What they said about Celtic, Rangers, Hearts Aberdeen B teams and the Conference League

Proposals for a new ten-team Conference League to include Premiership B teams and begin in season 2024/25 have been controversial and have provoked a strong reaction.
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The proposal will go before Scottish FA member clubs for approval at the governing body’s AGM in June. It has been put forward by the pyramid working group, a committee of officials from various bodies tasked with improving the structure of Scottish football’s senior league structure.

The new league would be set up as a brand new organisation and inserted at tier five, below SPFL League Two and above the Lowland and Highland League. It would involve moving Celtic, Rangers and Hearts B teams up to the new league, with Aberdeen potentially joining them. The B teams would pay an annual fee to play in the league but would not be eligible for promotion of relegation initially. They would be joined by six or seven other clubs from the top of the Lowland and Highland League who would compete for promotion and relegation.

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The Lowland and Highland Leagues would both move down to tier six and all the leagues them in the pyramid below would also drop down a level. That has not gone down well with ambitious semi-pro clubs who have been investing in their facilities to gain an SFA license in a bid to climb the pyramid. Many of them feel they are being relegated without proper consultation.

Rangers and Celtic B teams hope to move up to a new Conference League in season 2023/24Rangers and Celtic B teams hope to move up to a new Conference League in season 2023/24
Rangers and Celtic B teams hope to move up to a new Conference League in season 2023/24

B teams have been in the Lowland League as ‘guest clubs’ paying a fee to take part for the past two seasons on a year-by-year basis, but Scottish football chiefs would like to allow them to play their way into the SPFL and up as far as League One. They believe a new Conference League will pave the way for SPFL clubs – a combination of reassurance and pressure – to allow B teams in over time.

Fundamentally, they believe B teams playing in competitive semi-pro league football provide talented young players at the top Premiership clubs with a better opportunity than they do now to develop and become a first-team player and Scotland international. They have examined the existence of B teams in other European countries who have had success at international level and believe it can work in Scotland too. This is what has been said...

Jon Mahoney, Linlithgow Rose president

“There is some really strange thinking going on in Scottish football just now. I get that there needs to be a B team solution, but they really need to think harder about it. Ripping up the entire pyramid to shoehorn B teams in somewhere isn’t good for the entirety of Scottish football.

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“I get why they are doing it, because there is a blockage at the top, but everyone adopts the worst practice, then that blocks the whole of Scottish football.”

David Martindale, Livingston manager

“I think we need to be very careful about elitism in this game. So if you’ve got money you can play in the Conference League? First and foremost for me, that’s wrong. I think it’s to the detriment of the teams currently in tiers five and below just now. It seems unfair.

“I understand the rationale behind it and I’d love a B team playing senior men’s football but I’d put them in the lowest division in the East of Scotland and they can work their way up.”

Kennie Scott, Musselburgh Athletic secretary

“We at Musselburgh Athletic stand against this action with all the clubs and league bodies that work very hard to trey to be the best they can and go as far as they can.

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“There has been vasts sums of money spent by all of these clubs combined to get licensed and improve their facilities for football and their communities. Progress should be encouraged and not restrained. The SFA pyramid needs a revamp, but not with the current proposal.”

Steve Kean, Hibs academy director

“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.

“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.

“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.

Steven Naismith, Hearts manager

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Speaking in December 2022 when he was Hearts B team manager: “It is definitely the way forward for Scottish clubs and young players to give themselves a better chance of going on to have a career.

“The reserve system isn’t what it used to be when I was a kid coming through. Half the players you’d be up against were from first teams, which gets you that experience and nous. That’s gone now. First-team players very rarely play in reserve games. So we need to try and use another avenue to stimulate the young players so they can learn the game. A competitive league is the best way to do it.”

Tam McManus, former Hibs striker

“When the idea of having B teams in the Lowland League I was initially positive about it but no longer. It isn't working and needs to be brought to a halt. It's been in operation for a couple of years and the big thing which changed my mind is the failure of any club to bring kids into their first teams.”

Thomas Brown, Lowland League chairman

“It was clear that the Conference League was coming – whether the tier five or six teams wanted it or not. This was part of the pyramid review carried out by the SFA. There were three options. The only option that would get support from the SPFL was option three, which was the conference.

“What we’ve been told is it was SPFL League Two clubs who want this put in for next season. Not the SPFL as a whole, but the League Two clubs.”

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