Member clubs from Scottish football’s fifth tier, who had voted to re-admit only two B teams next season, are reportedly ready to respond to the Premiership trio’s all-or-none demands by turning them all away and with it a combined entry fee sum of £120,000.
The issue will be discussed at Monday’s annual general meeting, when clubs may move to vote on rejecting all three applications. Alternatively, they may wait for the vote on guest team applications which is scheduled to take place at the next meeting on Monday, 6 June.
When clubs initially rubber-stamped the re-admission of two B teams next season, they did so fully expecting that Celtic and Rangers colts would take up the slots again for a second season after both indicated their intention to continue. But Hearts threw a spanner in the works with a late application which now looks like it will result in all three being turned away.
The 16 member clubs rejected an expanded 19-team league after Hearts’ late intervention, voting instead to stick by their initial decision to admit only two guest sides.
That had raised the prospect of an awkward vote to reject one of the three applicants but, according to the Daily Mail, Celtic, Hearts and Rangers have since delivered all-or-none demands in a bid to force the issue.
Hearts applied for the Lowland League after talks on restarting a reserve league for next season had stalled. The Tynecastle club, like Celtic and Rangers, were hoping to find regular competitive fixtures for their young players to play in, with the gap between the current Club Academy Scotland under-18 league and the first team considered far too big.
Sending players out on loan is another option, but Hearts boss Robbie Neilson has previously explained that they would prefer to have full control over their own young players. One alternative sporting director Joe Savage may consider is arranging a schedule of friendlies with other clubs in Scotland and England, like Hibs are doing with their development team.
The Edinburgh Evening News understands that Hearts had intended to play Lowland League matches at Whitehill Welfare’s Ferguson Park in Rosewell, with Riccarton not meeting the criteria of being a licensed ground. But that arrangement won’t be needed if Hearts are not admitted.
Under last season’s initial one-year Lowland League experiment, both Celtic and Rangers paid £25,000 each as an entry fee and their colts teams were ineligible for promotion. They finished second and third on the same points total, but 14 behind runaway champions Bonnyrigg Rose.
The entry fee was set to increase to £40,000 and rules for the colts teams were expected to be tightened up for 2022/23, but the experiment now looks doomed to failure.
It will please some of the clubs in tier six who feel there should be more promotion places on offer into the Lowland League. Under current rules, there is only one promotion place available for the three tier six league champions below to contest.
Darvel or Tranent will replace relegated Vale of Leithen next season. The East and West of Scotland League tier six champions go head-to-head in a winner-takes-all play-off decider in Ayrshire on Saturday.
Cowdenbeath will also be in the Lowland League after being replaced in League 2 by Bonnyrigg in the pyramid play-off.