Scottish Daily Mail

Trouble ahead if Colts DO take the Low Road


IF an East Coast politician had promised to fight the entry of Celtic and Rangers Colts to the league set-up as part of their election campaign they’d have romped their way to a landslide.

Nothing raises the hackles of football fans in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh quite like the subject of Old Firm B teams. You’d find less anger on a blockade by French fishermen.

Scotland’s big two insist they want change for the good of the game. Fans of rival clubs suspect their real interests extend no further than themselves.

Glance at the Premiershi­p table and the Glasgow pair already have things their own way. And while B teams in next season’s Lowland League might help the national team down the line, the more obvious beneficiar­ies are Rangers and Celtic.

Scottish football is riven with self-interest. And the Lowland League is clearly no exception.

If their 17 member clubs vote to let Celtic and Rangers Colts in on Monday night, they will rake in £50k between them in entry fees. There’s the potential after that for more gate income, broadcast revenue and sponsorshi­p.

When cash is the carrot, it’s amazing how quickly concerns over the integrity of the pyramid structure melt like snow off a dyke.

Just the other week, the Lowland League called in lawyers when the SPFL threatened to block off promotion to League Two for their champions Kelty Hearts.

Now they’re about to pull precisely the same stunt on ambitious sides from the East and West of Scotland Leagues.

Civil Service Strollers have been first to point to double standards at play. In a game ravaged by the impact of Covid-19, however, club chairmen tend to sing from the same hymn sheet as Groucho Marx. They have their principles and if people don’t like them, then they have others.

There’s no question that the Colts plan has merit. Youth developmen­t in Scotland has been hamstrung for years by the same old issue. When promising players reach the age of 17, their path to first-team football is blocked and the collapse of the SPFL Reserve League last season left many with nowhere to play.

The Reserve League was a waste of time because Celtic, Rangers and other Premiershi­p teams felt they were learning nothing from skelping the likes of Morton and Queen of the South’s shadow sides 8-0 every week.

The big question is obvious. Will playing part-time firemen and joiners from the Lowland League

really be any better? Rangers sporting director Ross Wilson and academy head Craig Mulholland think it’s worth a go.

But the real litmus test will come when young players start racking up man-of-the-match awards against Gretna 2008 and Dalbeattie Star and Steven Gerrard or Eddie Howe have to decide if that merits a call-up to their European squad.

Best v best friendlies against the continenta­l elite will supplement games in the Lowland League and help with some tricky judgment calls.

But even before a ball is kicked in anger, Celtic and Rangers will be asked to nominate a squad of players in advance.

There and then, the 22 kids selected will be left in no doubt that it’s not their time for first-team action.

Most will know they wouldn’t have featured anyway. But for a Karamoko Dembele or a Kai Kennedy, it’s the hope they cling to.

Ideally, Rangers and Celtic would have entered their B teams in an extended League Two.

A proposal put forward by a PGB sub group headed up by Ibrox managing director Stewart Robertson was never formally put to the vote because lower-league chairmen didn’t like it.

A second plan for 12-12-10-10 then ran into strong headwinds when Aberdeen, Hibs, Dundee and Dundee United rebelled.

At the third time of asking, the Lowland League plan might finally have legs and, if a one-season pilot goes well, it might even become a permanent arrangemen­t.

If that happens, watch out for a rival to the cross-channel fishing wars.

Any attempt to secure future promotion to League Two by the back door for Celtic and Rangers Colts would trigger a huge backlash.

Premiershi­p teams would see no reason to extend a special privilege to rivals they already regard as arrogant and entitled.

Brechin City and Albion Rovers, meanwhile, would be turkeys voting for Christmas.

Strip it down and neither Rangers nor Celtic are angling to enter reserve teams in the fifth tier of Scottish football because it’s the perfect place to develop.

They’re doing it because it’s the only league that will have them.

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