Blue Heaven - Back champs again after 11-year wait

Back celebrate winning their first Lewis and Harris league title in 11 years after their 2-2 draw in Carloway.
Back celebrate winning their first Lewis and Harris league title in 11 years after their 2-2 draw in Carloway.

Carloway 2

Back 2

‘GABH tlachd sa mhòmaid!’, (enjoy the moment) beamed one grinning supporter at Cnoc a’ Choilich as he applauded the triumphant Back players who were pumping their fists as they strode off the pitch.

Monday night’s game was a joyous occasion for the ecstatic supporter and for every other fan of the club, every player who has pulled on the blue shirt and for the whole district too.

The Lewis and Harris League title is back in Upper Coll for the first time in 11-years and only the second time since the 1970s. Back FC are league champs for the sixth time, a number which should be even higher when you consider they have been runners-up a staggering 15 times.

On Monday night the Broadbay Blues squared off against Carloway in a first verus second scrap where a point would be enough for Back to take the title whereas a win for the hosts would set up a grandstand final round of fixtures with the title race going to the wire.

It looked as if it was all going to script for Back who opened the scoring through veteran Kevin ‘Bloxy’ Murray – a survivor of their 2000 title winning side – on the hour before Martin Maclean doubled their lead eight minutes later.

Carloway, and their title dreams, looked dead and buried but nobody told their players that and they threw everything at the Back defence in the closing stages and were rewarded with two late goals, both scored by the head of Andrew Maciver.

It brought the Back support’s cheers down to a quiet murmur and signalled a roar of approval from their own fans, but it was too little too late and ref Robert Mackay’s whistle heralded scenes of great delight for the blues.

The smiles on the faces of the supporters were almost as big as those of the players with the ecstatic Gaelic-shouting fan at the Cnoc a’ Choilich especially thrilled to see their 11-year wait for title glory ended.

One of the most wonderful things about the match on Monday was neither side showed any signs of nerves about the magnitude of what was at stake and played faithful to their attacking instincts.

The first-half may have been goal less but it was far from incident free with both sides having chances to take the lead.

DJ Macdonald forced a save from Carloway keeper David Beaton – a Back native himself – while Inny ‘Red’ Campbell had the best chance with a free header right in front of goal but he left the woodwork wobbling with his effort.

For Carloway, Donnie Macphail got too much on his shot and skied it while centre-back Domhnall Mackay had a volley in the box charged down.

After the break Murray Macleod had a pop for the visitors which was blocked a yard off the line by Calum Tom Moody before Seumas Macleod – one of three siblings in the Carloway starting line-up – got across Jason Macleod well to stab a shot goalwards but it was scooped up by Iain ‘Tohan’ Macleod in the Back goal.

Then Back took the lead, in what was ironically Carloway’s best spell of the match at the time, when Chris Adams showed great awareness to turn a header back across the box instead of going for goal where Kevin ‘Bloxy’ Murray nodded into the net.

It was 2-0 within eight minutes when the exceptional Martin Maclean, or perhaps team mate Fraser Macleod, doubled his side’s lead to slap one hand firmly on the trophy.

Both players looked to be claiming it after Maclean charged upfield, rounded keeper Beaton and hooked the ball towards goal where it was net bound before Macleod connected almost on the goal line.

The important thing was Back were two-goals clear leaving Carloway needing three goals in the final twenty minutes – a task akin to climbing Everest in flip-flops but Carloway dug deep.

They began to take possession of the game and tried to win it, whereas Back sat back a little and Maciver was given the freedom of the Back box to stroll onto a Darren Mackinnon cross to head Carloway back into the match.

Calum Macleod came close to a leveller barely 60-seconds later with a powerful left-foot drive which was beaten down by ‘Tohan’ but Fraser Macleod should have sealed it for Back five minutes from the end.

The frontman was expertly played in by Maclean and with just Beaton between him and clinching the title he tried to be too cute and chip the keeper instead of putting his laces through it and the ball sailed over the top.

It looked like it could prove to be a miss which could come back to haunt him when Carloway sensationally grabbed an equaliser two minutes from the end asMaciver rose highest to send a header past ‘Tohan’ from a Seumas Macleod corner.

The equaliser sparked a nervy final few minutes for the travelling blues and fuelled Carloway hopes of a dramatic fightback but the visitors saw the final stages out expertly and could even have won it themselves when Andrew ‘Mowgli’ Macleod got into the box but couldn’t wrap it up.

Back are league champs and they have gone too long without basking in the glow of being league champs.

It is 11-years since they last scaled the island footballing mountain but boss Iain Maclennan has urged his players to ensure it won’t be another 11-years before they win it again.

The manager, who has led his side in a Highland Amateur Cup final, two cup wins and now a league success in the matter of four weeks, said: “It feels fantastic to be champions and the boys have put in a brilliant shift all season and I think we deserved it in the end.

“Over the league season we only lost once, when we were missing a few players, so to come here to Carloway and win it after the season they’ve had is a tremendous achievement.

“I’ve no nails or hair after those final few minutes though and we were hanging on a bit but at the same time we had a chance at the end to make it more comfortable but that’s the way it goes.”

He continued: “I think Carloway deserve huge credit for the season they’ve had too and they’ve pushed us all the way.

“I was part of the squad as a player when we won it in 2000 and there was a lot more burden on me this time as manager. It feels very different as there was so much more pressure but elation both times.

“I hope it won’t be 11-years till we win it again but I don’t think it will be. There are too many good players here for us to wait that long again.”

Carloway boss Kevin Anderson, although clearly gutted, offered warm congratulations to Back while heaping praise on his own side for enjoying their best EVER league campaign.

He said: “I went into the Back dressing room to congratulate them at the end and said to them ‘that’s twice you’ve beaten us this season’ and it was Ross (Hall – Back captain) who said ‘it was a draw, we didn’t beat you.’

“But it feels so much like a defeat just now. It is disappointing but we have to take some of the many positives we have. We have the most leagues points we’ve ever had, our best finish in the table, we’ve been challenging for the title in the second-last game of the season and we reached the semi-finals of the Highland Amateur Cup.

“It is a work in progress and we’re getting closer to silverware. It’s coming soon but just not quick enough.”

Tomorrow night (Friday) Back skipper Hall will be presented with the league trophy at Upper Coll where I’m sure the beaming fan, cheering in his native tongue on Monday would testify - Gabh tlachd sa mhòmaid!