The likes of Colin Cameron, Barry Ferguson, Barry Wilson and Darren Young will be looking to build a reputation in the lower leagues, writes Anthony Brown
Of THE ten teams who will kick off their League Two campaign this Saturday, only Annan, last season’s runners-up, will do so under the same manager they had at the beginning of the last campaign.
In the intervening period, there has been no shortage of intriguing appointments among the other nine clubs. Barry Ferguson, the former Scotland and Rangers captain, will be the most notable figure to be found in a fourth-tier dugout after arriving from Blackpool to take up a player/manager role at Clyde. He may be the big fish in the division, but he will lock horns with plenty prominent members of the Scottish football scene from the last 15 years, including former Scotland colleagues Colin Cameron and Gary Naysmith, the player/managers at Berwick Rangers and East Fife respectively.
Darren Young, the 35-year-old ex-Aberdeen and Dunfermline player, has just landed a player/manager role at Albion Rovers, while Barry Wilson, the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle stalwart, will be getting his teeth into the Elgin City gig which he took on at the tail end of last season.
As well as those young bucks, the presence of slightly older heads such as Allan Moore, 49, and Gus MacPherson, 45, seeking to rebuild their stalled careers at Arbroath and Queen’s Park respectively, means there will be plenty curious observers scanning the League Two results of a Saturday evening to find out how these well-known faces are faring in an environment notably less salubrious than they were used to in their playing days.
“Hopefully, it generates that bit of extra publicity having a few higher-profile former players managing in the division,” said Cameron, pictured. “There’s no getting away from the fact that there’s going to be a lot of coverage of the Championship this season for obvious reasons, but at the same time, I think there’ll be a fair bit of interest in our division because of the amount of well-known names managing.”
It will be the four player/managers – Cameron, Ferguson, Naysmith and Smith – who are likely to attract the most attention, given their stock as players. “A lot of clubs seem to be going down the road of getting in a young, keen manager looking to get on in the game,” noted Cameron. “The clubs also get the experience of what we’ve achieved in our playing careers. I’ve played with and against the other three player/managers and it’s easy to see why they’re in management.
“They’re all the type of characters that will do well, given time. We all did well as players because we demanded certain standards of ourselves and our team-mates, and I’ve no doubt the other boys will take that into how they manage their teams. It’s interesting times in this division – there’ll certainly be a few tasty wee battles.”
As well as benefiting from having so many managers of relatively high stature, the league’s competitiveness is set to be enhanced by the long-awaited arrival of a pyramid system, which means that the team that finishes bottom will have to enter a play-off against either the Lowland or Highland League champions to preserve their SPFL status.
“Nobody will want to be dropping out of the league, so there’ll be teams fighting and scrapping right up to the end of the season,” said Cameron. “With the players I’ve got at my disposal, the relegation play-off is not in my thinking personally. But it’ll be in the club’s thinking and every other club will be the same, wary of getting involved.”
Last season, it would have been Queen’s Park facing the play-off, but Cameron has warned the rest of the league that they can’t rely on the Spiders being cast adrift again this term under MacPherson’s charge. “Gus has brought in a lot of new players and we were fortunate to beat them in the Petrofac Cup last week,” said the Berwick manager. “They’ve improved a lot.”
If the bookies’ odds are used as a guage, East Fife, Arbroath, Annan, Berwick, Clyde and Albions Rovers will battle it out for the title and the play-off places, while Montrose, Elgin, East Stirlingshire and Queen’s Park will be left scrapping to avoid bottom spot.
Cameron is bullish about Berwick’s chances but realistic enough to note that there are several dangers lurking in what looks like being a dog-eat-dog division.
“I’ve got aspirations of winning the league,” declared Cameron, “but I think there are a lot of clubs in this division who will have aspirations of winning the league. It’s going to be a very tight league; I don’t think any team will run away with it like Peterhead did last season. The play-offs are probably the minimum aim for at least two-thirds of this league and I think that shows how tight it will be.”