End of an Era – Are the Scottish Juniors in Trouble?

This week saw another big Junior side, Bonnyrigg Rose, declare their intention to leave the grade and join the SFA pyramid after a fan & member vote. Applications to join the tier 6 leagues (entry level) will be accepted until the end of March, when we will begin to understand the gravity of change coming next season. With the SJFA seemingly losing control of its future as members deliberate jumping ship, is the end nigh for the historic Scottish Junior game?

First off, a quick history lesson – for those unfamiliar with football in Scotland, we have 3 adult grades (unlike most countries who have only 2): Senior, Junior and Amateur. The SFA look after the senior game (and the pyramid as a whole), while for historical reasons the SJFA run a separate regional league system. Many of the players are part-time and paid, and in some cases the top Junior sides can compete with the lower end of the SPFL when it comes to wages. However, last year’s East Region champions Kelty Hearts became the first Junior side to leave the grade behind and join the still-new pyramid system in the East of Scotland League (EoS). Now, it looks like promotion to the Lowland League is on the cards, and they have opened the floodgates for others to follow suit.

Initially, these pressures mainly affected the East region of the Juniors. Below the 5th tier (Highland & Lowland leagues), only two “Lowland” leagues reside in the bottom tier of the pyramid; the EoS and South of Scotland League (SoS), which contains mainly south-west sides that don’t seem as keen on promotion. The Junior regions cover North, West and East of Scotland – while the North essentially slots in below the Highland League (which doesn’t have relegation, and hasn’t had any new joiners for a few years) the West teams don’t have a natural home to move to in tier 6 at this stage. With the early success of Kelty drawing attention, however, change is coming; the East of Scotland League have proposed running a parallel league in the West which is now under discussion.

Before Bonnyrigg’s announcement, there had been a confirmed 3 applications from Junior sides to join the EoS league next season, with another 2/3 indicating that they would follow suit before the deadline. Dalkeith Thistle are the only club to go public with their application thus far, while Clydebank’s members voted to ‘seek a return to the senior game’ but still await how this will be proposed. What was significant about Clydebank’s public declaration? Well, they became the first West Junior side to announce a desire to join the pyramid, despite the lack of a natural division for their region. A copy of fellow West side Kilwinning Rangers’ recent general meeting minutes then ‘leaked’ the news that the EoS was looking into running a West league, with at least 5 top West Junior clubs interested in becoming founding members.

You may well be reading this, thinking ‘why?’ – there are several thousand reasons why every year, in the form of cold hard cash! The SFA runs a ‘licencing’ scheme for clubs, which is required to progress from tier 6 up the levels. It sets minimum standards to be achieved (spectator covered capacity of 100, facilities at an acceptable standard, proper book-keeping off the field) and provides rewards for doing so: the possibility of promotion; automatic entry into the potentially lucrative Scottish Cup; access to grants and schemes, and more besides. Clubs signing up to the pyramid system also become eligible to receive around £10,000 in funding to improve their facilities and reach an acceptable status for licencing.

To sum up the Juniors currently: the traditionally weaker North region is unlikely to see anything change in the near future; the West is bracing itself as it feels the pressure of the pyramid’s pull for the first time; the East is set to be severely weakened, losing established & well-supported sides , and potentially facing a forced league restructure as a result. It would take a very naïve opinion to suggest the imminent end of the Junior grade, but things will undoubtedly be tougher for the SJFA in years to come. The only question remaining for the blazers in charge is whether they will belatedly choose to negotiate with the Senior game and join the overall pyramid, or whether they will continue to diminish in stature as more and more member clubs choose to chase the dream (be it either football or financially driven) every year.


One thought on “End of an Era – Are the Scottish Juniors in Trouble?

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  1. hi
    i was born in bonnyrigg and have supported them for almost 60 years, but i played football for gala fairydean,and gala rovers amateur . now with the Rose moving to the senior ranks, it will be a strange paradox, that if the 2 teams clash in any of the EOS fixtures i say with no hesitation that i will support the Fairydean,

    i also ran a kids football team some who have or are playing still, sons of my former team mates and friends play for and indeed the current coaching staff are 2 of my former players.ergo my decision is a no brainer.

    the rose and other exiles from the juniors should have stayed where they are, even although they will breeze into the lowland league at the 1st attempt, and have solid supporter base with crowds bigger than some league 1 sides.

    its also time to extend leagues 1 and 2 to 20 teams based on a clubs portfolio, with average gate receipts the main factor and cut out these nonsense play offs, with some clubs who were involved in them who did NOT want ‘ promotion ‘ i suggest.

    kelty hearts had 1300 fans at their league decider, more than East Fife and Cowdenbeath combined, and should have been piloted straight in to the lowland league, at a minimum,and if my idea is listened to straight into league 2.

    they averaged 6 goals a a game, and take the success of Bonnyrigg in the Scottish Cup they trounced Burntisland Shipyard 16 0 and they are the same league as Kelty, and then a team from the lowland league 8 2, then they beat Cove Rangers , and Dumbarton deservedly,and these were not freak wins…i however would give all that up, for another Scottish Junior cup win lastly these lower league games should be on a Sunday or Friday nights as most clubs have floodlights., and the fixtures would not clash with premier or champioship fixtures lol do not clash.
    i rest my case.


    aka rumpole of the railway


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