As you may know this is the first season in, well, ever, that league football in Scotland has followed a true pyramid structure. Promotion and relegation remains unchanged within the league (Premiership, Championship, League One, and League Two), but added to that for the first time is the possibility of the last place club in League Two being relegated out of the league set-up and replaced by the winner of a Highland League – Lowland League playoff.
This change- called for by myself and many others over the years- finally brings a measure of integrity to Scottish football, particularly to what is now called “League Two.” In the past it was almost impossible for a club to drop out of this league (and “league” football overall) unless the club went belly up. Otherwise the club had to finish last for a number of years in a row, then it was put on “probation” (maybe…) for a few years, and then it’s status was reevaluated at the end of the probationary period. In practice this process was meaningless because as long as the club managed to not finish last during one of its probationary seasons, the “clock” was reset. This did not provide clubs in the lowest league much incentive to improve as you might imagine.
Entrance (rather than “promotion”) into the league system was equally shady and farcical. Non-league, clubs were invited to apply for the spot. These invitations rarely had anything to do with a club’s performance on the field and everything to do with the size and state of their stadiums, their finances, and probably more than anything else, whether the club chairman/board of directors was sufficiently well-connected enough with their counterparts already in the league. This is how Ross County F.C. gained admission to the league- they were by no means the dominant team in the Highland League- and how Caledonian F.C. and Inverness Thistle F.C. came to be combined into “Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C.”
Not much is definite yet, but with the Lowland League – Highland League playoffs beginning this weekend it seems like a good time for a “spot check” to see which clubs are flirting with relegation and which have promotion on their minds.
Highland League – Lowland League
This playoff series will feature Edinburgh City F.C., who left the rest of the Lowland League crying in their porridge this season, winning the league by 21 points, and Brora Rangers F.C., who did much the same in the Highland League, finishing the season undefeated, winning the league by 24 points, and who had a +121 goal differential. Under “normal” circumstances my money would be on two-time defending champions Brora to win this tie and to win it handily. However, as I recently pointed out, there are many at the club- on and off the field- who are taking part in this playoff with a degree of reluctance. Still, having said that, they’ll win it. There are just too many talented (played in the Premiership) and experienced players on the roster for Edinburgh City- one of the few Lowland League sides chosen from the weak East of Scotland League when it was formed- to overcome the gap.
Scottish League Two
Whichever club ultimately comes out on top between Brora and Edinburgh City will play Montrose F.C.. With two matches left in the season they are eight points adrift of second-bottom club Clyde F.C. and therefore the laws of mathematics say that they can only finish last. In this writer’s opinion they better hope that Edinburgh City somehow manage to get past Brora Rangers because I think Brora will bulldoze right through the Gable Endies. If this happens I fear what it might mean for the 136 year old club from Angus- I think they will have a hard time returning to league football and may potentially face an even worse fate.
Moving up to League One are champions Albion Rovers F.C. and second place Queens Park F.C.- the only amateur side in Scottish league football- have locked up their spot in the promotion playoffs, but after that it’s going to be a wild two weeks. With six points still to play for it is still mathematically possible for every club other than bottom side Montrose to reach the 47 point mark currently held- along with the last playoff spot- by East Fife F.C.. That won’t happen, of course, but it’s going to keep things very interesting right down to the final minutes of the season, and really, that’s all you can hope for in any league.
Scottish League One
At the bottom of League One Stirling Albion F.C. are dead and buried and have been for a long time- there are six points left to them and they are eleven points adrift of both Ayr United F.C. and Stenhousemuir F.C.. These two clubs are tied on 28 points and Stenny are only ahead by virtue of having a one goal edge in the differential competition, so these clubs not only need to earn points, they need to score goals too if they want to stay up. The goals will be there too, as both clubs have a match remaining against Stirling Albion.
At the top of the table it’s going to be just as exciting, if not more so! Fifth place Airdrieonians F.C. (52 points) can pip Brechin City (58 points) if they win both of their remaining matches and Brechin City lose theirs and, at least in theory, two wins by Brechin City could tie them for the league title. That’s unlikely to happen though because the top three clubs Stranraer F.C., Greenock Morton F.C., and Forfar Athletic F.C. are on 64, 63, and 63 points respectively. If that doesn’t make things tight enough, the goal differentials are, respectively, +21, +21, +18. Personally I’d like to see Forfar win the league. They have 42 year old Rab Douglas in goal- he of 19 Scotland caps, three Scottish Cups, three Premiership titles, and 23 seasons as a professional, 39 year old Darren Dods, also in his 23rd season as a professional, the wonderfully named Gavin Swankie, along with Iain Campbell and Stuart Malcolm- both former Ross County players.
There is still everything to play for at the bottom of the Scottish second tier. Livingston F.C. are in last place with 21 points, but they have a match in hand over both Alloa Athletic (24 points) and Cowdenbeath F.C. (25 points) and they have a better goal differential than both of those clubs, so nothing is really decided as to the automatic relegation spot or the relegation playoff spot. Dumbarton F.C. are eight points clear of Cowdenbeath, so there’s no chance that they will be dragged into the fray.
At the top of the league Heart of Midlothian F.C. are already champions and will likely win the league by 20+ points. As I’ve said often on this site, it’s no more than they deserve as it was off-field problems that caused them to be relegated at the end of last season, not the quality of their play- despite working under a transfer ban and essentially fielding a U23 squad on most match days. Below Hearts things tighten up. Rangers are in second place, but can still be caught and passed by third place Hibernian and fourth place Queen of the South F.C. could still be caught by Falkirk F.C. for the last of the playoff promotion spots.
And now we’ve reached the point in our program where I can’t even feign objectivity. Thankfully in the top tier there are still five matches to play, rather than two, and anything can happen. That being said, I think that, come the end of the season, things are going to remain unchanged. There may be a little movement between Patrick Thistle F.C., Kilmarnock F.C., and Ross County F.C., who are only separated by one point, but I think it is going to be St. Mirren and Motherwell that will finish in the last two places in the Premiership. Truth be told, that’s already happened to St. Mirren, who are relegated and given the current form of Ross County I can’t see Motherwell gaining the seven points they need to avoid the relegation playoffs, or even the six points and +7 in the goal differential column they would need just to pull even with Ross County. So, just to reiterate, WE’RE STAYING UP!!!
At the top of the table Celtic are going to be champions and play in the Champions League, but they are not going to win the “treble.” I don’t have the energy to explain the situation to you, but if you’d like to read up on it Google, “Celtic, Josh Meekings.” You could also search, “Hypocritical cry-babies” and get the same results. Also, they Scottish Football Association are clothing themselves in further embarrassment by their handling of the situation- but you probably assumed that. Aberdeen F.C. (second place) and Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. (third place) will represent Scotland in the Europa League unless Dundee United F.C. can get it’s act together (four losses in their last five matches) and catch ICTFC- which I’d enjoy immensely. If they lose to Falkirk F.C. in the Cup Final that’ll do just fine as well!
That’s where things stand at the moment.
GET IN, COUNTY!!