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Saturday 20th July 2013 ko 15.00

Scottish Challenge Cup Preliminary Round 2nd Leg



The Spartans won 4-3 on aggregate

Att 258

Entry £4

Programme £1

There’s signs of life in the lower reaches of the Scottish game for this season. There’s never been a functioning pyramid below Division 3, in the north if a club wins the Highland League there’s no way up, and in the south there’s the East of Scotland and South of Scotland Leagues, the former far stronger. And parallel to it all are the Juniors, ploughing their own furrow, a few only meeting their nominally senior compatriots in the Scottish Cup. The clubs at the bottom of Division 3 simply have carried on being uncompetitive knowing that there’s no automatic means of their removal.

For this season though, the Lowland League has been created. The best clubs from the East, South and Juniors were invited, no Junior clubs accepted, and the carrot that attracts, is future membership of the Scottish League. That won’t happen this season, this first competition is seen as a dry run, but the idea is that the winners of the Lowland League, Highland League and the bottom team in Division 3 will play off for a single place in Division 3 from the 2014/5 season.

There are of course, ifs and buts aplenty. The playoff clubs will have to be licensed, having a ground that’s fit for the SPFL, currently only Threave, Spartans, and Prestonpans-based Preston Athletic hold the licence in the Lowland League. I suspect the biggest stumbling block will be the actual act of relegating a SPFL member. Its one thing to relegate homeless, perennial underachievers East Stirlingshire, or the financially bereft Clyde, but you wonder whether the SPFL have the stomach to relegate say, Berwick or even Queens Park?

Certainly putting a Lowland League representative into the Challenge Cup is showing good faith on the part of the SPFL. The competition is for the bottom 3 divisions of the SPFL, and the Lowland League have taken one of the two spots held by the Highland League for the last 2 competitions. A playoff was necessary to separate the best clubs in last season’s East, and South of Scotland Leagues that hold a SFA club licence, for the chance to play away at Dumfries-based Queen of the South in a week’s time.

That would mean more to Castle Douglas-based Threave (they’re named after the local castle) than Edinburgh-based Spartans but Spartans held the upper hand, winning the first leg 4-2.

If I will remember one thing from my visit Meadow Park it’ll be just how friendly both clubs are. I was spotted brandishing a camera and was immediately invited into the boardroom for a tea, and the line-ups were copied and made available. On little nugget I did discover is that programme production is not going to be mandatory for the Lowland League. As such Threave do not expect to issue for another game save for the Scottish Cup where its mandatory.

The only downside to the day was the first half. With the visitors two goals to the good, they had no need to press, and in the heat and humidity Threave didn’t have the where-with-it-all to make them nervous. Of course if Dean Fyfe’s shot into the corner had happened much earlier than the 74th minute it would have been a far more exciting spectacle. As it was the action was compressed into the last 16 minutes, and Scott Bennett in the visitors’ goal excellent save from Scott Wilby prevented extra-time that would have been scarcely warranted, given the passage of play over the two legs.

I headed north to Kilmarnock for an overnight stay, with the prospect of some Junior action the next day. What Lee, my travelling companion and I did not expect was just how telling the comparison between Junior and Senior football north of the border would be.