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.
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!