Longmuir defends Old Firm reserve teams proposal

SCOTTISH Football League chief executive David Longmuir has argued that getting reconstruction right is more important than ensuring it is in place for next season as he defended his Old Firm “colt” teams proposal.

Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie accused Longmuir of being “irresponsible” by putting the plan forward on Tuesday – one day after Scottish Premier League clubs set an 15 April date for their vote on plans for a merged league. The SPL plan would see a 12-12-18 structure with the top two divisions splitting into three groups of eight after 22 games, but Longmuir’s interjection raises the possibility of Rangers and Celtic reserve teams making it a 12-12-10-10 system.

Longmuir had argued that Scottish football needed to safeguard against possibility of the Glasgow teams moving elsewhere. And he responded to criticism of his idea yesterday, pointing out it was included in former First Minister Henry McLeish’s review of Scottish football.

“It may well be the case that league reconstruction won’t happen before next season,” said Longmuir. “But it is clear we have to get this right. Everyone has their own agenda. I am looking at this objectively and now is the time to put ideas forward.

“All I am trying to do here is stimulate debate. We are going through a huge round of deliberation. We have to be very clear on what’s right for the SFL and also for the whole of the Scottish game.

“I have to look at how we bring the fans back. With that, I am looking at all aspects of improving our game.”

Clubs including Stirling Albion and Peterhead yesterday questioned Longmuir’s timing amid fears it could derail reconstruction, and Raith Rovers chairman Turnbull Hutton also criticised the plan.

“This is a distraction, frankly. Scottish football never fails to amaze you,” said Hutton. “Colt teams were mooted way back in the Henry McLeish report, do you remember that one?

“At that time, it was teams of ten with colt teams, which was overtaken by events.

“I think it’s bizarre that we’re worrying about what happens when Rangers and Celtic depart the Scottish scene, but they’ve been going to depart the Scottish scene for the last decade. Where are they going to go?

It’s a nonsense, frankly.”

Hutton believes Longmuir’s plan might have been devised to appease Rangers, who are unhappy they would still be in the bottom tier if an 18-team system comes in, although their anticipated ascent through the divisions would not be delayed.

Hutton said: “It’s a simple solution because there’s pressure on the need for this two leagues of ten at the bottom, where the proposal for the 12-12-18 was perfectly fine and it played to what supporters wanted in the third tier with home and away matches.

“But, suddenly, someone wants to win a championship and move through – and they would need two teams.”

Hutton added that now was not a time for a “pick and mix” approach from the SFL. “The 12-12-18 proposal is a significant step forward. That is what we should be talking about – not all this other Woolworths Pick and Mix stuff,” he said. “We need to get a grip or we will blow the whole thing out of the water. We should embrace what is on offer and get on with it.”

Former Scotland striker Joe Jordan added his voice to the debate yesterday, arguing that the inclusion of Celtic and Rangers reserve teams in the bottom tier of Scottish league football would stunt the development of young players.

Experienced coach Jordan, currently at Queen’s Park Rangers, believes Scottish football would be better served by copying the extensive loan system currently used in England.

“I’d prefer players to go on loan to another club for first-team football than play in what is still a reserve team,” observed Jordan. “I don’t know who is going to benefit from this idea. I can see Celtic and Rangers both doing okay (financially) out of it.

“But if I was a player not getting a game for one of those clubs and I was the right age, then I’d want to go out and play on loan elsewhere for a period of time.

“If you were playing for an Old Firm colt team, you would still be in your own environment, rather than getting out there and experiencing a new dressing-room or new town or city.

“It’s the way we have done it in England, to let players see if they can handle the pressure which goes with playing for a team where earning a win bonus makes a difference.

“That’s why, when we were in charge of Spurs, we had as many as 13 players out on loan. From established senior players like Alan Hutton down to the younger lads, we sent them out to get a taste of real football. It’s amazing how many players go out there and don’t do it. It’s a reality check for them.”