Rangers and Celtic have welcomed plans for their young players to compete in the Lowland League as a major step forward for the future of Scottish football.
A majority of clubs in Scotland’s fifth tier backed the controversial plans on Monday night ahead of a formal vote on May 27. Both Glasgow clubs, who will pay to enter the league, made presentations at the meeting.
The idea has been presented as a one-off and the B teams will not be eligible for promotion to Scottish League Two.
Rangers last week expressed frustration over the lack of progress for their idea that they and Celtic be allowed to enter B teams straight into the bottom division of the Scottish Professional Football League.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard said: “If you’re thinking about the country and improving the Scottish national team at all levels, then what we want is to give the kids a better chance to develop into better players.
“If you can play against men earlier… if you can play for important points and give these kids more responsibility, put them in more pressurised situations with bigger crowds, I think that can only be for the benefit of the country.
“Obviously I’m sitting here as the Rangers manager and some will think, ‘you’re only saying that because you’re at Rangers and you’re being a bit selfish’.
“I understand those opinions as well but if I try to take myself out of the Rangers environment to answer the question and to think about the Scottish game and the national team, I think this is a big plus for Steve Clarke and any future national manager.
“A lot more Scottish kids will be getting challenged earlier playing men’s football, playing for points, playing in front of crowds. That brings your development on a lot quicker than playing games that have less significance and pressure.”
Celtic interim boss John Kennedy has seen the idea work in different countries.
“I remember 10 years ago going out to Spain to see how those B teams operated and how much it gave them in terms of the development side of things, the level of competition the young players would be exposed to,” Kennedy said.
“I think it is the right way to go, personally. Having a competitive games programme for young players and challenging them in a competitive environment against proper professionals, guys at first-team level who go out to win games and it exposes them to that, which is only good for their development.
“We have had some players come through here and have been terrific for us in the past but potentially one or two slipped through the net because the development side stops after youth team level.
“Especially at Celtic, the step up from youth team football is huge, the demands on you, the intensity of it.
“I think it is a great thing for ourselves and obviously Rangers and in the long run you hope you develop more players for, not only your own club, but your national team. So hopefully it will help everyone across the board.”
The plans drew criticism from the Lowland League’s three feeder leagues and some clubs, including Civil Service Strollers, who were one of five clubs to oppose the idea.
Their president Russell Pryde quit so as not to be “associated with a decision that agrees that buying rule change is acceptable”.
However, St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin supported the decision and hopes his club can get involved with a similar set up at some stage.
“I’m a big fan of getting the colt teams into the pyramid system and getting these young lads some much-needed experience competing against senior pros,” he said.
“It will be brilliant for the game and for those clubs involved but the bigger picture for Scotland should be how good is it going to be for the national team?
“Sometimes, particularly in this part of the country, you can get caught up in the politics of it all and focus too much on the Rangers and Celtic situation and forget it would benefit the national team.
“I’m not sure ourselves and other teams out there could afford to do it in terms of the money Celtic and Rangers have put on the table and the incentive for other clubs.
“But it is probably something we look at and consider in the next three or four years. Whether the door will be open to other teams will be a discussion to have at a later date.
“I think we are all interested to see how it pans out. I don’t think anyone should expect Celtic and Rangers Colts teams to win games comfortably. They won’t, it will be a real challenge to them.”