixture less than 48 hours away, the new strips had not arrived from a firm based in Liverpool so club secretary at the time, Fraser Mackellar, had to fly down to collect the kits in person.
It was only on the day of the match when Fraser delivered the kits yet unopened, he discovered he had been given the wrong parcel. One set of Azure and Blue shirts but the other bag was a set of plain white shirts and black shorts and socks – so the club used the Azure and Black shirts for home matches!
However, later that year the club did wear red shirts in a match – in their first cup final no less!
The evening game was to be played under the floodlights of Forres Mechanics’ Mosset Park – our opponents, Buckie Rovers, turned up with their dark and light blue striped shirts and with obviously clearly a colour clash, the quick thinking of then League Secretary, Sandy Brander, saved the match from being postponed. He phoned Forres Thistle, who were happy to lend one of the sides their home shirts of red and white and on the toss of a coin, we appeared in our first ever cup final, wearing red and white!
Strips were soon to be the least of the new clubs worries – only two weeks after the cup final Highland Council literary removed the goalposts and dug out both penalty boxes at Seafield Park for ground repairs ahead of the new welfare season unaware that we still had home matches to fulfil. We were forced to use various venues for home matches up to the end of the season including the neighbouring Grantown Grammar School field as well as being helped out by both Forres Thistle and Burghead Thistle.
OUR FOOTBALL HISTORY, so far!
The club saw out the first season with a respectable eighth place in the league, but given all what went on during the season a series of long meetings took place before a decision was taken to try another season!
We had reached an agreement with the Highland Council that we would NOT play any home fixtures from the last week in January to the first weekend of April so a very careful fixture list was worked out, with Strathspey Thistle agreeing to give up home advantage for any cup tie and to try and find an alternative home venue away from Seafield Park!
A very limited squad and with these on-going problems eventually became too much for the Mackellar brothers and they resigned from the club.
It was confirmed that the new player–manager would be Donly McLeod. He had played a few matches before being appointed but but there was consternation when the SFA General Secretary Jim Farry had to contact the club to confirm that Donly’s date of birth was correct!
All was not good with the club. Things came to a head when a fixture clash with the start of the summer welfare season saw only 9 players turn up for an away fixture to Lossiemouth United and after a three nil defeat, Donly vowed from that evening on the club was going to be more professional on and off the pitch!
1995 – 1999
In 1995 Highland Council agreed that we could use Seafield Park all season – one of the reasons being the welfare side Grantown FC had folded and had given the use of the changing rooms over to Strathspey Thistle’s care for the enormous sum of £1.00!
Also on the 5 August, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who had been newly appointed to the Scottish League, played what must have been one of their first away games at Seafield Park
Before the start of the Junior Football season in 1996/97, the club were for the first time able to sign players directly from Highland League sides, and the first two we signed were Inverness Clachnacuddin veteran goalkeeper Derek Arris and Grantown local lad Colin MacLean, formerly of Inverness Thistle.
A major landmark in the Clubs’ history happened on the afternoon of the 7 June 1998 at Seafield Park. During a heavy rainstorm and in front of a large crowd, we won The Clive Williamson Trophy beating Nairn St. Ninian 2 – 1 after extra time. Robbie MacDougall scored both goals. It was a case of sixth time lucky as we had already lost the first five finals we had reached.
In March 1999 after approval by the Scottish Junior FA and the Scottish FA, we went international and visited Notre Dames de Monts, our twin-town in France and won the Challenge Trophy 3 – 1.
On our return to Scotland, we went on a long unbeaten run and climbed to fifth place in the league of 16, our highest position since our debut season and we added another cup with victory at the Pinefields in New Elgin defeating Portgordon United 5-0, in a very one sided final, to win the Robbie Nicol Memory Trophy.
2000 – 2008
Unfortunately, we failed to build on this success in the following season, losing two cup finals both in very controversial ways. Forres Thistle defeated a deflated Strathspey Thistle by 4-0 in the Stewart Cup Final which saw a very early ordering off of centre half Garth Smith – both sets of officials and players were agreed that the decision was exceptionally harsh. Then, in trying to retain the Robbie Nicol Trophy at Elgin, we were leading Deveronside 1-0 before losing a goal in the ninety-sixth minute, scoring again in extra time but then losing two goals in the last minute to lose 2-3. We did however mangage to retain the Twinning Challenge Cup beating Notre Dames de Monts convincingly, this time at Seafield Park on the 19 March 2000.
We then set about building a very strong squad and more silverware came along.
Season 2002-03 was and will always be be regarded as one of the most successful in the club’s history. With a very strong squad containing two former Inverness Caledonian Thistle players, goalkeeping legend Jim Calder and squad captain Mike Noble and, with, the amazing strike duo of Kenny Hendry and Tolga Dagtas who between them scored over 80 goals that season, we won our first ever league title and became the first non-Aberdeenshire side to win the Grill Bar League Trophy in the competitions’ 102 years history by defeating Banks O’ Dee in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Over the years we were now one of the top Junior football teams in the north, regularly winning trophies and just failing on more than one season to get another a league title.
This success did not go unnoticed and many stories appeared in the national press, and one story that made all north football sit up and take notice was that Ross County unsuccessfully tried to sign Donly McLeod as their new manager!
However for all the success on the pitch, Strathspey Thistle’s greatest victory actually happened off of it, and in all places, Lossiemouth, again, when the club were voted in as new members of the Highland League….
