Lowdown on Lowland League

Whitehill Welfare celebrate winning the  SFA South Region Challenge Cup
Whitehill Welfare celebrate winning the SFA South Region Challenge Cup
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The inaugural Lowland League represents a new era for Scottish football, a fresh and invigorating challenge that has been welcomed by the vast majority.

The new concept, founded after a unanimous vote by members of the Scottish FA in June, has created a 12-team division with clubs from the East and South of Scotland Leagues, in addition to representation from previous Junior set-ups, all ready to commence battle ahead of Saturday’s opening round of fixtures.

With the intention to accommodate a pyramid system from season 2014-15 that will enable both promotion and relegation to and from the Scottish senior leagues, a format that has been long overdue, does this new model finally have the scope to dissolve the negativity that has, ultimately, contributed to the much-publicised decline within the Scottish game?

Derek Waterson, club chairman of Whitehill Welfare for more than 30 years, admits the Ferguson Park outfit are ready to embrace the opportunity that has presented itself.

He said: “It’s very exciting as we’re just a village team. We really feel as if we’re punching above our weight to be quite honest, but we’re really looking forward as it’s another step up.

“We’ve been in the East of Scotland League for the last 20-odd years so it has given the club that impetus to get the park and everything about the club ready.

“The committee have worked incredibly hard to bring everything up to scratch so we hope it all pays off.”

Edinburgh City, like Whitehill, are in the process of acquiring a licence that will enable participation in future Scottish Cups, a process which rivals Spartans, Preston Athletic and Threave Rovers were not required to fulfil having automatically been offered entry into the new regime, as the trio were already fully licensed clubs of the Scottish FA.

“The licence has been the major aspect we have had to sort,” said James Lumsden, chairman of the Meadowbank-based club.

“If you don’t have your licence then the club will not keep its SFA membership, so that was one of the things you had to agree to before coming into the new league and that was that you would attain a licence.

“But the preparations have been fairly similar to the East of Scotland League, so a lot of the things have stayed the same. I suspect there has been more preparation carried out in the Lowland League itself as it’s starting from scratch.”

Spartans, on the other hand, have already come up against some tricky competiton in the form of SPFL Championship side, Queen of the South, in the Ramsdens Cup, a fixture in which they were comfortably defeated 4-0 in Dumfries.

However, further tests against Raith Rovers, Forfar Athletic and a Hibs Under-20 side have perhaps offered just a glimpse into the future of some of the prospective clubs visiting Ainslie Park.

Chairman Craig Graham said: “Our crowds have been up for pre-season, while the players have enjoyed playing at a faster pace and the fact that some of these are quite glamorous games for us to play in.

“This season, it will be great to go to grounds of a higher standard and the whole thing is really just that bit more professional.

“We have signed younger players and have very much got an eye on the next two or three seasons when the opportunity for promotion comes into play.”

For East Lothian side Preston Athletic, the wait to discover the identity of the 12 clubs to make their debuts in this season’s campaign, proved that little bit strenuous as chairman Andy Grant explained.

He said: “Preston, as a club, has been striving towards the Lowland League to start so we already had the club licence in place, and we’ve just had our audit for the first year as well, so we were well aware things were going to happen this season, if not the season after.

“There’s a huge buzz around the club, the committee, the players - and this is manager Davie’s (Bingham) first appointment and the fact that his second season is going to be in the Lowland League is just huge.

“It’s going to be tough but we can’t wait for Saturday.”