Spartans may have only just clinched the inaugural Lowland League championship title, but the club’s chairman Craig Graham has admitted that it may take them another three years to finally make it into Scottish football’s main league set-up.
Whitehill Welfare’s 2-0 win at the weekend over Vale of Leithen confirmed the inevitable, as Dougie Samuel side’s points total of 48 is now out of reach for Vale, who lie 15 points adrift with four games to play.
Ultimately, Spartans have achieved their chief objective in a set-up where the league’s credentials will be enhanced further from August with the inception of a new 16-team league championship, not to mention the lucrative rewards for next year’s league victors – the first opportunity to earn promotion to SPFL League 2 via a play-off against the winners of the Highland League.
However, despite their success this season, Graham insists earning that senior league club status may take longer than some are anticipating.
He said: “There was a disappointment last summer when we were trying to get the pyramid system through and it didn’t materialise then, so you can only focus on what you can do this season. To be honest, whoever wins the Lowland League next year will have their work cut out against the Highland League because they are at a slightly different level when it comes to resources.
“If we end up going up in three years then that will be great. You’ve got 20-odd league games to negotiate then a potential two play-off matches, so if we are being realistic, which you’ve got to be, then the next three years is certainly our aim.”
Spartans, who have two matches left in the league against Dalbeattie Star and Stirling University before they can properly celebrate their success, aren’t resting on their laurels despite winning the title. With the league guaranteed to be more competitive next season, Graham is braced for a sterner test as the Ainslie Park club look to recreate this season’s exploits.
“The Lowland League has encouraged us all to aim that bit higher and do that bit more,” he said. “It will be exactly the same next season, but with another couple of teams coming in, so we’ll all need to sit down together and see how we can improve further.
“We sat down at the start of the season and our number-one objective was to try and win the league, partly because of the novelty value and, secondly, with [qualification to] the Ramsdens Cup and the Scottish Cup [second round]. Obviously that brings a profile to the club, whether it is encouraging players to stay with the club or indeed come to the club, so it all helps.”
With the relegation of Hearts to the Championship, the prospect of Spartans drawing their ‘city rivals’ in the Ramsdens Cup isn’t by any means an unlikely outcome when the draw takes place in June.
Graham added: “You’d have Hearts in the draw so that would be a fantastic tie, but also Rangers and Dunfermline, so there are some great match-ups in there.”