The Scottish Lowland League was formed at the start of the 2013/14 season, as an attempt to put in place a football pyramid for the Scottish leagues. From 2014/15, it has been possible for Lowland sides (and their compatriots in the Highland League) to achieve promotion to League 2 of the SPFL, as the winners of a Highland/Lowland champions playoff then face the bottom side in League 2 for the national league spot next season. Thus far, only Edinburgh City have achieved promotion at the expense of East Stirlingshire, though most playoff finals have been settled by the odd goal or penalties.
Last season saw the Lowland League continue its growth, with champions East Kilbride continuing the run of successive league winners overcoming their Highland rivals (Buckie Thistle) en route to the SPFL playoff final. Cowdenbeath clung on to their league status via the lottery of penalties, and Kilby will be keen to go one better under the leadership of new manager Billy Stark this time around – they won’t have an easy run though, with several other sides adding proven ex-SPFL talent to their ranks.
This years’ iteration of the league looks like potentially the most exciting yet, with a good few sides laying decent claims to challenge for the title (at least on paper). At the other end, the East of Scotland’s Kelty Hearts seem to be inevitable Lowland League newbies next season, making the battle to avoid finishing bottom as tight as ever. Here is my opinion of the runners and riders…do feel free to bookmark and rub these prediction in when they inevitably come back to haunt me next spring/summer!
East Kilbride (last season – 1st)
Kilby return to the Lowland after heartbreak in last season’s playoffs, with a renewed vigour and determination courtesy of impressive managerial appointment Billy Stark. Some key players have departed including goalscorers Vitoria and Woods, but Stark has acted quickly bringing in the likes of ex-Huddersfield forward Coogans and BSC’s Ferris to hopefully bag the goals. Midfielder Kevin McCann’s signing is another clear signal of intent.
Spartans (last season – 3rd)
The capital side have strived to enter the SPFL for a number of years now, and were a major driving force in the formation of the Lowland league. Since winning the inaugural competition, they have as yet failed to return to the summit now that promotion playoffs have been implemented. Manager Samuel added proven striker Allum from neighbours Edinburgh City in January, and has returned to their rivals’ to pick up three more players this summer.
East Stirlingshire (last season – 2nd)
Having adjusted well to their new life outside the SPFL last time around, Shire pushed EK for much of the season but dropped too many points in winnable games to keep pace. The majority of the squad has been kept by John Sludden, with Jordan Tapping returning to bolster a leaky defence alongside Stennie utility man Jamie McCormack. Any team with talent like Andy Rodgers has a fighter’s chance, especially if they can be less generous at the back.
BSC Glasgow (last season – 7th)
Very much the fashionable ‘dark horse’ pick this time around, gaffer Swift has used his contacts to completely reshape his squad. Coming in are several experienced heads including ex-Kilmarnock winger Stevie Murray and target man Martin Grehan from Kilbirnie, adding to raw young talent led by Arnie Bembo in midfield. If the squad gels quickly, expect BSC to be right up there when things get interesting early next year…
Stirling University (last season – 4th)
Shelley Kerr has departed to the Scotland Ladies’ helm, so top scorer Chris Geddes takes the reins (while still playing) seeking to continue the good times for Scotland’s top uni side. So much will depend on the new student intake, but Stirling have a knack of consistently performing with a fresh squad every season. A title challenge may be stretching expectations somewhat but it is certainly within the realms of possibility for this consistent outfit.
Cumbernauld Colts (last season – 6th)
The Colts started last season extremely well before petering out down the stretch as matches piled up. Joint gaffers McKinley and Orr are clearly keen to build on this, adding young defender Greg Pascazio from Montrose and Stennie midfielder Liam McCroary alongside promising talent from Tower Hearts & Harmony Row under 21s. The question remains squad depth with the Broadwood side, as the quality now exists to compete towards the top.
