Making his debut in The Away End, Paul Mooney takes a look at Junior football and its place in what may become a new pyramid system.
Junior football is often characterised as living in its own strange little world. It is fair to say the game has been negatively stereotyped by outsiders as a backward institution. Infamous tales of on field battles contested on rutted pitches, roped off from the whisky sodden spectator standing in the overgrown, crumbling terracing. It is important to remember that the creation of the organisation was down to fragmented local associations who kept themselves separate from the SFA. To those bewildered by the concept of two separate associations, it is often described as similar to England’s non league tier.
However, the history and tradition within the Junior game makes it a lot more complicated than that. The Scottish Cup has long been heralded as the most prestigious prize by junior clubs. As professional cup competitions across the UK become devalued by clubs and supporters alike, the allure of the Junior Scottish Cup remains the pinnacle of every player’s career. Perhaps the stubborn nature of this historic institution has in some way preserved the romanticism and value of winning the trophy.
Therefore, the recent turmoil and lack of leadership that has threatened to destroy Senior football in recent weeks, has brought calls for change to revolutionise the ailing game. Unsurprisingly, talk of reconstruction and the introduction of a pyramid system will be met with scepticism and apprehension across the Junior world. Some suggest the top Super League clubs lack ambition, enjoy being big fish in a small pond and rarely apply to become members of the SFL in the modern era. On the other hand, current regulations to become a Senior club prevent just about every Junior side from applying. Financially and on a sporting level, it makes no sense at present for any club to give up the relative success in their own setup, to become lower league mediocrity.
Auchinleck Talbot frightened the life out of eventual Scottish Cup winners Hearts. Photo by Gary McLaughlinSelf interest will ensure that the ‘greater good of the game’ always comes second to the short term benefit of the individual club or association, whether that be the SPL, SFL or SJFA. What has been clear from the past few weeks in the professional game is that the lack of leadership has created uncertainty as the hierarchy attempts to cling to the past. The uprising from supporters must continue to build momentum, to ensure any new reconstruction plans are fair and encourage every club to find its own level.
Not too long ago many Senior football fans sniggered at suggestions that the top Junior sides could compete at the higher levels of the SFL. It is fair to say the progress of clubs given a platform to perform have vastly improved over the past few years. Irvine Meadow would be lucky to keep it to single figures away at Easter Road – before putting up a real fight in a 0-3 defeat. Culter, a side who were knocked out of the 2nd round of the Junior Scottish Cup last season, earned a replay against first division Partick. Finally, Auchinleck Talbot’s tremendous performance at Tynecastle is beginning to provide evidence that the SFL and Super Premier divisions overlap.
Interestingly, although the SJFA has its faults, the one area it has been consistently ahead of its Senior counterpart is league reconstruction. The move to create a Super League North, East and West has been a huge success, with a complete pyramid structure from top to bottom. The next step would surely be the formation of a national Super League should the SFL not expand.
Irvine Meadow have now won three Super League titles in four years in the West. In the East, Bo’ness won two consecutive league titles from 2009-2011 whilst Auchinleck have claimed three Scottish Cup victories in seven years. On the other hand, from 2003 – 2007 East Stirlingshire finished bottom for five consecutive seasons. Ayrshire club Girvan were admitted into the Junior setup in 2004 despite being members of the SFA which entitles them to play in both Senior and Junior Scottish Cups. There is a glass ceiling of regulation and self interest which ensures that some clubs never reach their full potential, whilst other stagnate. That cannot be to the benefit of the game.
If Scottish football began tomorrow, there would be no purpose for a Junior setup. It is important to differentiate between the history of the clubs and that of the institution. Surely it is more important that the next generation is able to continue to preserve the past of these clubs, creating a new legacy which builds toward a dynamic future.
‘I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.’