2009…and THE HIGHLAND LEAGUE
Strathspey Thistle FC were accepted into the Highland League on 25th February 2009 and entered the league for the start of the 2009-10 season.
Our first match was an 8-1 away defeat against Wick Academy FC, our first ever Highland League goal being scored by Davie Ritchie.
The first home game at Seafield Park a week later against Inverurie Loco Works FC also ended in defeat, but the occasion was fully savoured, a piper leading our team out in front of a sizeable crowd. In our debut season and in subsequent campaigns there have been many defeats, but some standout wins as well, like a 2-0 away success at Fraserburgh. With grit and determination our players gave their best for the club and enjoyed a few highlights along the way.
Meanwhile the club was doing what was necessary to achieve SFA licensing and further improvements were made to drainage, floodlights, toilets and catering. Seafield Park now has an excellent playing surface and spectator facilities that make our ground a pleasure to visit for locals, travelling fans and holidaymakers alike.
With SFA licensing secured, we were now ready to test ourselves in the Scottish Cup. Our first encounter was in 2014 against top juniors Culter on their infamous sloping pitch. Nerves got the better of us that day and we went down 4-2. A narrow 2-1 home defeat to Edinburgh University was our fate the next season, followed by a 6-0 thrashing by reigning Scottish Junior Cup holders Beith in 2016. The following year we were away to Civil Service Strollers who pipped us by a single goal in a closely fought encounter and our next Cup heartbreak was a 2-0 home loss to Coldstream in 2018. The magic of the Scottish Cup is undeniable. In 2019 we managed a win at home against Lossiemouth in the first round – which took us to Stirling and to Forthbank and a game against Stirling Albion, who although just beat us, made us exceptionally welcome and now we look forward to our next campaign.
Our fans have seen many players cut a dash in the demanding Highland League.
Josh Peters is a striker with tremendous acceleration who was a deadly finisher for us, particularly in one-on-one scoring situations. After regularly being our top marksman, he eventually joined Hibernian for a healthy fee, and in his first season in the Hibees’ glittering youth side hit a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Dundee United. Josh was a product of our youth set-up, as is James McShane who has matured into one of the most creative midfielders currently playing in the league.
Other bright young talents who became fans’ favourites were defender Jordan Wardrope, attacker Josh Race and full-back Owen Cairns and free-scoring Scott Lisle.
And finally, let’s not forget Grantonian Sam Morrison, who joined Ross County at an early age and, after considerable success with their u-20s, is now a mainstay of Buckie Thistle’s defence.
Over the year’s the experienced boots of stalwarts such as Joe Hardie, David Ross and Nicholas Mochan have been invaluable steadying influences and who can forget the odd flash of brilliance from forwards Davie Ritchie, Matteus Bobrowski and Gavin Hay, or goalkeeper Willie Ridgers’ point-blank saves.
Then there was Adam McLeod’s breath-taking four goal haul at Fraserburgh which incredibly was not enough to save us from a 5-4 defeat. There is unfortunately not enough space to praise all the players who have helped us on our journey, but we are grateful to them all.
At times our club has had a truly international flavour too, with (amongst others) Matteus Bobrowski from Poland, Sandis Reinsons from Latvia, Inaki Fernandino-Soto from Spain and Dominick Edwards from New Zealand appearing in our colours. Managers during our time in the Highland League have been Donly McLeod, Brian Ritchie, Brian Grant and Ally Munro. Other significant contributions to the club have been made by Rab Simpson, all-rounder Scott Robson and programme editor Steve Purves, amongst others, and a host of volunteer coaches.
The current management team of Gordon Nicolson and Tommy Wilson have assembled an impressive squad and go into season 2019/20 with the memory of some thrilling games like the 4-3 triumph at Rothes still in our heads. The squad blended well in pre-season with some impressive wins, Our squad now has a balanced look, and bolstered by new signings Liam Taylor, Scott Morrison and former Buckie Thistle player Andrew Skinner, so we look in good shape for season.
WITH GRATEFUL THANKS TO ROB A. CLARK FOR COMPILING THE STRATHSPEY THISTLE HISTORY ©
So, off we went into season 2019/2020 and did very well and were lying in 13th position with a few games in hand – we were optimistic about their outcome – when CoVid struck and the league was cancelled – so we will never know how we would have finished – but that was our best finish to date.
Season 2020/2021…… and that was the season that never was. We played one home game, a cup tie, and never kicked another ball – you can read all it about here https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/57796420 on the BBC website which was published before the start of this season.
In May2021 manager Gordy Nicolson and his assistant Tommy Wilson resigned which was a blow to the club as the future looked very bright.
A month passed before Forres Mechanics legend Charlie Brown agreed to join as manager – he had been assistant at Forres for six years and brought a wealth of Highland League experience as a highly regarded striker with Mechanics and Buckie Thistle. His management team consisted of Jamie McGowan whose background is as Ross County development squad coach and Forres under-20 coach. He also holds his SFA ‘C’ Licence. They are also joined by player-coach Kris Duncan and coach Robbie Flett.
There was significant changes in the player squad since the last league campaign with recruitment coming from young players from the likes of Inverness Caley Thistle, Ross County and Elgin City as well as some more experienced Highland League players.
There was also major work done on the playing surface at Seafield Park .