PICK any one of football’s A-listers and it is a pretty fair bet they started off life in some B squad or other.

Lionel Messi had a campaign at Barcelona C, then a season at Barcelona B. Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t too big to slum it for a couple of games for Sporting Lisbon’s B team.

Andres Iniesta, two seasons and 54 appearances for Barcelona B. Xavi, two seasons and 55 appearances for Barcelona B. Sergio Ramos, 20-odd appearances for Seville’s B team. David Silva, two seasons at Valencia B.

Whether all of the above would have progressed so effortlessly into global greatness had they spent a season in Scottish League Two or even the Ladbrokes Championship is open to question, but this is the logic which underpins the call for ‘colt’ teams to be introduced into the Scottish game, the latest of which appeared to emerge in the pages of the BBC website yesterday.


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While there was some surprise in some quarters yesterday that the story emerged in the form it did, the nub of the matter was this. Apparently led by Championship clubs somewhat distressed about a campaign where no fewer than six clubs had to bear the risk of being relegated right up until the final week of the season, there had been a discussion on the competitions working group about the merits of expanding Scotland’s second tier to 12 teams. While that would mean second-tier teams having to play rather unwieldy 44-match campaigns, it would certainly mean more gate receipts for struggling full-time clubs.

So how would the maths work? Well, there are two alternatives. Well, either the league continued in the 12-12-18 format which was defeat by clubs back in 2013 or alternatively they shift to a 12-12-10-10 structure, which would require the promotion of two other clubs to the system.

While this could straightforwardly be done by promoting the winners of the Highland and Lowland Leagues, the idea of filling these additional, theoretical two spots with two ‘colt’ teams came up, not least because they could be snuck in there in a manner which would see them drain no prize money from the existing pot.

It should be pointed out here that Celtic and Rangers have been actively seeking inclusion for their under-20 sides in the SPFL for some time now. They made a joint proposal for a two-year pilot for their colt teams in League Two in early 2018 and if the mood music is anything to go by the summer of 2019 seems likely to see another go.


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There is certainly widespread dissatisfaction about the new SPFL reserve league, which seems set to go ahead with just ten teams next season after both halves of the Old Firm indicated their preference to arrange matches which guarantee them a consistently higher level of competition.

But one source consulted by the Herald yesterday compared the ‘colt teams’ idea to the Northern Irish backstop in its capacity for igniting the kind of inflexible hostility which generally makes it a non-starter no matter how many times the topic is raised.

Say what you like about the merits for producing players at the top end of the game, but League One and League Two outfits voted 19-1 in an informal vote against it the last time it was seriously mooted.

This is a problem - as the scheme would have to gain the assent of 75% of Premiership clubs, 75% of Championship clubs, AND 75% of League One and League Two sides if is to gain assent. Not only is the idea is hugely unpopular with their fans, it could deprive them of a valuable source of loan players. And all this is without asking other top flight clubs if they wouldn’t quite like to have a colt team of their own in the lower divisions too.

So let’s assume the colt teams, for now, is a non-starter. And even discussions about expanding the championship to 12 teams is at an embryonic stage, not least because the SFPL board’s two Championship representatives, Morton’s Warren Hawke and Falkirk’s Martin Ritchie, are moving on this summer.

No wonder an SPFL spokesman poured a healthy amount of cold water on the idea yesterday.


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“Whilst we regularly review our competition formats, there are currently no plans to change the format of the Ladbrokes Championship,” an SPFL spokesperson said. “We always want to ensure fans enjoy competitions that are dramatic, exciting and compelling – just as this season’s Ladbrokes Championship has been.”

That doesn’t mean that the idea of teams doing different things with their young players’ development has gone away, far from it in fact. The need for colt teams may be lessened by the fact that Celtic and Rangers are currently involved in discussions with clubs from Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavia over a pan-European youth league.

The fine detail of this proposal has yet to be worked out, but one of the questions for Scotland’s other clubs will be whether to waive vested interests to wave interested clubs on their way for the betterment of Scottish football as whole. But how many Scottish clubs would be involved, and would there be a mechanism for teams to win promotion?

The Irn Bru Cup, of course, might be an imperfect and bewildering competition but it is certainly a decent advertisement for the principle of colt teams. Allowing kids at top flight academies to get at least some game time against lower division pros, it has clearly aided development goals. The likes of David Turnbull, at Motherwell, and Jake Hastie, soon to be of Rangers, are just two young men who have thrived in this environment.

But ultimately Scottish football remains a mixture of vested interests, a melange of the haves and have nots, all fighting over their same bit of turf. The big guns might not get their way this time, but they will not put up with being stymied by Scotland’s small fry forever. The horse hasn’t quite bolted on the idea of ‘colt’ teams in Scottish football just yet.