Gretna 2008 (last season – 9th)
Matt Henney enters his 2nd season in the Raydale dugout having again built a squad by scouring the lower leagues of England as well as Scotland. A perrenial mid-table side since the formation of the league, 2017/18 could be harder work given the moves made by other clubs and neighbours Dalbeattie Star enjoying a successful campaign last time. The main concern I have for the black and whites is squad depth, having a small group compared to others.
Whitehill Welfare (last season – 8th)
Arguably the most-changed side from last season, Gary Small’s arrival as gaffer has seen a complete transformation of the Welfare squad. Fans can be forgiven for taking a few weeks to learn the new player’s names as they take time to gel, and the nature of such a profound change is that the Rosewell side could either improve or fall further this time around. General consensus seems to be that Small is very capable and mid-table is the most likely destination.
Dalbeattie Star (last season – 5th)
Last season’s surprise package, Star enjoyed a great campaign having expected little more than a middle of the pack finish. Bragging rights in the south of Scotland count and Darren Kerr is now tasked with delivering another solid set of results. Bad news has struck before a ball has been kicked, however, as midfield playmaker Lewis Sloan looks set to miss an entire year having snapped his achilles during pre-season preparations.
Gala Fairydean Rovers (last season – 10th)
GFR are making fantastic strides off the pitch, growing the club in the community and developing their online presence to be one of the most impressive outwith the SPFL. Inconsistency plagued them on the pitch last term – manager Steven Noble will be hoping to take the next step by adding the likes of midfielder Daniel Pattenden from Leith. The aim for the Rovers this year is likely consolidation and a higher league finish overall.
Civil Service Strollers (last season – 12th)
The amateurs had an impressive debut season in the Lowland League, competing well and proving a match for any side on their day. Gaffer Alex Cunningham seems to have an astute eye for a player and is confident that improvement from the previous campaign will be achievable. However, the club’s amateur status will always work against them in a city where Spartans and Edinburgh City pick up the best players for this level.
Edusport Academy (last season – South of Scotland champions)
Possibly the hardest team to predict this season, Edusport are an academy catering for mainly French students combining education and football prowess. We will only know exactly what to expect from them when a few games have been played, as open trials are being used alongside existing tutees to bolster Ricky Waddell’s ranks. Genuinely could end up anywhere between 1st and 16th! The only guarantee is good, attractive, passing football.
Hawick Royal Albert (last season – 14th)
HRA have broken ranks to appoint 23 year old Kenny Aitchison as their new manager, having lost a couple of gaffers in the last 12 months. They will no doubt hope to build on their Scottish Cup run last term (famously beating Berwick away from home) but have suffered a major blow in losing talisman Josh Morris to Cowdenbeath. The Albert pipped Selkirk to guaranteed safety in their debut campaign, and may need a similar late act to survive.
Selkirk (last season – 15th)
January appointment Ian Fergus remains at Yarrow Park, aiming to avoid the end-of-season uncertainly that the club had last season (if Buckie Thistle had won the playoffs, they would have been relegated). The young squad now assembled has enjoyed a decent pre-season, including a win over Partick Thistle’s under 21s – time will tell whether the quality and depth is sufficient to improve on the previous campaign of struggle.
Edinburgh University (last season – 11th)
Very much a hit-or-miss side, Dorian Ogunro’s students lacked consistency last term and finished in the lower half of the table as a result. As with university compatriots Stirling, so much will depend on the new intake of students replacing what has been lost on the other end. Overall the capital’s university representatives have struggled to break free from the pack, and this might just be a year of further struggle at the wrong end of the table.
Vale of Leithen (last season – 13th)
Vale fans have got used to being among the lower reaches of the Lowland league, and I don’t believe this year will offer much restbite – having said that, the club has done well to add Jack Hay from Spartans and Jordan Finnie from Civil Service, two proven players at this level. Chris Anderson continues in the hotseat, and is expected to lead his side clear of relegation trouble for another season of eventual safety.