The experiment which saw the B teams of Scotland’s biggest clubs Celtic and Rangers join the Lowland League looks set to continue thanks to the success of the 2021/22 campaign. After initial scepticism about the project from both fans and opposition coaches, most observers now agree that it has been a mutually beneficial move for the clubs and the league as a whole. Preliminary talks are now taking place with the other clubs in the league to establish whether they would agree to keep the arrangement as it is for at least next season.
Why did they join the league?
The decision for Celtic’s and Rangers’ second-string teams to join Scotland’s fifth tier came in May 2021 after the events of the previous year meant that all of the 6th tier organisations declared their leagues null and void. This meant that the Lowland League was left with fewer teams as there were no promoted champions to join from the division below. The proposal of the two Old Firm clubs joining the league shocked fans, who believed it would threaten the integrity of the competition. However, the league argued it would bring financial gains to the other clubs, both directly and through the increased exposure.
Despite objections from Bonnyrigg Rose, Bo’ness United and one or two other clubs, the majority of Lowland League sides voted in favour of the change. While most details of the agreement were kept private, fans were informed that Celtic and Rangers would pay £25,000 each to enter the league, which would be divided between the existing teams. The arrangement was only agreed for one year and the Scottish FA and Scottish Professional Football League rules don’t allow for B teams, which meant they were not eligible for promotion into League Two.
How has it worked out for the clubs?
This year’s Lowland League has already been won by Bonnyrigg Rose, who will compete in League Two. This means that they will be part of the Scottish Professional League with coverage from sites like Betway, which you can read more about on their dedicated football page that includes a section dedicated to Scottish football. As one of the clubs that opposed the decision to allow Celtic and Rangers into the league, they used their anger as the fuel to drive them to the championship. They’ll hope that they can continue to use it next season as they aim to stay in the division.
Both Celtic and Rangers are part of a group of four clubs battling to finish as runners up, which would be a respectable result for either club. However, the season started with controversy when reports surfaced of a dispute between The SFA and the Lowland League. The Scottish Football Association were disappointed at a perceived lack of communication over the move that mean they weren’t able to adapt the rules to accommodate the changes before the start of the season. After initial fears that the teams could be suspended and the league’s results voided, the issues were resolved thanks to talks between clubs and SFA officials.
The season has been a success for the Old Firm sides with talented youth players like Celtic’s Karamoko Dembele gaining vital experience against hardened adult players. The idea has been successful in Europe for several years, with major clubs like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan all having second-string teams in the lower divisions of their national league systems. The success of the experiment will undoubtedly spark conversation in England, where certain clubs have long been in favour of a similar idea.
The experiment has largely been seen as a success, with many fans changing their mind after seeing it in practice. Some of the league’s managers have also expressed their delight with how things have turned out. For example, East Kilbride manager Chris Aitken said, “I’ve loved it. I would be all for it again, absolutely”, citing the increased atmosphere and press for games featuring one of the Old Firm sides as the main positives. There have also been suggestions that other clubs such as Hearts are considering similar moves after seeing the benefits it can provide for player development.
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