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Wednesday 12th August 2021 ko 19.30

Scottish Junior FA- North Region Superleague

BANKS O’DEE 2 (MacLeod 42 82)

Redman sent off (2nd booking) 78

Winton sent off (2nd booking) 87


McKeown sent off (2nd booking) 22

Todd sent 85 (2nd booking) 85

Att c120 at Spain Park, Aberdeen

Entry £5

If ever there was a game whose context has changed it was this one. Prior to this season the North Region Juniors existed as a separate entity to the rest of football in Northern Scotland in the same way the Juniors’ Eastern and Western Regions did. The way to look at it was as an “Alternative FA rather than the “Junior FA” but all of that has changed for this season.

Since 2015 the Highland and Lowland Leagues have between them provided one club to play-off against the bottom club in the SPFL for the final spot in that league. Now the principle has now been applied to the Highland League so the winners of the North Caledonian, North Region Junior Superleague, and the newly formed Midlands League (from the Tay-side based East Region clubs) will now play-off against the Highland League’s bottom club for that final spot. While all of that paragraph might seem like groundhopper geek-dom the impact if you’re Banks O’Dee is massive, and highly ironic.

Banks O’Dee are supremely well-named, Spain Park is right on the banks of the River Dee in Aberdeen. The ground is well-appointed but the fascination with Banks O’Dee is who they are and how they’re come to be the biggest club in the North Region Juniors. 

You’ll look at Spain Park and some will write the place off as a typical 3G pitch behind a leisure centre. That view is to do the club a massive disservice as the club own the leisure centre, the nearby phone masts and the boarded-up OAP’s home adjacent to it all.  That has given the club more financial impetus than many other teams far further up the Scottish pyramid. And them being the biggest club in the North Region hasn’t been a case of them lacking ambition either. 

When in 2008 Formartine United , Strathspey Thistle, Turriff United and Banks O’Dee applied for three spaces in the Highland League, many, me included saw the likely new clubs are Banks plus two of the others. I was amazed when Banks were the only club turned down. It wasn’t as if they lacked the stadium, and I came to the conclusion that certain clubs wanted the new clubs to be weak enough to beat easily. Perhaps beating Fort William 10-0  that season in the Scottish Cup wasn’t the best way for Banks to curry favour! And let’s face it Fort William must be the club most likely to be the first club relegated under these new rules. 

After a rejection like that it was hardly surprising that Banks turned down an approach from the Highland League in 2019 to join them following Cove Rangers promotion to the SPFL. Was there an element of guilt in the offer? But the new pyramid might just provide the best route up for them. Just they and Golspie Sutherland have the requisite licenses, and Banks won the the 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-2019 North Region Superleague. With the last two seasons lost to the pandemic perhaps you can see my train of thought!

For once I’d read up on what we were about to watch. Technically this was at a level one notch lower than the Highland League but you looks at the club’s recruitment over the summer and virtually all are players of Highland quality. I did wonder whether we were going to watch a steamrollering. 

So what is Spain Park like? Odd, no make that unusual. The capacity is just 876 but the sightlines are good and while this isn’t a ground for those who like to watch from behind the goal, it proved to be an excellent evening out. A lot of that was down to the president Brian Winton. I called in at the boardroom to ask for permission to take photos and within seconds Robyn and I were enjoying his company tea in hand!

That time was interesting, they may wear their “Biggest club in the North Region” tag extremely lightly, but it does come with its gripes. We watched the PA man try to get the visitors’ teamlines to read out. He failed, being told by Thistle the information was with the referee and that was all was necessary. It made for an interesting night for the media man on Twitter!

But the night will be remembered for the 4 dismissals, and you can blame my wife Robyn for them. We expected a good game, and got one but Robyn remembered the physicality of the game in the West and East Juniors such as Bo’ness and after a few minutes she wondered whether we’d see anything similar? Almost a soon as the words exited her lips McKeown got his marching orders….!

But as surprising as you may find this, I’m not sure we did see much of that fabled aggression! Yes four players did see red, but that seemed to be down to players not heeding the warnings given by a referee that used his cards as his first means of controlling the game rather than as a last resort.

In the scheme of things the 2-1 win will be what’s remembered. I can’t pretend to claim it felt like part of Banks O’Dee’s serene walk to another title and the championship, they had to fight hard for these 3 points. But a few days later as I write this Banks are played 7 and won 7 so perhaps their progress is serene, and winning ugly is the skill of champions. 

It was pretty horrible drive back through the wind and rain back to Inverness, but that did involve either passing through, or seeing signs to many towns with Highland League clubs. I wonder who Banks O’Dee will replace?