Borders’ two Lowland League sides split over decision to end season

Gala Fairydean Rovers playing Vale of Leithen iat Netherdale in October 2017. Pictured are Vale's Jason Stevens and Gala's Scott Main (Photo: Stuart Cobley)Gala Fairydean Rovers playing Vale of Leithen iat Netherdale in October 2017. Pictured are Vale's Jason Stevens and Gala's Scott Main (Photo: Stuart Cobley)
Gala Fairydean Rovers playing Vale of Leithen iat Netherdale in October 2017. Pictured are Vale's Jason Stevens and Gala's Scott Main (Photo: Stuart Cobley)
The Borders’ two Scottish Lowland Football League sides are divided over this week’s decision to end the current season and decide final placings on a points-per-game basis.

Gala Fairydean Rovers have come out as winners following that resolution, announced today, March 30, following a meeting last night, as they’ve been bumped up a league place, from seventh to sixth, but bottom-placed Vale of Leithen fear ending up as losers as relegation hasn’t been ruled out yet.

The Galashiels team are content enough with that result as it would be their highest finish since the creation of the league in 2013, but their Innerleithen neighbours beg to differ, saying this week’s resolution flies in the face of previous agreements to declare the season null and void if it failed to reach the halfway stage.

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The current season had been on hold since Monday, January 11, as part of efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, and some of its 17 teams hadn’t played for weeks prior to that due to adverse weather, prompting officials to come to the conclusion, that with play unlikely to resume until mid-May, they’d run out of time to attempt to fulfil even half of their fixture list.

At that point, Rovers and Vale had both played a dozen games, with the former being on 22 points and the latter yet to get off the mark.

Representatives of nine clubs voted to call it quits now and declare league placings using a points-per-game formula, with three opposed and five abstaining.

Rovers chairman Ryan Cass said he’d have preferred for play to resume but understands why the final whistle was blown, adding: “Finishing sixth, with our playing budget compared with other big-spending clubs in the league, is a great achievement.

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“However, I’m disappointed the league will not resume because I feel we could have finished even higher.

“The league stopping could not have happened at a worse time for us because the team was playing well, having recorded a deserved win at Bo'ness and narrowly losing to Annan Athletic in the Scottish Cup in a game we could easily have won.

“Manager Neil Hastings and his coaches have done a tremendous job and built a team playing a brand of football that the town can be proud of.

“The league has been called off now, though, and we just have to accept it and start preparing for next season, when hopefully restrictions will be lifted and we can get spectators back at our games.

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“The majority of the squad have re-signed for next season and there will be some new faces coming into the squad as we want to continue improving and challenging at the top of the table."

The Netherdale team’s previous highest finish was eighth place in both 2019 and 2015.

They were in 11th place when the previous season was abandoned in mid-April last year soon after the start of the first coronavirus lockdown, with 27 points from 25 games, and Vale were bottom that time round too, with eight points from two matches fewer.

Like Cass, Chris Anderson, player-manager at the Victoria Park club, would have preferred the season to carry on, saying: “The past year has been a stressful one for everyone, with normality coming to a halt in all our lives.

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“The one constant has been Scottish football infighting and baffling decisions. One minute we were allowed to play, the next we weren’t.

“Let’s be clear. I want to stress that we have not performed as well as we would have liked this year. No excuses.

“We have been far from the level required after 12 games, but with 20 games remaining and still not having played everyone around us, who knows what would have happened.

“That aside, all we’ve listened to over the past year was the Scottish Professional Football League closing the door to pyramids and sporting integrity going down the pan. Well, it’s well and truly flushed now.

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“For this exact scenario, we implemented a rule of reaching 50% games for the season to be called. Rules are there to safeguard competition. That trust is now broken.

“Whatever our fate, we will regroup and look forward to rebuilding for next season, whatever league we are in.”

Fife’s Kelty Hearts having been declared champions, they will take part in play-offs with the Scottish Highland Football League’s top team for the chance to claim promotion to League Two.

It was also agreed that next season’s Lowland League season kick off on Saturday, July 17.

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