It is hoped that the formation of a Lowland League, to serve as one of two feeder divisions along with the Highland League, will be rubber stamped at Tuesday’s SFA annual general meeting, before the SFL clubs meet on Wednesday to decide whether to accept the prospect of play-offs between the club finishing bottom of the league and the winner of a play-off between the Highland and Lowland League at the end of the 2014-15 season.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, a long-time advocate of the expanded structure, is keen for the Lowland League concept to be pushed through as soon as possible. He said: “It’s linked to the creation of a pyramid for Scottish football, the opening up of the bottom of the Third Division to allow ambitious clubs to be promoted through a play-off system. The AGM will vote on the formation of that league.
“It’ll sit alongside the Highland League as a regional tier below the Third Division. There will be a play-off between the winner of the Highland League and the Lowland League and that winner will play the 42nd-placed club for the right to be in the Football League. There is potential for this to be introduced next season.”
The new division would be open to clubs from the current East of Scotland, South of Scotland and Junior leagues. The deadline for all applications is tomorrow, with those who have been successful being notified by the following Monday, with all successful candidates having to meet SFA licensing criteria.
“The working party of the Lowland Football League has already met and formed its own rules and constitution, and presented the papers to the AGM,” added Regan. “The AGM will vote and whether there’s a pyramid or not next season, the Lowland League – if the members back it – will be introduced.
“There’s a lot of support from clubs coming up through the game, Highland League clubs and people like Dalbeattie Star and Spartans who want to progress. They’ve no incentive to go out and get a benefactor or a sponsor, or develop their ground because they’ve nowhere to go.”
The hope is that the SFL will embrace the changes, which will end talk of clubs simply focusing on self-preservation rather than trying to strengthen the game from the ground up, and will provide a wake-up call for clubs such as East Stirlingshire who have finished bottom of the football league pile for the past two years and seven times in the last decade.
“There have been 22 expressions of interest from Scottish Junior clubs and overall there has been substantial interest from across the three leagues,” said Regan. “They are not all committing at the moment but 15, from all three leagues, committed at a meeting at Hampden last week. They would like to be considered. That means that they now have to be audited to satisfy the criteria.
“If there are more than 16, which we don’t believe there are, then clearly there would have to be a selection process. It is expected that there will be a league in excess of ten but not 16. They need to be members of the SFA or working towards membership because one of the rules of the SFA is that you need to be a member club to be in a professional league.”
One issue has been the destination of any club relegated from the SFL. But Regan said it would be determined by geography.
“You shuffle the pack and define your boundary based on north/south. At the moment it’s the Tay, anything above that’s Highland and anything below is Lowland.” Regan added: “We want to open the door to ambitious clubs who want to rise through the ranks like Auxerre did in France, going from playing in a Sunday league pitch to the Champions League – or like Ross County have done in Scotland. We want them to have opportunities rather than it being you can only get into the Third Division if a club goes out of business.”
£60m broadcast boost for SFA
The SFA has signed a deal which means Scotland’s qualifying matches will not be shown live on terrestrial television until at least 2019, writes Alan Pattullo.
The package agreed with BSkyB is the first to be negotiated under UEFA’s central rights distribution strategy. Sky Sports will show all Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland home and away qualifiers for Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018. STV, meanwhile, will show Scotland highlights.
The rights to Scotland’s home friendlies and the Scottish Cup in the same timeframe are currently up for grabs, which, with the Sky Sports income, could net the SFA a total of £60 million.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan described the deal as “fantastic news”. In a tougher economic climate it secures the same income as for between 2010 and 2014.