BY KEITH MACKENZIE
Iochdar Saints celebrated clinching their first-ever appearance in the Highland Amateur Cup semi-finals with victory over Back last weekend — but the Uist side’s joy soon turned to frustration after learning they face another trip to Lewis in the last four.
Saturday’s 3-1 win at Upper Coll sent Saints through and they will now meet Lewis and Harris champions Carloway — conquerors of reigning Amateur Cup holders Wick Groats.
However, Saints have hit out at the competition organisers for scheduling the semi-final tie at Stornoway’s Goathill Park. Due to the ferry timetable, the 12 noon kick-off on 12th July will mean the Uist squad starting their journey before 5am. Saints manager Stephen MacAulay felt it unfair that his side were once again being asked to travel north.
He said: “It’s ridiculous, really. It’s going to be another 4.30am start for us, and to take the team that distance you don’t get much change out of £800. We are very disappointed.
“To have met at another venue, possibly in Harris or even in Skye so that both teams would have to travel, might have been fairer.”
MacAulay said his team were now considering an overnight stay in Stornoway ahead of the match.
“We’ll go there and give it our best shot — given the way we have played in the competition, we have to believe we can get through. At the start of the season this is the cup we really wanted to make an impression in.”
Having eliminated Westside prior to the victory against Back, Iochdar Saints are now aiming to complete a hat-trick of victories against Lewis sides. Their quest is to become the first Uist team since Southend in 1993 to reach the Highland Amateur Cup Final.
Uist and Barra FA secretary Iain MacDonald suggested the semi-final tie be held at Liniclate in Benbecula, to counter the fact that the last two semi-finals involving Uist sides have been played in Stornoway. He said: “A paying gate could quite easily be installed if this is what’s required.
“The past two semi-finals involving Uist and Lewis teams (Southend and Benbecula) were also played at Goathill. Surely it’s only fair we get the chance to host such a prestigious match in Uist?”
Saints manager MacAulay also felt officials from outwith the Lewis and Harris association should take charge of the game.
That concern was also brought up with the organisers by Mr MacDonald, and the e-mail exchange was passed on to the Free Press.
In response to Mr MacDonald, Iain Whitehead, on behalf of the competition’s Highland executive committee, said: “The Western Isles referees’ association have been instructed to appoint match officials for the tie between Saints and Carloway, as they do for all Highland Cup games in the Western Isles.”
Neither Mr Whitehead nor Angus MacKay, the competition secretary, had returned calls as the Free Press sought clarification over the semi-final venue choice. However, when the issue was raised by fans on the Highland Amateur Cup’s Facebook page, Mr Whitehead gave a brisk response.
“If anybody doesn’t like early starts or long-distance travelling then don’t travel for any match,” he wrote. “Sick of people bickering and moaning.”
Iochdar Saints are pictured above after winning the Uist and Barra League for the third year in a row last summer