the tanner ba'

Did Scottish Football Just Move Forward?!

July 28 can't come soon enough...

July 28 can’t come soon enough…

Yesterday the Scottish Football Association unanimously approved the formation of a new Lowland League as a counterpart to the long-standing Highland League and as a step toward the goal of there being a true “pyramid” in Scottish football for the first time.

It is worth noting that a large part of the inspiration for this move was the success of Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. and…wait for it…Ross County F.C., both of who worked their way up from the Highland League to the Scottish Premier League in relatively short order.*  S.F.A. president Campbell Ogilvie had this to say about the vote:

“The members clearly share our view that we need to create opportunities for those clubs currently outwith the senior set-up to aspire to emulate the success of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County on a meritocracy,” he said.

The league could begin as early as this coming season and could include as many as 16 teams from the South of Scotland, East of Scotland and Scottish Junior leagues.  This first season would be a “dry run” with no team being promoted, but if it is successful the winner of the 2014-2015 season would compete against the Highland League champions for promotion to Scotland’s lowest senior division (currently the “Third Division”).

Today the Scottish Football League clubs voted 23-6  in favor of league reconstruction, creating of a new “Scottish Professional Football League” which will begin play in just two months and that will allow the Lowland League idea to move forward.

(This is where I could launch into into a lengthy “I told you so” rant about how this vote totally vindicates the “no” votes cast by Ross County chairman Roy McGregor and St. Mirren chairman Stewart Gilmour to kill the “12-18-18” plan a few weeks ago, but I won’t!)

The new SPFL set-up will have a  12-10-10-10 structure, a single governing body, a more equitable distribution of revenue, playoffs will take place between the 11th placed team in the top flight and the second, third and fourth places in the second tier, creating a second promotion place in addition to the one-up, one-down automatic promotion.

As I’ve said numerous times and in numerous ways, while a true pyramid system will not cure all of Scottish football’s ills it will go a long way in that direction.  It will shake the lowest level senior sides out of the lethargy that has beset them due to the knowledge that it’s almost impossible to be voted out of league football under the current set-up.  Additionally, it will give clubs on the junior and regional levels something to aspire to, or if you prefer, a reward for “doing it right” on and off the field.  Most importantly, however, it will remove at least one layer of political “shenanigans” from Scottish football.  Specifically that clubs will be promoted and relegated from league football based on merit/performance, not on the basis of the owners personal connections (or lack thereof), geographic location, fear of competition, or other, more mysterious reasoning never made public.

All of which leads us to the most interesting question raised by this potential change:  what 16 clubs will make up the the new Lowland League.  Once can expect that with two leagues (South of Scotland and East of Scotland) and one entire level (Junior Football) from which to draw, the quality and competitiveness of this league could be high right from the very beginning.  Remember that in Scotland “junior football” does not refer to an age group or the quality of the league, rather, it can be thought of as the equivalent of “non-league” football in England.  So, here is my guess as to the 16 clubs.

  1. Auchinleck Talbot F.C. (SJFA)
  2. Banks O’ Dee F.C. (SJFA)
  3. Bo’ness United F.C. (SJFA)
  4. Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic F.C. (SJFA)
  5. Clydebank F.C. (SJFA)
  6. Culter F.C. (SJFA)
  7. Dalbeatie Star F.C. (South of Scotland)
  8. Grenta 2008 F.C. (East of Scotland)
  9. Irvine Meadow XI F.C. (SJFA)
  10. Linlithgow Rose F.C. (SJFA)
  11. Pollock F.C. (SJFA)
  12. St. Cuthbert Wanderers F.C. (South of Scotland)
  13. Spartans F.C. (East of Scotland)
  14. Stirling University F.C. (East of Scotland)
  15. Threave Rovers F.C. (South of Scotland)
  16. Whitehill Welfare F.C. (East of Scotland)

All of these clubs have been regularly successful over the last decade and many have been among the best non-league clubs in Scotland over the last century.  It is also worth noting that in practical terms some of these clubs- take Auchinleck Talbot as an example- already have nicer parks and draw bigger crowds than some clubs in the Second and Third Divisions.  This distribution also reflects the relative strengths of the leagues over the past decade or so with the SJFA clubs generally considered to be the best and the South of Scotland League clubs the worst.

After talking about changes like this for, literally, years, I’m almost a bit unsettled by how quickly all of this has happened- but it has happened.

And there was much rejoicing.

*I would be remiss if I did not point out that Inverness Caledonian Thistle are actual a merger of two Highland League sides- Caledonian F.C. and Inverness Thistle F.C.- unlike County who did not need to make such…changes…in order to succeed in the big time!

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2 comments on “Did Scottish Football Just Move Forward?!

  1. DNC
    June 12, 2013

    About time! It’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Scotland to implement a real pyramids system. I think that’s a good list of potential Lowland League members, but as far as I know, Preston Athletic (along with Spartans and Threave Rovers) is a full member of the SFA so I think they would be asked to join. It would be exciting to see a third Edinburgh team (Spartans) for the first time since Meadowbank Thistle left.

    One thing I’m a little confused about though: So the winner of the HFL and LFL play to see who gets promoted. Let’s say Cove Rangers beat Whitehill Welfare. Cove plays bottom club in the 3rd Div (E. Stirlingshire, probably). Cove wins and gets promoted. Where does E. Stirlingshire go? There’s a vacancy in the HFL but they aren’t a highland club. Hmm. Am I missing something?

    Otherwise this is great news. Oh, and ‘Mon the Staggies!

  2. weefuse
    June 12, 2013

    First off, yes, it’s about time!

    Second, I’m sure there will be more to the selection of the 16 Lowland League clubs than simply recent success (my only real criteria for my selections), like SFA standing, facilities, financial health, etc.. I also wondered what would happen to the university-based clubs? Will they just join Queen’s Park as amateur sides playing league football? I have no problem with that, just wondering…

    Third, I don’t think the geographical location of the relegated club will ultimately make much difference. During my research for this post I came across any number of clubs that have played in the South and East of Scotland at different times, clubs that have gone into junior football when they’ve been rejected by the Highland League, etc., so there’s always been some fluidity below the Third Division and I think that more will be required in the early years of this set up. I think ultimately that we may see the demise (or at least radical change) of junior football. At the very least I can see the top half of it becoming the second tier of the Highland/Lowland League making the whole pyramid a bit easier to manage.

    Overall, I think there are still a lot of questions to be asked and a lot of tinkering to be done for the next five or so years, but I’m thrilled that the suit and tie crowd finally had the courage to accept that there are some unknowns, but not prevent them from moving the game forward.

    As I suggested in the post, I think, as time passes, Roy McGregor (and to a slightly lesser extent, Stewart Gilmour) is going to come out of this looking like a genius/savior- as well he should!

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