The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and Dundee)
Challenge Cup revamp sees Welsh and Irish clubs invited
Teams from Northern Ireland and Wales will compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup after the Scottish Professional Football League announced a revamp of the competition.
The tournament will be expanded to 54 teams for the 2016-17 campaign, with two sides from each of the Welsh Premier League and the Northern Ireland Football League, as well as those in the under-20 Ladbrokes Premiership, being invited to take part.
The format sees the 30 teams from the Ladbrokes Championship, League One and League Two joined by a representative from both the Highland and Lowland Leagues.
The part-time leagues will each contribute four sides, who will join the first round in August with the top flight under-20 teams and eight teams from the SPFL’s bottom tier.
The rest of League Two and League One will enter in the second round, with the Championship teams joining in for September’s third round and the Northern Irish and Welsh clubs being added in round four.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “We are also very pleased to be supported by Uefa in delivering an element of cross-border competition through the invitation to our colleagues in Northern Ireland and Wales which brings a completely new dimension to the Challenge Cup and the levels of excitement and interest in it.”
Doncaster went on: “The introduction of Ladbrokes Premiership under-20 teams will give young players a taste of competitive football at senior level, while extending the number of Highland and Lowland League clubs taking part further strengthens the pyramid system and their place within Scottish professional football.”
Former winners Raith Rovers welcomed the changes.
A statement from the Stark’s Park club, who lifted the trophy by beating Rangers, read: “We welcome today’s announcement of the groundbreaking changes to the Challenge Cup format for next season.
“As previous winners of this competition in 2014, we have a strong interest in its continuing success and so we greatly appreciate the work done by the SPFL competitions working group and board to give the tournament a fresh lease of life.
“Supporters often bemoan the ‘boredom’ associated with playing the same teams so often. This change will help address that.
“Raith Rovers FC looks forward to competing in (and perhaps even winning!) this invigorated competition.”
The SPFL also announced broadcasters Premier Sports and S4C will join BBC Alba in screening the competition.