Why Hibs have chosen not to go down B team route amid Scottish Conference League plans

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Hibs academy director Steve Kean has explained why the Easter Road side opted not to go down the B team route, as a newly-created Scottish Conference League is set to get the green light at a meeting of Scottish FA member clubs.

The new division will sit above the Lowland and Highland Leagues – which currently make up tier five in the pyramid – and will likely comprise six clubs from those two leagues as well as B teams from Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts, and Rangers, who are said to be paying £100,000 each to participate. The new league will take effect from the start of the 2024/25 season and will be separate to the SPFL if it receives approval from Scottish FA member clubs.

Hibs have been consistent in their opposition to the B team model, although along with Hearts they fielded a second-string team in the East of Scotland League in the 1940s and 1950s and again, briefly, in the early 2010s, but the academy chief has outlined why they didn’t seek to explore it a third time.

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"The main reason was that, if you’re playing in the Lowland League – which is a good level, and the Old Firm and Hearts have decided to go with that – then those games are predominantly at the same time as first-team games,” Kean told the Youth Football podcast.

Steve Kean, left, and Gareth Evans look after the Hibs reserve and under-18 teamsSteve Kean, left, and Gareth Evans look after the Hibs reserve and under-18 teams
Steve Kean, left, and Gareth Evans look after the Hibs reserve and under-18 teams

"The model we’ve gone with, of playing Reserve League or development games on a Tuesday, means that if we don’t loan them out then they can still be on the bench for the first team on a Saturday – as Josh O’Connor, Murray Johnson, and Oscar MacIntyre have been. If we had a B team in the Lowland League they would be playing at the same time as the first team are kicking off so they couldn’t do both. We felt they could do a bit of both and that’s been proven to be the case.

“We’ve also got a few friendlies left against English clubs including Middlesbrough and Newcastle. We want to get that cross-border hybrid model that helps the development of our players, so I’m really happy with the way things are going.”

Hibs have sent a number of young talents out on loan – Jacob Blaney, Robbie Hamilton, Murray Johnson, Josh McCulloch, and Kanayo Megwa have all got gametime in League One or League Two – and while that model isn’t perfect, club chiefs believe the hybrid arrangement of training and games with a loan club as well as featuring for the Easter Road side’s reserves can have just as much of an impact as running a B team in the Lowland League or elsewhere.

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"The loan arrangements are great if they play but we can never guarantee that they are going to play. We hope they’re going to play when they go out on loan,” Kean explained. “Kanayo’s gone on loan to Kelty and has played consistently but some of the other lads haven’t had as many minutes as we may have hoped. Robbie Hamilton maybe hasn’t played as much as we thought, simply because Stirling Albion are on an unbeaten run and it’s probably hard to force his way into the team but they’re getting that taste of men’s football while some of them are still playing in the Reserve League on a Tuesday.

The Hibs under-19s side that performed admirably in the UEFA Youth League this seasonThe Hibs under-19s side that performed admirably in the UEFA Youth League this season
The Hibs under-19s side that performed admirably in the UEFA Youth League this season

"And that’s the beauty of having the hybrid, where they can drop into the Tuesday team and play in a development capacity so they still get the minutes and they still train here. It works for us, it works for them, and gives them a taste of men’s football at that club. Having said that, some of the games we’ve played in the Reserve League have been against virtually a full first team – David Martindale did that when we played Livingston; he brought his entire first team and the squad had more than 1250 first-team appearances between them, so you can’t get any more of a taste of men’s football than playing against Livingston’s first team. So in the Reserve League you might be playing a team that lines up their subs from the Saturday along with some younger players. It gives the feeling that it isn’t a youth game, when there are boys playing for a place on the Saturday, or getting fitness up again after an injury so overall it’s been really good for us and we’re hopeful of continuing it next year.”

Kean also explained how excited he is by some of the talents who are getting more and more minutes for the under-18 team this year, despite their relatively tender years in comparison to last year’s group.

"I said to our late owner Ron Gordon that I was very impressed with the standard of player inside the academy when I first came to Hibs so that’s credit to everybody who worked long and hard before me. As they get a little bit older and they start to come through people see them and they start getting a name for themselves. Last year we won the under-18s league and then had the UEFA Youth League games against Molde, Nantes, and Dortmund but those lads had been together a long time, they know each other, they are predominantly a group of 2004s, with Ethan Laidlaw a 2005 and a sprinkling of players from 2006 so we actually had quite a young group competing in that tournament.

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"But we’ve now got a really strong crop of 2006s, who haven’t really been anywhere near the first team yet – players like Rudi Molotnikov, Reuben McAllister, Jacob MacIntyre, and Owen Hastie who are all in and around the Scotland set-up which gives you an idea of where they are, and then there’s players like Harry Wright and Alfie Smith and a lot of good even younger ones who are yet to be seen.”

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