Highland Football League
|Number of teams||18|
|Level on pyramid||5|
|Promotion to||Scottish League Two|
|Domestic cup(s)||Scottish Cup|
|League cup(s)||Highland League Cup|
|Current champions||Cove Rangers (5th title)
Caledonian (18 titles each)
The Scottish Highland Football League (commonly known as the Highland League) is a part-time professional senior football league in the north of Scotland. The league, which is the fifth level within Scottish football, is a full member of the Scottish Football Association. It currently consists of 18 teams from the Scottish Highlands as well as the lowlands of Moray and Aberdeenshire.
Until the reorganisation of Scottish football during the 2012–13 season, the league was historically one of the senior leagues in Scottish football. The others being the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League, along with the East of Scotland and South of Scotland Leagues. Since the 2014–15 season, the league (along with the newly formed Lowland Football League) is a feeder division for SPFL's Scottish League Two. The Highland Football League champions play the winners of the Lowland Football League for a chance to face the bottom club in League Two.
All current league members are full members of the Scottish Football Association so qualify automatically for the following season's first round of the Scottish Cup. The league champions and the runner-up team receive a bye into the cup's second round. Since 2014, the season's league champion team has also gained a place in the Scottish Challenge Cup; this was extended to the top four clubs from 2016.
Each team in the league plays each other twice during a season – once at home, once away, for a total of 34 matches. The standard league scoring system of 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw is applied, with ties in the league table broken by goal difference. The champions are presented with the League trophy and a flag, either immediately after the match which secures the victory, or at the next match at which it is practical to do so.
With the introduction of the new pyramid structure in Scottish football, a new schedule was introduced in the 2014-15 season, in order to ensure that all matches affecting the title are completed in time for the promotion playoffs beginning in April. As the region is prone to severe weather in winter, postponements have sometimes caused the conclusion of the season to be delayed (e.g. in 2013, a prolonged spell of bad weather meant the final matches were not played until 25 May). Various proposals which would have reduced the number of matches a team would play (either by instituting a two-phase season like that used in the Scottish Premiership, or by dividing the League into two smaller divisions), were considered but did not find favour with League members. Instead, clubs now play both a Saturday and a Wednesday fixture most weeks from August through October, taking advantage of milder weather at the start of the season. The new schedule builds in a four-week buffer near the end of the season during which no matches are initially scheduled, allowing any backlog of postponed matches to be cleared before the final fixtures.
The Highland Football League was formed on 4 August 1893, at the Inverness Workman's Club by employees of the Highland Railway Company who had their Company Headquarters, Locomotive and Carriage & Wagon Workshops (Loch Gorm Works), based in the Highland capital. The original league consisted of seven teams: Inverness Thistle, Caledonian, Clachnacuddin, Forres Mechanics, Inverness Union, Inverness Citadel and Cameron Highlanders. Ross County were an eighth original member, but resigned membership in November 1893. The inaugural champions were Inverness Thistle. Of the original teams, two are still playing in the league today (Clachnacuddin and Forres Mechanics) and two merged to become current Scottish League club Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Many of the member clubs have performed well when competing against SFL clubs in the Scottish Cup. However, from the 1990s onwards, the HFL has been a victim of its own success, with various teams defecting to the Scottish Football League (SFL). Furthermore, it has also had to contend with overexposure of large teams in the area, such as Aberdeen and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as well as the Old Firm to the South, and to an extent English football. However, the lack of Premier League, and to a lesser extent First Division, teams in the area, has worked in its favour, with some football fans being less willing to travel long distances to games in southern Scotland.
The league has been somewhat weakened in recent years by the departure of many former members who have subsequently joined the SFL. This happened in 1994 when Caledonian, Inverness Thistle and Ross County left. Until then the HFL had operated with 18 clubs; this was reduced by the departure of the three mentioned clubs, but Wick Academy from the North Caledonian Football League were elected, to create a league of 16 clubs. This was the state of affairs till 2000 when Elgin City and Peterhead were elected into the SFL. In 2002 Inverurie Loco Works were elected into the HFL to give it a membership of 15 clubs.
In 2008, North Region Junior League sides Formartine United and Turriff United both submitted bids to join the Highland League, following in the footsteps of past Junior League side Inverurie Locos. Banks O' Dee and Strathspey Thistle also applied. On 25 February 2009, Formartine United, Strathspey Thistle and Turriff United were accepted into the league for the following season, with Banks O' Dee being the unsuccessful club.
Beginning with the 2014–15 season, the league champions will have the chance to qualify for promotion to the Scottish League Two via a play-off with the winners of the Lowland Football League, the winners then playing off against the bottom team in League Two. Although the introduction of a route into the Scottish Professional Football League has been broadly welcomed, it has also provoked some concern about the potential financial burden on smaller clubs who may need to significantly upgrade their grounds to meet the required standards. The logistics of travel to away games in a league dominated by central belt teams is also a concern, particularly for geographically remote clubs such as Wick Academy and Brora Rangers.
Results from the HFL and the Highland League Cup have featured on the Press Association vidiprinter since the start of the 1997–98 season.
|Inverurie Loco Works||2001||2,400||-|
Former members now playing in the Scottish Professional Football League
The main Cup competition is -
The North of Scotland FA Clubs compete in the -
The Aberdeenshire FA clubs compete in the -
There are also the SHFL U19 League and Cup. The SHFL Youth Development League has both U15 and U17 competitions which are uncompetitive.
List of HFL championship winners
Performance by club
|Club||Winners||Runner Up||Winning Years|
||1895–96, 1898–99, 1899–00, 1901–02, 1910–11, 1913–14, 1925–26, 1930–31, 1950–51, 1951–52, 1963–64, 1970–71, 1976–77, 1977–78, 1981–82, 1982–83, 1983–84, 1987–88|
||1894–95, 1896–97, 1897–98, 1900–01, 1902–03, 1903–04, 1904–05, 1905–06, 1907–08, 1911–12, 1920–21, 1921–22, 1922–23, 1923–24, 1938–39, 1947–48, 1974–75, 2003–04|
||1931–32, 1934–35, 1952–53, 1955–56, 1959–60, 1960–61, 1962–63, 1964–65, 1965–66, 1967–68, 1968–69, 1969–70, 1973–74, 1989–90|
||1919–20, 1926–27, 1927–28, 1933–34, 1936–37, 1953–54, 1956–57, 1957–58, 2009–10, 2010–11|
||1893–94, 1906–07, 1909–10, 1928–29, 1935–36, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1986–87|
||1961–62, 1978–79, 1979–80, 1980–81, 1984–85, 1999–00, 2006–07|
||1929–30, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 2004–05|
||1946–47, 1948–49, 1949–50, 1988–89, 1998–99|
||2000–01, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2012–13, 2015–16|
||1932–33, 1937–38, 2001–02|
||1966–67, 1990–91, 1991–92|
|Inverurie Loco Works||
|Highland Light Infantry||
- "Scottish FA approves Lowland League for next season". BBC Sport. 11 June 2013.
- Forres Mechanics did not compete 1895-1896 and 1901-1902.
- Fraserburgh did not compete 1926-1928.
- won after a play-off
- Clachnacuddin were awarded the Championship after Black Watch refused to play-off due to the referee that the League appointed
- Clachnacuddin had most points
- Keith had most points
- Fraserburgh and Clachnacuddin were equal on points
- Elgin City won the league, but were found to have dishonestly requested the bringing forward of their final match in order to avoid two players being unavailable through suspension