A LONG-SERVING Lowland League manager has called for B teams to be handed the chance to move up the pyramid system and bemoaned Scotland’s smaller clubs putting their own self-interest ahead of the greater good of the national game.

Ricky Waddell, the former defender cum midfielder who had stints at Falkirk, Partick Thistle, Hamilton, Ayr United, Airdrie and Clyde during a lengthy playing career, has been in charge of Caledonian Braves for the past eight years.

Waddell was - having worked extensively with youth teams, including at Hearts, Motherwell, Queen’s Park and Rangers, when he was starting out in coaching – firmly in favour of the Celtic, Hearts and Rangers second string sides being granted entry into the fifth tier division in 2021.

He believed that facing senior opposition on a weekly basis under the watchful eye of their own coaches would help the most exciting young prospects emerging from the Parkhead, Tynecastle and Ibrox academies to develop to a far greater degree than being farmed out on loan to a lower league outfit.

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However, the 42-year-old, who was opposed to a controversial SFA plan to form a Conference League comprising four B teams, four Lowland League teams and two Highland League teams, thinks our elite kids would benefit even further from taking part in more meaningful matches going forward.

Waddell has seen first hand how many major football nations across Europe have flourished at international level by allowing their colts sides to be both promoted and relegated and feels strongly that Scotland should follow their lead.

“When Caledonian Braves were asked if they wanted B teams involved in the Lowland League I thought: ‘This is a vote for Scottish football’,” he said.

“There was no reserve league, no games for our best youngsters to play. Having a bit of a youth development mindset, I knew players needed an opportunity to play. I felt that playing in a competitive league was a really good option for them.

“It has all got a little bit selfish and even elitist I suppose. I thought the Conference League, which I presume Celtic, Hearts and Rangers pushed forward, was a little bit much. They pushed it too far.

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“To have four B teams in a 10 team league was madness. It would never have worked. No manager would have wanted their side in it. It would have been boring. You could have finished fifth and won the league. The argument was that it would help youth development. But I think they need a far broader range of games.

“If you are going to allow colts teams or B teams into the Lowland League they should be able to get promoted and relegated. Now, that could be detrimental to Caley Braves. But you have to do the right thing for Scottish football. There has to be relegation and promotion up and down the leagues for these sides. That is where the problem lies at the moment.

“The B teams would find their level over a period of, say, five years. It would benefit younger players because there would be a proper pathway. It is what happens in Germany, Spain, France.

“I can remember visiting Nantes when I was doing my UEFA Pro-Licence. They are a decent-sized club in France and are very big on their youth set-up. Their B team had a squad of 23, played in the national leagues and was able to get both promoted and relegated.

“If the young players suddenly find themselves in a league that is too difficult for them and their team is battling for survival that is good for their development. They need that bit of hardship. It helps them. My preference is for greater ventilation up and down the leagues and more promotion opportunities for everybody.”

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Waddell added: “Having B teams in the Lowland League created a buzz at the start. The crowds went up, there was a real interest in it. But since then it has died a death. Allowing them to be promoted and relegated would make it more exciting for supporters as well.

“We played Rangers B at Dumbarton in their last game of the season. They were close to the top of the league. But it was a nothing game and there were about 50 people there. If they had the chance to win the league and promotion I am sure it would have been a sell-out.”

Waddell, though, is doubtful that B teams will ever be given the green light to rise further up the pyramid system because of the current SFA and SPFL voting structures.

He fears that clubs will not be willing to back a move which will make it more difficult for them to progress - even if the national team could ultimately benefit in years to come.

“For me, we have an obligation to do the right thing for the country,” he said. “But the current SFA and SPFL set-ups mean that positive changes are never going to get pushed through.

“Clubs are always going to vote out of self-interest even if it is to the detriment of the national game because they don’t want to put their club at a disadvantage going forward. But we should all want Scotland to have the best players and to do well.

“For me, the way decisions are made at the highest level needs to change. Small clubs hold a lot of sway because of the archaic voting structure. Until we get away from that then I don’t know if Scottish football can move forward as it should.”

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Those who are against having B teams in the Lowland League question how much our young hopefuls really gain from playing part-time rivals like Civil Service Strollers, Dalbeattie Star and Edinburgh University.

However, Waddell is convinced they do - and is adamant that giving them the chance to move up into League Two and above would help them even further. 

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“I worked with quite a few of the current Scotland players when they were younger,” he said. “Their rise has not been by accident. The youth systems at Celtic, Dundee United, Hearts, Hibs, Rangers are all very, very good.

“I have worked with Josh Doig, Billy Gilmour, Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson, Andy Robertson, David Turnbull and Lawrence Shankland. I don’t take any credit for their success, but I would like to think I played a wee part in their journey.

“But I always think of the ones who got away. There are a lot of phenomenal players who don’t make the grade. Sometimes it is down to bad luck, sometimes it is due to their mentality. But you do look back think: ‘How did he not make it?’

“I accept the argument that B teams are better than loans. When I was at Rangers there were boys who were out at, say, Annan or Clyde who just weren’t playing.

“If a manager is under pressure he is often reluctant to play an untested teenager, even one from a big club. Developing youngsters as a group within the walls of their club is more beneficial to them.

“It exposes them to a number of scenarios; different quality of pitches, playing through the winter, coming up against more physical opponents, good, solid, experienced ex-professionals, different styles. You have to be challenged in order to progress. They also come up against players their own age.

“What would be even more beneficial would be if winning and losing really mattered. At the moment, it doesn’t matter because they can’t get promoted or relegated, only the other teams can. They are playing for points which don’t mean anything.”

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