SEASON 1891/91 PREVIEW
With the football season now officially running from August to May and the various fixture lists issued, the new season brings much anticipation. Along with the usual cup competitions and the Scottish League a further 6 league competitions were added to the programme. Only time will tell whether Scotland can support such an explosion of fixtures or even if the calendar can accommodate so much football. One stand out factor is that 72 clubs have now a fixed number of guaranteed games throughout the season and that should reduce greatly the number of meaningless “ordinary" games. Of the presumed "elite" clubs, Queen's Park stands alone in rejecting league football and this will surely have an impact on their season and their ability to provide attractive fixtures for their fans. Technically 72 clubs are now unavailable to play them so are those left of a high enough standard to satisfy Queen’s Park’s ambitions? Who they play throughout the season, out with cup-ties will be an interesting watch.
The issue of “professionalism” continues to be a drain on Scottish player resources and already a number of well-regarded players have taken the “English pound". Although a fair number of players have taken advantage on SFA’s armistice and returned to Scotland from professional English clubs, the balance of quality still favours England. The ingenious methods many clubs use to hide the fact that they are paying players in an effort to retain and attract the best players in an effort to stop them going to England borders on farcical and proving futile. The SFA has to stop burying its head in the sand and make professional football in legal Scotland. However even this acknowledgement may now to be too late. England has had a few years head start on professional football so their financial position will be stronger and able to outbid Scottish wages. The middle-class snobbery of the SFA propped up by the almost zealot like stance of Queen’s Park and their apologists is a knife in the heart of Scottish football.
Last season the league survived a number of foreseeable and unforeseeable events that could have strangled its formation at birth. The spiteful action taken against Renton by the SFA was a major blow right at the beginning of the league and the ground and administrative problems of Cowlairs did not help. The postponement of many fixtures due to cup replays and severe weather conditions ruined the balance of the competition and extended the season well into May. There was also a sense of an unsatisfactorily conclusion in that there was no outright winner. Nevertheless it was regarded as a success in the end.
At their AGM the Scottish League decided to increase the membership from the original odd numbered 11 to the more balanced 12. This prompted at total of 11 clubs to apply for membership. 9 of the applicants were founder members of the newly formed Scottish Alliance League. Of the other two, St.Bernard’s were without a league and Mossend Swifts a founding member of the Eastern Alliance. The applicants were whittled down to a shortlist of 8; the 3 clubs league clubs (St.Mirren, Vale of Leven and Cowlairs), required to re-apply, 4 applicants (Clyde, Leith Athletic, Morton and St.Bernard's) plus Renton. When the voting ended Renton were, as expected, re-instated with St.Mirren and Vale of Leven retaining their league status. Leith Athletic were successful thus increasing Edinburgh’s league representation. This left one vacant place to be filled. Clyde and Cowlairs were tied whilst Morton and St.Bernard’s were cast well adrift through lack of support. After several run-offs between the two, Clyde eventually squeezed out Cowlairs by one vote.
Cowlairs losing out to Clyde was an odd decision. The Springburn club were a bigger club in terms of success and reputation than their northeastern rivals and terms of support; they were more or less the same. There was no doubt the league wanted to retain a presence 4 Glasgow clubs and following Cowlairs’ recent administrative and ground problems, perhaps saw Clyde as the better run club. The fact that Cowlairs later declined to seek a place in any of the other new leagues and therefore cast themselves into football limbo appears to have vindicated the league's decision.
So what were the clubs prospects for the coming season? Dumbarton had one of their most successful seasons in their history adding the Dunbartonshire Cup and the League Charity Cup to the League Championship. They were also runners-up in the Scottish Cup. If Dumbarton can retain a similar level of consistency as they did last season then winning the league outright is on the cards. For fellow joint champions, Rangers, out with the league campaign the club failed to impress and achieved nothing. Their strong league campaign was seen as overachievement so this is a chance to prove that last season was no fluke but it remains to be seen whether they can repeat the trick. Celtic has to prove they are a team. Given the quality of the players at their disposal, had they become champions last season it would have been no shock or surprise. If Celtic can find a way to blend individualism with teamwork then winning the league should be a formality.
Cambuslang, like Rangers, also had a league campaign that was way beyond what was expected. It is difficult to see them doing anywhere as near as well this season. Third Lanark’s season was heavily disrupted with postponements and protracted cup replays. This had a detrimental effect on their campaign so assessing their chances of success is difficult. They could emerge as the dark horses in the new season. Heart of Midlothian cannot be discounted. As Scottish Cup holders they can quite rightly claim to be the best team in Scotland. The new league campaign gives them an excellent chance to justify this claim and they have a better than even chance of doing so.
