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Old Firm Colt teams: How might they work?

Could Rangers and Celtic have youth teams in the professional leagues before too long?

Rangers v Berwick Rangers - IRN-BRU Scottish Third Division Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

With Colt teams apparently back on the agenda in Scottish football there has been much discussion on social media of the pros and cons of allowing Rangers and Celtic to field youth teams in the lower leagues of the SPFL. Fans across Scotland (and beyond) have been massively split over the idea and with little detail from the Scottish FA or SPFL yet, it’s hard to have a solid opinion on certain aspects of the plan. No-one really knows quite what the plan is yet but regardless of that, we’ve decided to take a look at how it COULD work (which is probably more than the SFA has done).

League Structure

The first thing that would need addressing would be the change needed to the league structure to allow two new teams to join. Would the SPFL remain at it’s current size of 42 clubs or expand to 44 to allow the Colts to join? The most likely solution would be, somewhat bizarrely, an expanded Premiership. A 14-team top-flight has been mooted for a number of years and despite an additional two teams, if managed properly, the season would still be 38 games long. 14 teams would also allow the SPFL to maintain the late-season split that has somehow survived despite almost two decades of constant criticism. An expanded Premiership with 14 teams would also finally end the potential for fixture imbalance should a team finish above or below their projected finishing position when the fixtures were originally scheduled. Expanding any of the other three divisions from 10 teams to 12 would see, mainly part time clubs, have to absorb the expense of a minimum of one extra home and away fixture per season.

Reports surrounding the latest attempt to introduce Colt teams suggest the sides may be ‘locked’ into League Two with no promotion or relegation available. While maybe only a minor benefit this now gives teams in League 2 a 50/50 chance of finishing in a position where they are either promoted or reach the play-offs. It would conversely mean a higher chance that teams could be sucked into the play-off with the winner of the Highland & Lowland leagues however there is a possibility that the Colts could still face the drop into the bottom tier of the Scottish ‘pyramid’. If they finish in any of the top four places the teams below will automatically be bumped up a position to fill the necessary play-off spots. (ie Rangers finish first and Edinburgh City finish second then City would be automatically promoted instead of Rangers. Celtic finish fourth and Montrose finish fifth then Montrose take the play-off spot for coming fourth)

The Scottish and League Cups could remain exactly as they are. The Colts already compete in the Challenge Cup and, like in other countries that allow clubs to field similar teams in their league system, the Colts could simply be kept out of the main national trophies and remain eligible to play in the Scottish FA Youth Cup.

Rangers v Stirling Albion - IRN-BRU Scottish Third Division
Barrie McKay played for the first team in the fourth tier but could Rangers Colts soon be following suit?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Stadium & Scheduling

Celtic are reported to have already begun tentative talks with Greenock Morton over using their Cappielow ground on alternating weekends with the ‘Ton and their U20 side already use the Championship side’s stadium for Development and UEFA Youth League games. Rangers have a similar arrangement with Stirling Albion over their Forthbank pitch but it’s unclear if the Gers will continue beyond this season or possibly move to one of the numerous stadia with a synthetic pitch across the Central belt. Despite the obvious need to keep the senior sides fixtures apart, if Celtic’s Colts are playing in Greenock there shouldn’t be any such concern for the SPFL and Police Scotland.

Players

Given that player development is the main driving force behind the whole idea it’s absolutely imperative that developing the best young players possible is the main consideration when it comes to player registration for Colt teams. The current Development league rules allow teams to field as many as SIX over-age players and are more like reserve football than an age-restricted category. If Colts are to be introduced the number of senior players allowed to be involved should be heavily restricted while still allowing young players who improve quickly to move up to the first team. Colt teams should be restricted, in addition to the normal registration rules, to:

  • Players aged 20 or under on January 1st.
  • A maximum of one over-age player per match.
  • Each over-age player limited to three Colt appearances per season.
  • Colt teams can’t use trialists or loan players in competitive games.

OR

  • Players aged 20 or under on January 1st.
  • Each side has a ‘designated senior player’ who would be the only eligible over-aged player and can only be changed during the transfer window. Any ‘designated player’ would not be allowed to play for the first team whilst eligible for the Colts.

With Colt teams also playing in the senior league, the current SPFL rules would likely need to be changed to allow them to opt-out from competing in the development league system or whatever replaces it (a reserve league has been suggested). Allowing younger players to still move up to the senior side would have the benefit of allowing promising youngsters like Liam Burt play his way into the first team on the back of good form in League 2. Should there be players in the first team who need match fitness clubs could organise a bounce game, as is often the case now, without the need to use the Colts or a reserve side.

Rangers v Stirling Albion - IRN-BRU Scottish Third Division
A number of Auchenhowie youngsters, like Robbie Crawford, made the breakthrough in Division Three (now League 2) could the next batch do the same?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Supporters

Since both Rangers and Celtic enjoy huge support in almost every village and town in Scotland both clubs needn’t worry about attracting support. Official attendance numbers aren’t given out for Development League games but both Rangers and Celtic’s U20s had competitive home games in the Irn-Bru Cup this season. While hardly comparable with a packed Ibrox or Parkhead both sides drew crowds on a par with any other games in their respective rounds. Development League crowds, on sight alone, vary wildly although some of that may be, in part, down to clubs’ different approach to publicising games. With Premiership games taking place right across the weekend now it’s not a massive leap of faith to suggest that if Rangers were playing Ross County away on a Friday night that the attendance of a game involving the Colts on the Saturday at 3pm could see a boost.

For any changes to happen there needs to be approval from 11 of the 12 Premiership clubs and 23 of the 30 other SPFL sides and it might not even work. Throwing kids into a league that isn’t exactly renowned for its perfect pitches and flowing football maybe isn’t going to help turn around decades of decline in Scottish football but when Benin sit ahead of Scotland in the FIFA rankings and the Scottish Champions face four qualifying rounds before even getting to the Champions League group stage maybe it’s time we try something a little different to what we’ve been doing.

Let us know what you think. Should there be Colt teams in League Two?