Despite an agreement being reached to extend the one-year pilot project that saw both halves of the Old Firm field teams in the fifth tier of Scottish football last season, the three Premiership side’s B teams face being denied entry to next season’s competition with members reluctant to alter the league format to accommodate all of the new applicants.
Two teams have again been permitted to join the 2022-23 league on the same basis of 2021-22 with an increased entry fee of £40,000 plus the existing no-promotion clause but, according to a Daily Mail report, the three cinch Premiership clubs have combined to issue an all-or-nothing ultimatum that insists the trio be admitted together and the league expanded – or none enter at all and numbers return to 16.
Lowland League clubs have already voted 13 to three against a further expansion of their numbers, leaving the colts’ extension plan hanging in doubt ahead of crucial discussions over the coming weeks.
A vote will be held on June 6 over which guest clubs will be admitted to the two available slots, but talks at the SLFL annual meeting on Monday are expected to discuss the latest issue with the plan – a divisive one itself 12 months ago when opinion was split among clubs before Rangers and Celtic’s eventual admission – with Hearts and the added ultimatum the latest twist in the tale.
When Lowland League clubs agreed to re-admit two guest teams by a vote of 11 teams to four, it was assumed the places would be regained by the Glasgow pair, who played their games at Dumbarton and Airdrie last season. Both were keen to extend the pilot project after a successful first year saw Rangers finish second and Celtic third in the table with playing platforms provided to the likes of Alex Lowry and Ben Doak who went on to make first-team appearances.
However Hearts’ late entry application complicated the guests’ re-admission and leaves another contentious, and potentially awkward, decision to be made over which two of the three applicants the Lowland League clubs wish to bring into their set-up next season, and which one will be denied, if not all.
The Jambos’ interest followed the failure of talks on re-establishing a reserve league beyond under-18 Academy level with outline plans believed to centre around staging matches at Whitehill Welfare’s East of Scotland League ground.
Away from the ongoing Colts’ controversy the make-up of next season’s Lowland League is still to be established. Cowdenbeath will drop in from cinch SPFL League Two having lost the pyramid play-off to promoted champions Bonnyrigg Rose. Vale of Leithen have also been relegated after finishing bottom of the Lowland League and their place will be taken by the winner of this weekend’s play-off between East of Scotland champions Tranent and West winners Darvel.