THE East of Scotland Football Association would welcome Hearts and Hibs youth teams into their league next season. So far, only the Easter Road club have applied to enter,
although Hearts’ player
development manager Darren Murray has recommended that the Tynecastle side do likewise.
Both clubs would intend to use mostly youth players should they be granted entry. Hibs’ request will be discussed at the East of Scotland FA annual general meeting next Thursday, June 6, with time running out for Hearts to submit an application. “Hibs and Hearts are both members of our association,” said Andrew Waddell, vice-chairman of the East of Scotland Football League. “The decision on who gets membership of the league is made at our AGM, so the existing 26 clubs will have the final say.
“The last papers I got included an application from Hibs, although I’m not aware of one from Hearts. If Hearts want to do something, I think they need to get in touch with the secretary fairly quickly.”
Any new team would be required to start in the league’s bottom tier, the First Division, which currently contains Berwick Rangers’ reserve side. The presence of one of both of the Edinburgh clubs would heighten the East of Scotland League’s profile and help increase revenue.
“I think it would be a very good thing for everybody involved,” said Waddell. “Anything which increases the profile and status of the East of Scotland League would be good, and I think having Hearts and Hibs playing in there would be excellent from that point of view.”
Murray told the Evening News earlier this month that his own preference would be to play a young Hearts side in the East of Scotland League next season. “I’ve been thinking about entering a Hearts youth team in the East of Scotland League. I spoke about it months ago and I’ve consulted John Murray (Hearts’ director of football) about it, but I think it might be difficult. Whether they would accept it or not, I don’t know.”
They are certainly open to the idea. There is no restriction on which players can feature in the league, meaning Hearts and Hibs could give vital game time to first-team squad members who are out of favour or returning from injury.
“I can see the advantage for Hearts and Hibs because we are not an age-restricted league at all,” continued Waddell. “If they had one or two experienced players coming back from injury and needing match practice, they could play in our league. My understanding is it would be youth teams entering, but we have no rules that would debar any player from taking part in games. Berwick Rangers have done that with first-team players needing games.
“For teams like Selkirk and Hawick and Kelso, playing against Hearts and Hibs would be something that could help them attract different players. All the clubs I’ve spoken to so far have been very interested in this and think it would be a good move. I think it’s a good move for Hearts and Hibs and it’s certainly a good thing for us.
“It’s bound to increase interest. There would be more people attending games and clubs might find it easier to attract players, particularly the Borders clubs. They have to compete against a very vibrant amateur league down there and I know a lot of good players choose to play in the Border Amateur instead. Maybe if the opportunity of playing against Hearts or Hibs was there, the East of Scotland League would be more attractive.”
It would not be an entirely new phenomenon, though. In 1947, a Hibernian ‘B’ team entered the East of Scotland League, followed by Heart of Midlothian ‘B’ in 1949. Hearts opted out again in 1952 and Hibs followed suit a year later. Heart of Midlothian ‘A’ returned to the league in 1969 and Hibernian ‘A’ appeared in 1971. Hearts’ fifth-place finish in season 1975/76 remains the last time any of Edinburgh’s professional clubs were represented in the East of Scotland League.
Reserve sides from Dunfermline, East Fife, Raith Rovers, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South and even Arbroath have all taken part in the league in the past. Since 1987, it has comprised two divisions of a premier and a first. Even entering at the bottom tier would appear to have obvious benefits for all concerned.
“From my perspective, and assuming one or both of them get in, the only thing that can happen is everybody wins,” said Waddell.