Paisley pair, Abercorn and St.Mirren, basically made up the numbers last season and there is nothing to indicate this season will be any different. Vale of Leven have shown over recent seasons that they are clearly a team in decline. Unless they can find a new direction, staying off the bottom will be seen as an achievement. Renton is another team in the same position as Vale of Leven but for different reasons. Having not played meaningful football for nearly a year, what state the team will be in can only be guessed at. As for the new teams, Clyde and Leith Athletic need to demonstrate they are of an equal standard to the existing teams. Avoiding re-election would be a successful season for them.
Scottish Alliance League
The teams making up the new Alliance League is seen by many to be a “best of the rest" league and this view can be supported by the fact that only East Stirlingshire, Port Glasgow Athletic and Ayr from the original founders did not apply to gain admission to the Scottish League. With Clyde and Leith Athletic being successful with their application to the Scottish League two places had to be filled. King’s Park jumped from the Scottish Federation League to take one place and St.Bernard’s, who failed to gain a place in the Scottish League, filled the other.
Like the Scottish League, Glasgow make up the rump of the Alliance League with four teams. The best Stirlingshire clubs, East Stirlingshire and King’s Park together with the best from Ayrshire, Ayr and Kilmarnock, formed a strong backbone. Airdrieonians represent Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire supply Morton and Port Glasgow Athletic. The odd one out in the line-up is St.Bernard’s. The Edinburgh outfit would have probably beaten Leith Athletic to the Scottish League had they not been suspended for almost a year by the SFA.
The overall standard of the clubs that make up the league is of a similar level and makes for an interesting season ahead. The Ayrshire duo perhaps just shade the rest but East Stirlingshire and Airdrieonians cannot be discounted. Of the Glasgow contingent, Northern may well be the best placed. Like Renton in the Scottish League, St.Bernard’s are very much an unknown factor due to the problems of last season.
Scottish Federation League
Lanarkshire clubs make up the bulk of the league together with the remnants of Ayrshire, Stirlingshire, Renfrewshire and Glasgow clubs below the level of those in the Alliance League. With King’s Park switching to the Alliance League, their place was filled by Clydebank – a much inferior club.
Another difficult league to assess but Arthurlie, Hurlford and Albion Rovers look to be the teams to watch out for.
Of all the new leagues the Northern League looks the most intriguing. Open to clubs north of the Tay, the league took the sensible step of limiting the number to eight. The other big decision was limiting the set up to one club from each town; Aberdeen, Arbroath, Forfar, Montrose and Perth. However the exception to that was allowing the city of Dundee to have 3 teams. This could result in problems; can Dundee viably support three league teams? The answer may lie in the fact that in arranging the fixture list, the league had to ensure that (unless they were playing each other) no two Dundee teams played in the city at the same time.
This may prove to be a tight league but it is difficult to see past one of the Dundee teams coming out on top.
Very much a minor league made up of clubs from the central strip of Fifeshire, Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire. The aim of these clubs is to improve their standard and be good enough to gain entry into either the Alliance or Federation League. As all the teams involved seem to be of a similar standard, any one of them is capable of coming out on top.
Ayrshire League and the Eastern Alliance League
Both these leagues can be view to be of a similar standard to the Midland League, made up of minor clubs with ambitions to be better. Annbank in the Ayrshire and the Broxburn clubs in the Eastern Alliance look the best placed to come out on top of their respective leagues.
Four Ayrshire based teams have joined other leagues yet despite that the county can still form a league of ten clubs. If nothing else this just demonstrates the level of interest in football Ayrshire can generate.
The bulk of the 8-team Eastern Alliance is made up of 6 teams from Linlithgowshire so could easily have been called the Linlithgowshire League. Like Ayrshire it demonstrates another hot bed of football interest. The other two available places were filled by Edinburgh based Adventurers and Kirkcaldy in Fifeshire. Adventurers took the place of Leith Hibernian who were originally allocated a place. Leith Hibernian were formed to replace the moribund Hibernian but failed to attract the necessary support. Plans are very much in process to get Hibernian out of “cold storage”, once a suitable ground is secured.
In conclusion, with the formation of various leagues, together with the national cup competition and the many local cup competitions, the season is shaping up to be the most interesting yet.