The Scottish football map is continuing to be re-drawn with Cove Rangers set to take their place in the professional set-up at the expense of Berwick Rangers.
There are now 12 clubs north of Perth when there were seven just over 25 years ago. Inverness have failed in their bid to return to the Premiership but they might yet be playing in a different league next season. Or at least Inverness Caledonian Thistle Colts might. This is the name by which their currently all-conquering Under-18 side are set to be known should the club’s bid to put a team in the Highland League prove successful.
While speculation about Rangers and Celtic wishing to deploy colt teams in the lower leagues continues eternally, the Highland League could be set to become trailblazers. No senior league operating within a pyramid system currently includes a colts team in the UK. The pyramid specification is important. One of the oft-heard complaints about B sides being introduced is the potential for two teams from the same club playing in the same league before long.
Inverness’ application is clear in this regard: if they were to finish top – and this seems a lofty ambition for a side proposing to feature only two “over-age” players among a raft of Under-18 and 19 players – they have no interest in competing in an SPFL play-off, the recently introduced prize for winning the Highland League. It’s one which Cove Rangers took full advantage of when they completed a 7-0 aggregate win over Berwick last weekend.
This victory created a problem. The Highland League now has 17 teams. One potential solution was to invite the winners of the Scottish Junior Football North Super League to join. Banks O’ Dee are current champions but their chairman Brian Winton recently confirmed they are very happy where they are.
An option is to continue with 17 teams. On free weekends clubs could play an Inverness colts team, but not for points. Inverness manager John Robertson has already delivered a presentation to Highland League clubs. His preference is for competitive action.
It’s a fascinating issue and one bound to send ripples through Scottish football if Inverness are granted the green light. A vote is scheduled for Monday in Lossiemouth.
It’s important to stress this is a potential remedy for a specific problem with regards the Highland League. It’s also a handy way for Inverness to be seen to be reintegrating with the local region after the controversy and grievances stirred up by the merger of two clubs, Thistle and Caledonian, a quarter of a century ago.
If Inverness are successful, the argument about colt teams being introduced to League 2, or perhaps the Lowland League, will be re-ignited. Indeed, the story reared its head again earlier this month.
Those opposed to this idea tend to be fiercely against it. They view such a move as a power grab and unfair on smaller clubs, who risk being elbowed out to make room for the game’s traditional powerhouses while harming sporting integrity.
There is no doubting the quality of this young Inverness side. They won the Club Academy Scotland under-18s performance league by a double-figure margin. Now they want to compete in a Highland League that is bound to test their mettle.
But the bid is also motivated by another factor, which highlights the SFA’s Project Brave initiative’s limitations: this group of players have nowhere else to go.
The reserve league is not an option due to the high costs of travel. Even teams based in central Scotland, such as St Johnstone, have opted for their own reasons to pull out.
What is the alternative for these talented footballers, most of whom are local, if they are denied the chance to continue their education? After all, one of the Highland League’s recent stated aims is to be more innovative.
League chiefs will also be aware that much of the recent profile has been generated by Cove Rangers’ monied dominance and the recent delay to a game between Fort William and Nairn County because, as the latter club’s Twitter account put it, the pitch was “covered in deer faeces”.