Agreement has been reached for ‘colts’ teams from Celtic, Hearts and Rangers to join the Lowland League for next year, with the Scottish FA saying it will review the long-term plans for the pyramid structure.
Talks have been ongoing over admitting representative teams form the Premiership club into the Lowland League, though it has been opposed by some.
The Scottish FA has now announced a plan that is intended to be in place for one season only, allowing all three clubs to participate in the competition.
The guest clubs will be required to play at least seven players in every game who are eligible to play for Scotland national teams, and all three sides will provide funding to help develop the league and clubs.
The move is intended to provide a competitive structure that helps improve players between the ages of 17 and 21.
A similar agreement saw Celtic and Rangers teams compete in the league last season on what was said to be a one-season basis, with both clubs paying a fee to enter.
Rangers finished second, and Celtic third, tied on 73 points, with neither eligible for promotion. Bonnyrigg Rose were league winners with 87 points.
The Scottish FA announced this year’s agreement in a statement that stat detailed the commitments the teams would have to make.
It read: “Following positive and collaborative discussions between the board of the Scottish Lowland Football League, representatives from the Scottish FA and the Scottish Professional Football League, plus Celtic, Heart of Midlothian and Rangers, a revised proposition for season 2022/23 has been agreed.
“This proposition allows the three guest clubs to participate in the Lowland League for season 2022/23. In addition, the respective league bodies have agreed to participate in the Scottish FA’s pyramid working group discussions aimed at providing a longer-term solution to optimise the structure and aid the transition of talented players between the ages of 17 and 21.
“Following a positive vote, the plan commits to the following:
- Celtic, Heart of Midlothian and Rangers will join the Lowland League for season 2022/23, creating a 19-team league for one season only. This will result in a 36-game fixture calendar.
- Guest clubs are required to field seven players eligible for Scotland national teams in the starting line-up.
- Each guest club will provide funding to help develop the league and its clubs.
- The Scottish FA will lead on a review of the pyramid structure, with recommendations proposed ahead of the 2023/24 season.”
Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell said: “”We are delighted that the Lowland League clubs have approved the participation of three guest clubs for the forthcoming season.
“The Scottish FA supports the principle of elite player development and particularly providing opportunities for talented players in the key transition years from 17 to 21.
“The Scottish FA will oversee a discussion in parallel to propose and implement a long-term plan with the objectives of optimising the pyramid, which has been a resounding success in Scottish football, harnessing the player pathway and accelerating the development of the country’s most talented young players through the national youth teams to the full international stage.”
Thomas Brown, chairman of the Lowland League, also welcomed the agreement.
“We were always open to the inclusion of guest clubs for a further season given the successful player development outcomes from last year’s pilot,” he said. “We want to be a modern and progressive league and we are excited to be playing our part in the eco system that develops Scotland’s talent.
“Importantly, we now look forward to working with the Scottish FA, the SPFL and our friends in the pyramid to create some new solutions to some existing challenges which will provide a bright future at all levels of our game.”
Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL added: “It is hugely encouraging to see such a joined-up and collaborative approach being adopted in such a vital area of our game.
“There are few more exciting things in football than watching the development of home-grown talent and it’s extremely encouraging that the Lowland League has agreed to assist our clubs on a temporary basis for Season 2022/23.
“The SPFL will commit our energies to a process that will explore options and, hopefully, allow us to move forward various aspects of our game for the benefit of our 42 member clubs and Scottish football as a whole.”