Caledonian Braves chairman Christopher Ewing is throwing his weight behind proposals to allow Celtic and Rangers ‘B’ teams into the Lowland League next season.
The club based in North Lanarkshire were one of 11 clubs to vote in favour of Celtic and Rangers youth sides entering the division for the 2021/22 term. Proposals were put to clubs last week and now that those have passed a vote, the colt teams look set to join the fifth tier of Scottish football next season.
There has been a very mixed reaction to the news, with some endorsing the plans, while others have offered strong opposition to the Celtic and Rangers ‘B’ teams. But Ewing says it offers Lowland League clubs a fresh opportunity and the chance to attract new eyes to the league after a meeting with Celtic’s Head of Youth Academy Chris McCart and Rangers’ Head of Academy Craig Mullholland.
Ewing told NTOF: “All the clubs in the Lowland League got an email last Friday and were told we were having a league meeting about it on Monday. It was a case of digesting things quickly and making a decision on it. On a personal level I was quite surprised as Celtic and Rangers ‘B’ teams have been an ongoing topic for entry into League Two.
“I never thought we would see them in the Lowland League to be honest but I am one for challenging the status quo. It was an interesting one and we put it to our fans. The fans decide and it gave us an opportunity to include our fans in something that has never been done before in Scottish football.
“The idea for me was a no-brainer. It adds two quality teams to the Lowland League and brings a profile to the league. There are commercial opportunities there too if we can manage it well in terms of sponsorship for the league. For me, there were lots of positives.
“What I see from the wider Scottish football community is a mega overreaction. It’s one year. If Celtic and Rangers colts teams were in the pyramid system forever then maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea. But it’s one year. It’s U20s players coming into a league for the year.
“Opportunity is a fantastic word and it’s not used very often in Scottish football. I think the 11 clubs voted with that in mind and good on them, because this was a brave decision. It’s a democracy and on this occasion the clubs voted in favour.”
Plenty of opposition has been thrown towards the Lowland League. Teams at tier six in the Scottish football pyramid are unhappy that Celtic and Rangers have been given a helping hand into the fifth tier. Others are questioning sporting integrity and whether this a decision based on finance, Celtic and Rangers paying £25,000 each for entry.
Billy Gilmour was in the Rangers academy before moving south to Chelsea and Ewing believes it shows the quality that could come to the division. That said, it won’t be a walk in the park for the youth teams.
Ewing explained: “The big negative that comes at us is integrity. To my knowledge, this is not of a detriment to any clubs in tier six. Celtic and Rangers won’t be promoted and they won’t be relegated. Promotion and relegation will still occur in the Lowland League. There’s no club disadvantaged, and for me, the integrity of the proposal isn’t in question.
“The bigger question is why Celtic and Rangers feel they have to come into the Lowland League to provide their players with opportunities. There is a gap in the player pathway here. That for me what we need to be addressing, not whether Celtic are in the Lowland League or not.
“A lot of people have the assumption that Celtic and Rangers are going to come in and walk the league – but it’s very tough. Any neutral would be very interested watching a Celtic or Rangers youth team against a BSC Glasgow or a Bonnyrigg Rose.
“Is that not what football is about, exciting the fans and watching the best young players? Billy Gilmour is at Chelsea and he’s about to play in the Champions League final. If this happened a few years ago, he would have been playing in the Rangers ‘B’ team in the Lowland League.
“Is that not something you want to see as a fan? Seeing your team playing against the quality of someone like Billy Gilmour, or players who have gone into the Celtic and Rangers first-team? Are we not capable of having an open-mind? Looking at the bigger picture instead of Celtic and Rangers-bashing and sporting integrity?
“There does not have to be a fear about anything. I am not scared. My commitment is to the fans but for me, I would have voted Celtic and Rangers into the league for nothing. It’s about football, it’s about passion, it’s about excitement. It wasn’t about the money, it’s only £3,000 a club. It’s not a motivating factor.
“I don’t think sporting integrity is relevant to this. I think it’s too easy to jump on that bandwagon, I think it’s the get out of jail card. Everyone is society is falling over themselves to be offended by something. This is very inoffensive, offering opportunities for Lowland League clubs. It’s one season, nothing more, nothing less.”
One thing that has irked Ewing is the social media reaction, some of which has spilled over into abuse. The Caledonian Braves chairman says it’s not on: “Social media is a horrible place, especially Twitter. It gives people an almost anonymous platform.
“They spew bile and hatred. It’s quite coincidental that this week (May 10th) was the start of Mental Health Awareness Week. Just on our Twitter feed, we had fans calling us cretins, an embarrassment, a joke of a club, sell-outs, all sorts of abuse and criticism.
“Some people go over the line but we have made the final decision. The fans have made the decision and we feel it’s he best for our club. 10 other clubs agree so let’s crack on. Let’s hope it promotes debate for the betterment of the game. There’s been an overreaction from lots of people in lots of different quarters.”
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