Coach with PTSD helped by his role with ‘Britain’s worst football team’ Fort William

BY JAMIE McGLASHAN

When Russell MacMorran was appointed as manager of Fort William Football Club at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, they were without a league win in over two seasons.

But the 43-year-old has claimed taking charge of the Highland League perennial strugglers has since aided his recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which was suffered as a result of dealing with traffic incidents on Scotland’s dangerous west coast roads.

“It has aided my recovery from PTSD and allows me to function socially and occupationally again,” says MacMorran. Managing ‘The Fort’ has harmonised a club which, at the time of MacMorran taking charge, sat at the foot of the Highland League, and whose existence beyond the end of the season looked increasingly unlikely.

“The club and squad survived to the end of the season, which was the ultimate goal,” says the man who took up the job after previously being club secretary. “I was extremely low and in a very dark place. I didn’t want to go out or talk to anyone. I was sitting in the house staring at four walls. I had lost my identity in a number of ways,” reveals the police officer, who was diagnosed with PTSD in September of 2018.

“My wife, Laura, suggested that I should get involved in something and she suggested getting back into football.”

MacMorran’s route into football management was no ordinary one. Circumstances at the club resulted in an exodus of board members which put the club’s existence at risk.

“The Club was at the point of removing their affiliation from the Highland League, dropping down to amateur status, which would have been devastating for the club and the future of local football.”

As per the suggestion of his wife, MacMorran attended an open meeting at Claggan Park in which the club was looking for a treasurer and a secretary. “I attended this meeting mostly just out of interest with no intention of taking on an important role.

“However, on listening to the meeting and to seeing the positivity towards the club that was displayed by all of those involved with the club I could see that the challenge would be great, but also, and more importantly, that it was a challenge that could be overcome,” he says.

After the meeting on 9 September, MacMorran was voted in as Fort William FC’s secretary on 13 September, 2018. “I went about installing some long-lost standards and discipline that a club such as Fort William football club should demand from its players and officials.”

A “leap” is how MacMorran describes the transition he made from being club secretary to taking control of Fort William’s first team. “Unfortunately, it came as the result of the manager at that time, Kris Anderson, being relieved of his duties, which was unfortunately a result of lengthy, and well documented, very poor display both on and off the pitch.

“The decision was then taken by the board that I would be the interim replacement for Kris. In order to stabilise the players and result. Obviously, this was another challenge, but again this was a challenge that could be overcome. I set about bringing the confidence back to the players and their enjoyment to play football.”

Despite finishing last in the 16-team, relegation-less Highland League on two points and an eye-watering goal difference of minus 224, MacMorran was offered a permanent role. “The club and squad survived to the end of the season, which was the ultimate goal, and my job was done. Or so I thought. The position for Manager was advertised prior to the start of pre- season, and I was offered the permanent Manager’s position and here we are.”

“The only thing that I wasn’t quite expecting was that they don’t make players like they did in my time. There are more hair styles than available team formations. It’s like fathering 25 to 30 children.”

Fort William, located in Argyll and Lochaber at the very foot of Ben Nevis, is extremely secluded. A two hour drive down winding treacherous roads separates the town of 10,000 inhabitants to the nearest city, Inverness. This poises extensive issues for the semi- pro outfit, “The logistics of where we are located causes a number of problems,” MacMorran explains.

“Out-with Clachnucuddin FC and Strathspey Thistle FC, we have a two-hour journey before we even begin travelling. A trip to play Wick Academy FC is an eight- hour round trip for the player, so you can imagine that’s a very early start and a very late return.”

But extensive travel times are not the only way in which the location blights the club. Shinty, a popular Highlands sport played with a stick and a ball, provides another threat. Players often prefer playing shinty to turning out for a struggling football club.

“Player recruitment is another problem the club faces. Shinty, in truth, is or was the more attractive sport in the area. Being honest, what young person would wish to play football and get beat week in and out without fail and no prospect of that changing?”

With a BBC documentary released in July about the club named, ‘The Fort: the story of Britain’s worst football team’, you can imagine the type of media that surrounded the club. MacMorran used this title as a motive for Fort William FC. “The club embraced the title and I used it as motivation to the players. Although I paid no more attention to it than the jovial motivation at training or within the changing room.”

Fascinatingly, The Fort’s fanbase has experienced rapid growth since its story was broadcasted to the masses. “The ‘worst team in Britain’ almost became a brand name for the club. It was embraced by our fans, which is now a global fan base. The title ‘the worst team in Britain’ was and is a big part of the club’s history and journey,” explains MacMorran.

In the evening after their 5-2 victory over Nairn County – their first win in competitive competition in 707 days – the club’s Twitter following increased from 4,000 to 20,000. And a large part of that is down to the leadership of MacMorran.

(Feature image: Iain Ferguson)

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