Lowland League clubs 'forced' to vote for Celtic, Rangers and Hearts B teams
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Scottish football’s fifth tier last night voted 10-5 in favour of Premiership B sides Celtic, Rangers and Hearts playing as guest teams for the third year in a row next season. Sources have suggested that member clubs were warned that a new eight-team nationwide Conference League would have been introduced next season – a year earlier than initially planned – if they had voted against.
Although the B teams have been playing in the Lowland League as guest clubs under a season-by-season arrangement, voting against would have left the Old Firm and Hearts development sides without a league to play in next season.
The Evening News has learned that back-up plans were being formulated to fast-track the introduction of the new fifth tier Conference League next season to include Celtic, Rangers and Hearts B teams along with two Highland League and three Lowland League clubs. Some Lowland clubs feared invitations being extended to ambitious East and West of Scotland League clubs to leapfrog them and jump the pyramid queue. One club source said they had effectively “been left with no choice” but to accept the B teams again.
A Caledonian Braves statement before the vote took place read: “If rejected, it has been indicated that there is a possibility that the Conference League may be brought forward, with a combination of B Teams and invited guest clubs.”
East Stirlingshire said in a statement that the new Conference League is being “forced upon us” but confirmed that they had voted against B teams remaining in the Lowland League.
Shire’s statement read: “We as a club believe the proposed inclusion of B teams and the subsequent birth of a conference league, which we feel is being forced upon us, is not in the best interest of Scottish football and only highlights and benefits the might of the big clubs at the expense of the smaller club. What Scottish football requires is a properly constructed and ventilated pyramid structure that allows all clubs to find their competitive level.”
In a bid to move Premiership B teams further up the leagues, Scottish football’s pyramid working group committee has already put forward a plan for the new Conference League to start in 2024/25. It would sit under SPFL League Two and above the Lowland and Highland League at tier five. The proposal currently under consideration is for it to be a ten-team division including Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Aberdeen B teams along with six other clubs from the Highland and Lowland League. Approval would be required from the Scottish FA and SPFL.
The addition of B teams to the Lowland League in each of the past two seasons has been widely criticised by fans, but Scottish FA research suggests they enhance and promote elite player development to benefit national teams in comparable European countries.
SFA and SPFL chiefs would like to open up promotion and relegation to enable B teams to move up as far as SPFL League One, however the majority of semi-pro clubs in League One and Two do not want B teams in the SPFL and would vote against any such move.
Ambitious clubs in the East of Scotland and West of Scotland League, currently at tier six, have already expressed opposition to the new Conference League being wedged in above them. Some have suggested they have not been properly consulted and others want more promotion places into the Lowland League itself.
The Scottish FA and SPFL were contacted for comment.