Senior football in Moray is facing some dramatic changes next season with relegation from the lower tier of the SPFL being introduced – alongside promotion for Highland League sides.
For Moray’s only SPFL club that could be bad news, Elgin City having finished the 2013/14 campaign second bottom and knowing that another disastrous season could result in a return to their roots.
The new rules were introduced as part of the package that saw the former Scottish League merging with the Scottish Premier League. An integral part of that was a ‘pyramid system’ allowing senior clubs form the Lowland and Highland leagues a route into the SPFL.
The new pathway was not openly welcomed by many Highland League clubs, who have seen former league member Elgin City struggling to recruit locally-based players and facing a high cost for regular travel to away games as far afield as Annan.
However, Highland clubs did allow a rewriting of their constitution to allow the possible entry of relegated SPFL clubs from as far south as Dundee.
Clubs who could end up in the Highland League should things go badly for them in the forthcoming League 2 season would include Forfar, Brechin City, Arbroath and Montrose as well as Elgin City.
For a club to be promoted out of the Highland League would require them to meet the ‘bronze’ criteria set for SPFL membership – and only two currently posses that status, Wick Academy and Clach. Other clubs are now expected to work towards meeting the criteria, with Cove Rangers particular fans of the pyramid setup.
President of the Highland League, Finlay Noble, explained how the new system would work: “On January 31 each season, the clubs in contention must make an application to join the SPFL.
“Should their title challenge falter by March 31 the clubs would be permitted to withdraw their application.
“If a team won the league and did not meet the specific SPFL criteria, they would not be permitted to take part in the play-offs. Clach and Wick Academy are the only clubs in the league who currently hold the required bronze level standard.
“The requirements range from the quality of the floodlights to the provision of club doctors and physiotherapists.”
At the end of next season the Highland League champions would take on the Lowland League champions in a play-off for the right to play in a final promotion play-off against the side that finishes bottom of League 2.
Mr Noble added: “If in the future any of the Tayside junior clubs such as Lochee United or Broughty Athletic wanted to go down the route of getting full membership and club licensing they would also apply to come into the Highland League.”