The unlikely manager and Britain’s worst football team

Image copyright IMG/BBC
Image caption Russell MacMorran did not expect to find himself managing Fort William FC

At the beginning of last season Russell MacMorran had no idea he would end up as a football manager let alone the boss of a club with the worst record in British league football.

Russell was not even involved in football when Fort William FC kicked off last summer.

The club started the season as it had ended the previous one – in crisis, having just gone a full season without a win and yet again finishing bottom of the Highland League, the fifth tier of Scotland’s league structure.

The part-time club, which pays its players an average of £20 a week, had been bottom of the table for 14 of the past 20 seasons but because there is no relegation it managed to hold onto its place in the Scottish football league structure. However, the pressure was taking its toll and there was talk of throwing in the towel and dropping into junior football.

Fort William were down to just five signed players and the existing management board had announced they were packing it in so an emergency meeting was held to find new blood to save the club. This would be a task as huge as the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, which looms over the club’s Claggan Park ground.

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Image caption Fort William’s ground lies close to Ben Nevis

Russell went to the open meeting and stuck up his hand to volunteer. Before he knew it he was the club secretary, taking responsibility for the organisation of the whole set-up.

The 43-year-old had played football when he was younger, mainly in the Highland League reserves, but a serious knee injury ended his career when he was in his early 20s.

The father-of-five, originally from Inverness, had moved to the Fort William area a decade earlier to work as a police road traffic officer but he had been off sick for months after being diagnosed with PTSD due to years of dealing with crash scenes. He tells The BBC Scotland documentary, The Fort, he was feeling isolated, “staring at the four walls”, and it was his wife who suggested he should get involved with football again.

His idea was to work behind the scenes, trying to improve the way Fort William worked and hope a new professional approach at the club would transfer to performances on the pitch.

By January, Fort William had lost 21 games, drawn two and conceded 165 goals. They had also been given a nine-point penalty for fielding an ineligible player three times at the start of the season, before Russell took on his role.

The club’s new board had a crisis meeting and team manager Kris Anderson was sacked. They decided the best man to take over as caretaker manager was Russell.

Image copyright Fort William FC
Image caption Fort William hope the new season will be more successful

“It was a bit of a whirlwind to go from secretary to manager,” Russell says. “But the basic principle was to put a bit of stability into the changing room because of what had been happening.”

“The morale of the guys was, as expected, really low.”

But why did a man with PTSD and no experience as a football manager agree to take on the team with the statistically the worst record in Britain?

Russell says: “I have the illness and that’s a long road to recovery. I can’t do my police work at the moment because of that but the football gives me the chance to still be able to do things on a social level and an occupational level. It gives me some form of identity, if you like. It has helped me massively.”

He says being the manager of the worst club in Britain does not bring any stress, in fact “it is the polar opposite”.

“There is no expectations,” he says. “There are no stresses. It is not like sitting in the Premier League where it really is your job and you have to make a massive difference.”

Russell says he has taken the young players “under his wing” and tries to be as positive and calm as he can.

“To be at rock bottom yourself, you can look at these kids and see in the broad scheme of things it is only a game,” he says.

For the first three weeks Russell was undefeated but that was only because the terrible weather meant all the Fort’s games were cancelled. When he finally saw action it was away against Lossiemouth, the second worst team in the league.

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Media captionHopes are high for a win against the team placed just above them in the league.

They had only won one game all season and that was against Fort William.

Could this finally be The Fort’s first win in almost two years? Well, no. They lost 5-0.

The Highland league is harder than it looks, says club treasurer Willie Edwards, especially for a team with no money. Willie says the top three or four teams in the league are competing to be in the Scottish third division and even mid-table teams have ex-professionals from the upper levels of the Scottish league.

“Money talks,” he says and Fort William does not have any.

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Image caption Fort William FC board (left to right) Colin Wood, Peter Murphy, Russell MacMorran and Willie Edward

The occasional small donations help. They come from fans around the world who have heard of their plight and as the season wore on more became aware of their unenviable record.

Interest in the club on social media rocketed, as did sales of merchandise but it did not translate to success on the pitch.

In February The Fort were leading 1-0 just before half time when the match was abandoned because of a water-logged pitch. Not only did they miss out on the elusive first win but they also lost the revenues from the half-time pies, says Russell, still thinking like the club secretary, a role now filled by his wife Laura.

The Fort ended the season in April with a record of two draws in 34 matches, scoring 21 goals and conceding 245.

Image copyright BBC Sport

The new season kicked off on Saturday when they were defeated by Brora Rangers 6-0, despite the loan of nine players from Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Last season, Brora beat them 11-0 and 9-0.

Russell remains the manager despite losing all his games so far. He says the team have worked hard on their fitness in the close season and he has tried to instil more professionalism into how they approach the game.

“We are not going to be the same side that teams faced last year and they know that,” Russell says. “I expect the guys not to be the whipping boys like they were last year and to challenge all the way.

“It has to be that we look to finish off the bottom of the table. All the lads and myself are really positive going into the new season and last season is well and truly behind us.”

The Fort is on BBC Scotland on Tuesday 30 July at 22:00 and on the iplayer.

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