Earlier this week, the Old Firm finally got their way. After years of veiled threats and vague schemes, they finally got what they have campaigned for for so long: colt teams in Scotland’s lower leagues.

There are a few rather weighty strings attached, of course. The biggest is that next season’s trial run will be a one-time-only deal, with the newly-formed clubs skipping off into the sunset at the end of next season. That alone seems unlikely and given the fact that colt teams only really work in a long-term sense, we can expect this issue to rear its head again in a year’s time.

They might not end up in the Lowland League again – member clubs would have to vote in favour of such a proposal – but the very existence of B teams sets a precedent for their inclusion again in the future, whether that be in Tier Five or within the SPFL structure. The second is that they had to make do with finding a home outwith the SPFL pyramid after unsuccessfully attempting to gain entry to League Two – instead, the Lowland League would have to suffice.

The backlash to the proposal has been as vociferous as it was immediate. For all the high-minded sentiments espoused about the tangible benefits that will accompany the introduction of B teams for Glasgow’s big two, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there are only two clubs in Scotland that will truly benefit: Celtic and Rangers.

That the scheme was drawn up and put to a vote by George Fraser, chairman of the Lowland League, is perfectly understandable. It’s his job to explore new avenues for the division, to consider innovations with an open mind. What’s less easy to comprehend, though, is why so many Lower League clubs waved it through.

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Of the 17 clubs in the division, 11 voted in favour of colt teams’ introduction. Five voted against the proposal, while one – Kelty Hearts, who might well seal promotion to League Two in the coming weeks – abstained. That decision will be ratified at the league’s next board meeting in a little over a week’s time.

But why did they do it? That’s the million-dollar question. Sure, Celtic and Rangers would have to contribute financially to form colt teams in the Lowland League, but they’re only stumping up £25,000 each. An extra £50k during these financially uncertain times can go a long way in Tier Five but it seems an awfully low price to sell your soul.

That might sound dramatic but make no bones about it: these clubs have sold themselves short. Fans of Lowland League clubs are vehemently opposed to the concept and there is no shortage of outrage to be found in such quarters. Of the 17 Lowland League clubs, only one consulted their supporters prior to Monday night’s vote – Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic. Ninety-five per cent of those who cast their ballots were opposed.

Such a result is demonstrative of the strength of feeling from supporters in Scottish football’s fifth tier. The explanation is simple, too: no one wants to see their team play competitive fixtures against reserves. It doesn’t sit well with fans, and nor should it. The Lowland League has a rich history, comprised of many clubs as old as time, and the thought of the division being used as a training pitch for Scottish football’s Next Big Thing naturally leaves supporters feeling uneasy.

The usual old arguments have been wheeled out, pointing out secondary and tertiary benefits that could, maybe, accompany colt teams: attendances will go up! The league will benefit from increased prestige! Just think of the sponsorship opportunities! The problem, though, is that these arguments are not based in reality.


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We know for a fact that the arguments around crowds and increased stature are fig leaves. Colt teams have been involved in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup for two seasons and sadly, it’s still treated with the same sort of reverence as a game of five-a-side down the local park. So we know the prestige argument is a non-starter. So too is the myth surrounding attendances – if anything, crowds go down when colt teams come to town, as evidenced by attendance figures from the very same competition. This is an indisputable fact.

As for sponsorship – you’re kidding yourself if you think Celtic and Rangers B teams will attract investors looking to splash their name all over the Lowland League. Given that the senior sides of the Old Firm already play in a league without a title sponsor – as every team in Scotland does, in fact – do you honestly think the fifth tier will be the first to draw in lucrative deals?

On top of that, there are serious concerns over what this means for the sporting integrity of the lower leagues. That phrase was bandied about left, right and centre last summer as clubs issued po-faced decree after po-faced decree, yet the concept has now apparently been abandoned altogether. There are over 100 clubs in Tiers Six and Seven that have been patiently working towards promotion, working away in the background to have all the appropriate licensing to feature in the Lowland League. How are they to feel, now that it’s clear that with a few quid in your bank balance and a big reputation, you can bypass the bottom two tiers of the pyramid?

Even putting that grievance to one side, there is then the issue that you now have two teams in the league who cannot be promoted or relegated. It wasn’t so long ago that the Super League was being pilloried from all corners of the game for representing sport without consequences, yet matches against B teams in the Lowland League next season are essentially little more than exhibitions.


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This is what it all boils down to, I suppose: colt teams don’t really benefit anyone apart from Celtic and Rangers. The plus points for the Old Firm are numerous – players get to feature alongside their academy team-mates, clubs exercise more control over their training regimens, individual development can be more tailored for the demands of one day playing first-team football in Glasgow – but for the others, it’s hard to see where the advances lie.

Scottish football’s biggest problem is the concentration of resources at Celtic and Rangers leading to a seemingly unimpeachable duopoly at the summit of our game. Of all the new concepts to be floated around or pilot schemes proposed, why would we opt for one that only entrenches that position? Without wanting to get too political for a football column, it’s like giving a tax cut to the one per cent. If Scottish football wants to improve, we should be focusing on giving those at the bottom end of the pyramid a leg up. Colt teams only widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.