|Number of teams||18|
|Level on pyramid||5|
|Promotion to||Scottish League Two|
|Relegation to||Midlands Football League|
North Caledonian Football League
|Domestic cup(s)||Scottish Cup|
Scottish League Cup (champions)
Scottish Challenge Cup (top 4)
|League cup(s)||Highland League Cup|
|Current champions||Fraserburgh (4th title) |
Caledonian (18 titles each)
|Current: 2022–23 Highland Football League|
The Scottish Highland Football League (SHFL, commonly known as the Highland League) is a senior football league based in the north of Scotland. The league sits at level 5 on the Scottish football league system, acting as a feeder to the Scottish Professional Football League.
Founded in 1893, it is currently composed of 18 member clubs in a single division. Geographically, the league covers the Scottish Highlands as well as Moray, Aberdeenshire, the cities of Aberdeen and Dundee, Angus and parts of northern Perthshire.
Since 2014–15, it has featured in the senior pyramid system. The winners take part in an end of season promotion play-off with the Lowland Football League champions, with the winners then competing against the bottom club in Scottish League Two for a place in the SPFL. Promotion and relegation also exists between the three Highlands-based regional leagues at level 6 (Midlands League, North Caledonian League, and North Superleague).
The league's current sponsorship deal is with the Breedon Group.
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.
All clubs 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 champions have taken part in the Scottish Challenge Cup; this was extended to the top four clubs from 2016. In 2016 the champions also gained a place in the Scottish League Cup.
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.
The league has been somewhat weakened 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. Inverurie Locos are another Highland League football club with its origins in the Scottish railways, having been formed by employees of the Great North of Scotland Railway who had their Locomotive and Carriage and Wagon Workshops in Inverurie, hence the football club's name.
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.
Until the reorganisation of Scottish football during the 2012–13 season, the league was historically one of the senior leagues in Scottish football, along with the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League, as well as the East of Scotland and South of Scotland Leagues.
Since the 2014–15 season, the league champions have had 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 was broadly welcomed, it 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.
At the end of the 2018–19 season, Cove Rangers became the first Highland League club to gain promotion to the SPFL via the pyramid play-off, after beating Berwick Rangers 7–0 on aggregate in the League Two play-off final. Two years later, Brechin City became the first SPFL club to be relegated into the Highland League after losing 3–1 on aggregate to Kelty Hearts in the League Two play-off final.
|Banks O' Dee||Aberdeen||Spain Park||876||100||2022|
|Brechin City||Brechin||Glebe Park||4,083||1,519||2021|
|Brora Rangers||Brora||Dudgeon Park||4,000||200||1962||3|
|Buckie Thistle||Buckie||Victoria Park||3,000||400||1909||11|
|Clachnacuddin||Inverness||Grant Street Park||2,074||154||1893||18|
|Deveronvale||Banff||Princess Royal Park||2,600||360||1938||2|
|Formartine United||Pitmedden||North Lodge Park||2,500||300||2009|
|Forres Mechanics||Forres||Mosset Park||2,700||502||1893[note 1]||2|
|Fraserburgh||Fraserburgh||Bellslea Park||3,000||480||1922[note 2]||4|
|Inverurie Loco Works||Inverurie||Harlaw Park||1,400||250||2001|
|Nairn County||Nairn||Station Park||2,250||250||1914||1|
|Strathspey Thistle||Grantown-on-Spey||Seafield Park||1,600||150||2009|
|Turriff United||Turriff||The Haughs||2,135||135||2009|
|Wick Academy||Wick||Harmsworth Park||2,412||102||1994|
*Caledonian and Inverness Thistle combined to form Inverness Caledonian Thistle upon joining the Scottish Football League in 1994. ICT now play in the Scottish Championship.
Relegated to the North Caledonian League/Midlands League/North Region League
The main competitions are:
The North of Scotland FA Clubs compete in the:
The Aberdeenshire FA clubs compete in the:
|1895–96||Caledonian[note 3]||Inverness Thistle|
|1904–05||Clachnacuddin[note 4]||Black Watch|
|1905–06||Clachnacuddin[note 3]||Inverness Thistle|
|1907–08||Clachnacuddin||Highland Light Infantry|
|1909–10||Inverness Thistle[note 3]||Elgin City|
|1912–13||Aberdeen 'A'||Buckie Thistle|
|1928–29||Inverness Thistle||Elgin City|
|1933–34||Buckie Thistle||Forres Mechanics|
|1952–53||Elgin City||Buckie Thistle|
|1953–54||Buckie Thistle||Elgin City|
|1955–56||Elgin City[note 3]||Buckie Thistle|
|1957–58||Buckie Thistle||Elgin City|
|1960–61||Elgin City[note 3]||Keith|
|1964–65||Elgin City||Nairn County|
|1966–67||Ross County||Elgin City|
|1967–68||Elgin City||Ross County|
|1968–69||Elgin City||Inverness Thistle|
|1971–72||Inverness Thistle||Elgin City|
|1972–73||Inverness Thistle[note 3]||Ross County|
|1973–74||Elgin City||Inverness Thistle|
|1975–76||Nairn County[note 3]||Fraserburgh|
|1985–86||Forres Mechanics||Elgin City|
|2004–05||Huntly||Inverurie Loco Works|
|2005–06||Deveronvale||Inverurie Loco Works|
|2006–07||Keith||Inverurie Loco Works|
|2009–10||Buckie Thistle||Cove Rangers|
|2011–12||Forres Mechanics||Cove Rangers|
|2012–13||Cove Rangers||Formartine United|
|2013–14||Brora Rangers||Inverurie Loco Works|
|2014–15||Brora Rangers||Turriff United|
|2015–16||Cove Rangers||Formartine United|
|2016–17||Buckie Thistle||Cove Rangers|
|2017–18||Cove Rangers||Formartine United|
|2018–19||Cove Rangers*||Brora Rangers|
Source:Scottish Football Historical Archive – Highland League Final Tables
Clubs currently playing in the league are shown in bold. Clubs no longer active are shown in italics.
|1895–96, 1898–99, 1899–1900, 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, 2016–17|
|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, 1999–2000, 2006–07|
|2000–01, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2012–13, 2015–16, 2017–18, 2018–19|
|1929–30, 1993–94, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1997–98, 2004–05|
|1946–47, 1948–49, 1949–50, 1988–89, 1998–99|
|1932–33, 1937–38, 2001–02, 2021–22|
|2013–14, 2014–15, 2019–20, 2020–21|
|1966–67, 1990–91, 1991–92|
|Inverurie Loco Works||
|Highland Light Infantry||