Earlier this week it was revealed that there had been tentative discussions around the idea of Rangers and Celtic both fielding “Colt” teams in SPFL League Two within the next few years. The suggestion has received a fairly negative reaction with some pundits claiming it does nothing for anyone other than the Old Firm and others claiming it damages the integrity of the league while Celtic coach John Kennedy has backed the move, saying it’s the “best for the national team and leagues.”
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster told the Evening Times change could happen but would require the consent of the member clubs before it could happen saying: ““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.”
But is it best for Scottish football? Would allowing the Old Firm to field an under 20 side have any bearing on the fortunes of the national team or help improve Scottish clubs’ performances in Europe?
The introduction of under 20 sides in the Challenge Cup this season has been, largely, successful. Celtic’s Colt side advanced furthest in the competition, reaching the third round before being knocked out away to Championship side Livingston. Rangers’ Colts brushed off Stirling University in the first round before losing to Stenhousemuir. With two sides each from Northern Ireland and Wales competing in the Challenge Cup, in addition to the Colt teams, it has secured a new TV deal which sees the competition broadcast across the UK.
Both of Rangers’ fixtures were held at Forthbank in Stirling and each attracted around 500 fans on a Tuesday evening. Celtic’s trip to Livingston drew, comfortably, the biggest gate so far at Almondvale this season (over 1200). Last week’s Development League tie between Falkirk and Rangers pulled in more than 500 fans. The average gate across League Two so far this season is 495. Allowing Rangers and Celtic to play Colt sides in League Two wouldn’t have any effect on attendances and, with the added attention of a Colt Old Firm game would potentially bring some new attention to the clubs at the lower end of the SPFL.
It’s been reported that neither side would be eligible for promotion from League Two, and like in other countries which allows clubs to field multiple teams, that would be easily managed. If in the future League Two becomes dominated by the Colt sides then it could be revisited. Both sides would still be liable to relegation to the Lowland League if their results merit however and either side could, potentially, slip out the top four divisions.
From a development perspective it would be a massive boost to young Scottish players. Playing against senior professionals in a competitive environment is far more important to a player’s development than playing Development League games where there’s no competitive edge, real consequences to winning or losing and playing almost exclusively against other youngsters lacking the same experience as our own kids. One thing that was evident from watching almost any of the Irn Bru Cup games involving Colt sides was that they lacked that little bit of intelligence that you only get when you play real games. Young players who are, perhaps, too good for that division but not quite at first team level can still be loaned out to allow them to get more first team experience.
Spain, Holland & Germany all have some variation of “Colt” teams in their league system with restrictions on how far up the league pyramid they can go and which cups they can compete in; Real Madrid and Real Madrid B have met in cup finals before and the B team have even competed in Europe. It doesn’t quite work out everywhere though. The English Football League this season invited Premier League clubs to compete in the Checkatrade Trophy (The English equivalent of the Challenge Cup) however it wasn’t as well received by fans, or clubs, as it was in Scotland with many of the top teams choosing not to participate and fans boycotting.
There would also be the matter of league reconstruction to make space for two new teams and this could be done with minimal fuss. A 14-team top flight or a 12-team Championship would be the obvious suggestions although an expanded League Two wouldn’t be out the question. There would also be the option of having one season of with two teams being automatically relegated to the Lowland League to make way and maintaining the three-way playoff between the Highland and Lowland League winners and the next lowest League Two club.
If Colt teams were to find a place in the SPFL there is one more way they could find a space without having to do anything whatsoever...
...They could replace the England-bound first-teams