By Jim Thornton:
Juniors a No-No
Eight, ten, or twelve? Fourteen, sixteen, or eighteen? You could do worse than pick your lottery numbers from the various permutations being bandied about for league reconstruction. You’ve as much chance of coming up with a winning combination as the SPL or the SFL have.
But if nobody can agree on how many teams or divisions there should be post-Armageddon, one thing everyone seems insistent upon is that a pyramid structure has to be part of any shuffling of the numbers so that our top Junior sides can have a gateway into the top leagues. However, do the Juniors want to mix it with the big boys? Do they need to? And would they actually make a blind bit of difference to the Senior game if they were allowed in?
Nay, nay, and thrice nay, as Frankie Howerd was wont to say. Although, to be fair, he wasn’t into the Juniors like Jimmy Savile was.
I don’t hear Beith or Bathgate begging to play with the big boys. And Shotts and Shettleston are similarly silent on the subject. Were there outcries from the Juniors when Inverness and Ross County joined the SFL? Or when Elgin, Peterhead, Gretna, and then Annan were admitted? If there were, I must have been down the pub. So, who exactly is pushing for the Juniors to step up? Not any of our big wee sides, as far as I can make out. They seem more than happy to stay where they are.
Auchinleck take on Hearts in last season's Scottish Cup. Photo by Gary McLaughlin
The Juniors, of course, went through their own form of reconstruction in 2002, and seem to have made a pretty good fist of it. They now have three thriving regional league set-ups - West, East, and North - each of which has had five different champions in the ten years since reorganisation.
They also have a successful national cup – Auchinleck versus Petershill in the next round of the current competition looks a belter – which puts the Senior version to shame for thrills and upsets, with six different clubs having won it in the last ten years. Compare all that with the monotony of the Old Firm domination of the Senior game, and ask yourself which is the more competitive set-up.
Who would attract the bigger crowd to Auchinleck - Clyde or Cumnock? Would Talbot fans really turn out in greater numbers to see the Bully Wee? Sadly, I think not. And would Glasgow’s finest, the aforementioned Peasy, prefer to pop up to Peterhead when they could toddle across town and play Pollok instead? It’s a no-brainer – Newlandsfield’s nearer.
The majority of our top Junior sides hail from small towns and villages, with correspondingly limited catchment areas. Think Irvine, Linlithgow, and Bonnyrigg, for example. And Auchinleck is hardly a bustling metropolis, is it? There are no sleeping giants out there waiting to take the Senior game by storm, and we already have more than enough so-called ‘wee’ teams in the SFL as it is. So why replace Brechin with Bo’ness? Or Montrose with Musselburgh? How would that improve the Senior game exactly? The words ‘deckchairs’ and ‘Titanic’ spring to mind.
Neither is there a large centre of population missing a Senior team where a Junior one could step up and fill the void. East Kilbride and Glenrothes are probably the biggest uncharted territories, but the former is effectively part of Glasgow - hardly short of teams as it is - and Fife already has four Senior sides. Room for any more? No chance!
So why would anyone want to leave a successful set-up where they are one of the major players for one where they haven’t a realistic chance of being anything other than also-rans? In fact, when you think about it, why don’t Neil Doncaster and David Longmuir just admit they haven’t a clue about reorganisation, and phone the SJFA for advice instead?
I’m prepared to give Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels the benefit of the doubt and assume he was being tongue-in-cheek when he said the Government should subsidise clubs who cut gate prices. I’m also willing to believe he was indulging in a bit of whimsy when he claimed he had piles and so couldn’t take a seat in the stand after being sent from the dug-out against St Johnstone at the weekend. Because, if he wasn’t being facetious, the garrulous Irishman was clearly reverting to his native language and speaking through his Erse.
Loyal and Ancient
The Rangers’ tax tribunal revealed amongst other things that Billy Dodds picked up £190,000 or so in EBT payments from the Ibrox club. Although nearing the twilight of his career, the wee man was still criminally under-used during his time with the Light Blues, and reputedly spent more Saturday afternoons with a number nine iron in his hand than with a number nine shirt on his back. He must have been the highest-earning Scottish golfer at the time.
And now that the Gers have finally won the Big Tax case, if sporting integrity is to mean anything then surely they should be reinstated to the SPL with immediate effect? And Clyde should be awarded the three points they stole off us the other week?