Neil Doncaster keen on Premiership ‘colts’ joining SPFL

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has refused to rule out Premiership “colt” clubs joining the league after hailing their participation in the Irn-Bru Cup as a success.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster has refused to rule out Premiership “colt” clubs joining the league after hailing their participation in the Irn-Bru Cup as a success.

However, he has emphasised that any proposals must suit Scottish football as a whole, not just the Old Firm.

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Top-flight under-20 sides took part in the Challenge Cup for the first time this season, with Celtic’s U20s the last of the colt sides to be knocked out when they lost at the third-round stage with a 5-1 defeat by Livingston last Saturday.

Doncaster insists feedback has been positive, albeit he concedes talks so far have been limited to gauging the reaction of Premiership sides.

It has been reported that the next step could be a place in the SPFL for colt sides, with Celtic and Rangers keen for their sides to join League 2.

After conducting the draw for the fourth round of the 
Irn-Bru Cup yesterday, Doncaster urged clubs to keep “an open mind” regarding the future of colt teams joining the league.

“We’ve already seen interest created by the colt teams playing in the early rounds,” Doncaster said. “[Colts in league football] wouldn’t be new. If you look at Spain or Germany, both of those very successful leagues have colt teams playing in the lower reaches of those leagues.

“The general view is that this structure helps player development, having talented young players competing against seasoned professionals; it helps them. That’s certainly the feedback we’ve had from Premiership clubs so far.

“It’s not without precedent. It seems to be a fairly well established way of developing young players and ensuring that they get competitive games under their belts at an early stage. Let’s have an open mind.

“Like all change, any potential change can only and should only follow a process of discussion with the clubs. We continue to discuss the cups and the leagues with all clubs, to see what change is possible and what change clubs want.”

While no colts sides reached the last 16 of the Irn-Bru Cup, the inclusion of Welsh and Northern Irish clubs this season will represent a historic upheaval.

Yesterday’s draw handed Livingston and Alloa cross-border trips to Crusaders of Northern Ireland and Bala Town of Wales respectively, while Forfar host The New Saints and Linfield travel to face Queen of the South.

While keen not to be drawn on specifics, Doncaster believes cross-border competition is destined to become more common.

“There is no question that cross-border competition throughout Europe is going to be an increasingly prevalent feature of the European footballing landscape over the next decade,” insisted Doncaster.

“It’s already been signalled that Uefa has an open mind on this, there have been attempts to create cross-border competitions already – and I think that we, by getting a cross-border competition within the UK endorsed by Uefa, are positioned very well in terms of the debates that will be had across Europe.”

Asked whether this will ignite further debate regarding Celtic and Rangers pursuing a move to England, Doncaster said: “That may be what people think, but my job is to act in the best interests of all 42 clubs of the SPFL.

“It shouldn’t be – and it mustn’t be – for the benefit of the one or the two. It has to be for the benefit of all member clubs.”

Meanwhile, Celtic coach John Kennedy has backed the idea of having under-age teams in the league set-up. “It is not just about Celtic, it is about Scottish football and what is best for the national team and the leagues,” he said.

“If they can make it happen and pretty much make everyone happy as well, it is a positive thing.”