WHITEHILL WELFARE manager Mike Lawson is hoping to finally give the district of Midlothian a presence in the upper echelons of Scottish football.
The Rosewell club were this week admitted to the newly-formed Lowland League, which, from the 2014/15 season onwards, will provide a pathway, via play-offs, into the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).
For Lawson, a seasoned campaigner in the East of Scotland set-up, the recent developments represent a monumental breakthrough. He now expects the 12 ambitious clubs who got the nod of approval to compete in the inaugural season of the Lowland League to prosper in their new environment.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said of the implementation of both the Lowland League and the pyramid system. “I’ve been involved for over 20 years with the East of Scotland and I’ve pushed for the East and the South to merge long before now, even without the possibility of a pyramid. I won the league a dozen times [with Whitehill and Spartans], but there was never anywhere to go. That shouldn’t be the way it is. It’s been a real annoyance for everyone in the East of Scotland, so we’re delighted with recent developments. It’s been on the cards for a while, but we thought it might be another season before it actually came in. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Going into the Lowland League will ensure several long-distance treks to the south of Scotland, which could have an impact on clubs’ running costs. Lawson, however, is confident that the new set-up can generate enough additional income to ensure travel costs are not an issue.
“Travel won’t be anything new for us this year because I think we were the unluckiest team in the country in terms of getting drawn away to teams in the south of Scotland in cups,” said Lawson. “There is going to be a bit more expense going into this league, but I would hope that the league itself could attract better sponsorship and that we’ll attract more interest from the general public and more people to the games.
“Now that the Lowland has been formed and there’s going to be a pyramid system, we should get a bit more publicity because, in the East Seniors, we felt we were kind of swallowed up by all the big Junior clubs in the central belt.”
Whitehill would certainly emerge from the shadows of the likes of Linlithgow and Bonnyrigg if they were to find their way into the SPFL in the next few years. By Lawson’s own admission, such a scenario will take some amount of effort on and off the pitch. The club are hopeful of being granted their Level 1 Licence by the start of August. This involves them adding a few new shower heads, a perimeter fence and a medical room and will take the club up to the required standard for the Lowland League.
Like all of the 12 clubs in the Lowland League, Welfare would then require further work to get up to scratch for entry to the SPFL. As the only senior football club in Midlothian, the club would be hopeful of receiving support from the local council if they found themselves jostling for a place in the country’s top divisions.
“In the 90s when we went to plead our case to get in the league – I think it was when Clydebank went bust – Midlothian Council put forward a document for us, saying that they would help us build a stand and things like that. I would hope that if we were to get anywhere near the SPFL, the council would be willing to back us again. The club would certainly be pushing for that because we’re the only senior team in Midlothian that are a full member of the SFA. We’d love to play our way into the SPL, but I’m not sure we’re strong enough on or off the park just yet to do that.”
As someone who wants to see all clubs in Scotland operating under the one body, the only disappointment for Lawson regarding recent developments is that no Junior teams applied to be part of the Lowland League.
“They opened up the Scottish Cup to Junior clubs to try and get everybody to integrate, so it’s sad that they don’t want to be part of the new set-up. We’re barely a mile away from Bonnyrigg, but we’ve never played a competitive game against them, which is ridiculous. When I was at Spartans, we played Linlithgow around the time of our 50th anniversary and we had never played a competitive game against them at that point even though they’re only about 15 miles apart. It’s crazy.
“The Junior teams are all well supported, but teams in the Seniors are making a real effort to spend money on ground improvements and not just on trying to sign players. That’s the way forward.”
After more than two decades in the East Senior ranks, Lawson added: “I’m a bit sad to be leaving the East of Scotland, but I’ll always think of Whitehill as an East of Scotland club because I think we’ll still be affiliated to that association.