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JAMIE GILLIES: Brechin City Highland League triumph is about much more than football

Brechin City's victory in the Highland League is a joyous reminder of what a football club can do for its community.

Crows of jubilant Brechin City players and supporters.
Fans of Brechin City stuck by their side and now they are reaping the rewards. image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

On Saturday, Brechin City won the Highland League with a dramatic victory over rivals Buckie Thistle.

But for Brechiners, the result is far more significant than silverware alone.

If the Angus side can ‘keep the heid’ in the pyramid playoffs they will bag a return to the SPFL next season.

Many would consider this their natural home. Brechin spent 68 years in Scottish league football before dropping down to the Highland League in 2021.

And with sound management and a buoyant squad heading into a two-leg playoff against Spartans this weekend, the town is feeling hopeful.

But Brechin City’s confidence this season has been bolstered by its 12th man, the fans.

The writer Jamie Gillies next to a quote: "Young and old, male and female, middle and working class. There’s no discrimination in the stands."

Since relegation, Brechiners have rallied around the club, with match attendance consistently strong at home and away.

This might not have been expected following the bitter sting of relegation and a disappointing third place finish in the 2021-22 Highland League season.

But on Saturday, seven coaches and dozens of cars departed Brechin for Buckie, and it felt as if half the town was travelling north for the title clash.

Brechin City needs its fans, as much as they need the club

Brechin City’s fall and fight to rise is a familiar saga in football, which speaks to how special the beautiful game is.

Brechin City manager Andy Kirk and players with the Highland league trophy
Brechin City manager Andy Kirk lifts the Highland league trophy. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.
Large crowd of players and fans on the pitch celebrating Brechin City victory
Brechin fans and footballers celebrate after the final whistle. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

A team can descend into hard times. But the fans stick by it, willing it on to greener pastures again.

Their belief never dies.

For those who don’t follow the sport, it’s hard to articulate the feelings this evokes.

Football is about more than winning games. It’s an inclusive story, where everyone gets to play a part.

Loyalty, passion, and true grit is needed off the pitch, as well as on it.

Clubs require the input of fans every week to keep marching forward.

And City’s journey this season has got me reflecting on the joys of fitba, and its net benefits – if you’ll excuse the pun.

Clubs like Brechin City are a powerful force for good

The beautiful game is a powerful force for community in a world that feels increasingly insular and divided.

If you visit Glebe Park to watch Brechin City play, you’ll find a range of people there to shout their side on.

Young and old, male and female, middle and working class. There’s no discrimination in the stands.

Instead, there is a sense of camaraderie you’d rarely find in any other context.

Jason Hedges in 18 shirt mobbed by fans on the pitch after Brechin's first goal
Ewan Loudon scores Brechin City’s first goal. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.
Brechin City's Euan Spark in a large scrum of fans after the game.
Brechin City’s Euan Spark celebrates with fans after the game. image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

Football is a leveller, and a unifier.

Clubs are often a driver for charitable giving that makes a real difference in people’s lives.

They are a source of tourism and much-needed revenue for the hospitality industry.

They inspire children and young people to take up sport and give them skills that will set them up well for life, even if they don’t end up making football their career.

In areas that struggle with antisocial behaviour and drug use, the investment of a club can help youngsters stay out of trouble.

Football is also a source of encouragement for isolated older people.

Football is a force for good.

Football is about community, whatever team you follow

In January, I wrote the obituary of Ian Stott, a life-long fan of Brechin’s neighbouring club, Montrose Roselea.

Ian, who was 73, had learning difficulties and was unable to work during his life. But the Gable Endies became a huge passion for him, filling his days and giving him a source of pride.

His sister Marion, a family friend, told me Ian was an evangelist for the club wherever they went on holiday, asking anyone who passed him: “Hi, do you support Montrose?”

Ian Stott holding a football trophy.
Ian Stott’s football club meant the world to him.

I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone for whom football meant so much, and for whom football made such a huge difference in day-to-day life.

But I suspect stories like Ian’s are told in communities across Scotland today, and further afield.

Lonely and forgotten people find friendship and solidarity at the side of the pitch.

Brechin City are hungry for promotion this season and I hope they get it.

But whatever happens, the club – like others up and down the country – will continue to be cherished by fans, and immensely beneficial to its local community.

Jamie Gillies is a commentator on politics and culture.