In Scottish football, there seems to be a yearly event involving the change and restructuring of the pyramid system. This is in order to accommodate the ‘B’ teams/Colts/U21 teams of a handful of the bigger SPL teams.
Rightly, there is a concern about the lack of opportunities for young players to develop. By playing against a higher standard of opposition, it is hoped this will change.
The two key objectives that the Scottish Football Association are looking to achieve are as follows:
- to bridge the ‘development gap’ that exists for talented Scottish players between the ages of 17 and 21 and ensure their development progresses by providing opportunities for them to participate in competitive football at a vital stage in their development.
- to ensure that the pyramid delivers for the whole of the game, including an appropriate level of ventilation, whilst at the same time protecting relegated clubs from financial instability.
The hope was that last season’s restructuring of the Lowland League, which involved allowing the B teams of Rangers, Celtic and Hearts into the league, would help address this problem.
So, we are again at the point where the SFA needs to tinker with the league pyramid system.
According to the documents I have seen, there are three new proposals on the table. These are being discussed between the SFA and some member clubs involved in the proposed changes.
Below, I will highlight the three proposals being discussed, before putting forward my own, fourth option.
- ‘SPFL League 3’ – consisting of ten teams, including B teams, which would be able to be promoted up to (but not beyond) SPFL League 1. This option would also include greater promotion/relegation opportunities between the SPFL and the Lowland League & Highland League.
- ‘Expanded SPFL League 2’ – (up from ten to sixteen clubs), of which some of the six new entrants would be B teams, and some would be Lowland/Highland League clubs. This option would also allow B teams to float up to (but not beyond) SPFL League 1.
- A new ten-team ‘Conference League’ to sit between League 2 and the Lowland / Highland Leagues, to include a number of B teams, Lowland League clubs and Highland League clubs. This option would not allow for B teams to be promoted out of the new league (but would allow for promotion and relegation of non-B teams in the usual way).
Clearly, every party involved in these discussions is going to have very different wants, needs and worries. The likelihood of everyone being happy with the eventual change is slim.
For me, it seems nonsensical that a team potentially finishing fifth can be promoted as champions.
The system change that I propose gets away from that.
A Better Way?
I believe that a fourth option may be more favourable for the majority.
By no means do I claim this proposal to be infallible. This is merely a suggestion that can be discussed and worked upon as a viable solution.
Teams in the West and East of Scotland Leagues have proven they can compete with and even beat, SPFL teams. This indicates to me that such teams have been held back by a shoddy system that needs an upgrade.
Therefore, I would suggest the biggest change needed in Scottish football, is point number one in the following proposal.
- Automatic promotion and relegation for the top/bottom two teams in each tier of the pyramid.
- The formation of a new league (for the sake of this proposal, to be known as the ‘Colts League’.
- To be formed of teams from any SPFL team that wishes to join. Any team entering must be willing to contribute to making it financially viable. Either through direct contributions or through raising commercial donations.
- Increase the size of SPFL Leagues One and Two to eleven member teams.
- Each week in Leagues One and Two, there would be just five fixtures (like there is now) which would leave one team in each League with a ‘bye’ week.
- Bye weeks will be used to allow the free team to compete against B teams in the Colt League.
- The same scenario would be implemented in the Highland and Lowland League, with a bye week incorporated into the fixture lists. Again, allowing clubs to compete against B teams in the Colt League.
- Guest U21 clubs could in England and Europe could be invited to participate.
- In order to participate, guest clubs would have to agree to play all four Colt teams.
- We are now in a position where each week we have four Colt teams, one League One team, one League Two team and the required amount of Lowland and Highland League teams necessary to complete a fixture list. Bonus English and European U21 teams can be added as guests each season.
For argument’s sake, we will include in this fixture example, the following teams:
- Celtic B v Brechin City
- Rangers B v Berwick Rangers
- Hearts B v Queen of the South
- Aberdeen B v Stenhousemuir
Benefits of Change
This allows for all Colt team players to get competitive action against players at a higher standard than they currently play against, plus fixtures comparable to the ones they currently play against in the Lowland League.
This ‘Colt League’ would also operate as a separate entity from the rest of the SPFL. It is therefore free to bring in its own commercial activities and sponsorship to help fund the league. The separate entity design would also mean teams in the other leagues wouldn’t be being “pushed down the system” by Colts teams.
At the same time, we now have a system that allows for greater promotion opportunities for aspiring and ambitious clubs from the lower tiers.
Should more Colt teams wish to join the league, there are 54 teams currently available in the combined pool of Leagues One, Two, Highland League and Lowland League.
In my opinion, this achieves the SFA’s goal of ‘Bridging the development gap’. Also, the ‘pyramid delivers for the whole of the game’ (including teams who have previously been held back).
It is very unlikely that the SFA will let things carry on as they currently are and to be honest, I agree that developing young players can only be for the good of Scottish football. However, this shouldn’t be done to the detriment of club football and I believe this fourth proposal solves both issues.
If you agree with this as a preferred option, please share this post and get the idea out in the mainstream.
If you don’t agree, add your thoughts below. (Try to keep the discussion constructive, please).