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Colt teams – the irritant that will not go away

September 8, 2016

CHRISTMAS is coming. Only 108 days away, to be precise.

Soon the wishlists will be getting drawn up. Think of all the games you could get.

If, over the coming weeks, there is a board version of ‘Whack-a-Mole’, you could maybe ask for that.

Because as a Scottish football fan, right now you’re getting good practice.

Colt teams in the lower leagues. They’ve been mentioned before and the fans didn’t like it. Some threatened that it would be the last straw.

This season, we’ve now had such sides in the Irn Bru Cup. Felt by many to be water-testing for getting them into the league. But many of us just didn’t want to think about it.

Now, after this week’s newspaper stories, it is indeed on the agenda. Let’s face it, we were kidding ourselves if we thought it would be limited to the cup.

Just when you think colt teams are forgotten about, safely shouted down, they’re back again. And again.

This is clearly something that two of our top flight clubs are determined to push through. Maybe more who just haven’t said anything yet. All in the name of giving young players a chance to progress, of course.

Only one thing they’re forgetting. The fans don’t want the colt teams. Never have, never will. Not wanted, not needed.

Why is this? Why is it such a bad idea?

Let’s take the analysis of our good friend, Mr Neil Doncaster, the chief executive of the guardians of the game, the SPFL. All of these were attributed to him by a national newspaper on Wednesday, September 7.

“We’ve already seen interest created by the colt teams playing in the early rounds (of the Irn Bru Cup).”

Quite right, Neil – as evidenced by the bumper attendance figures at the ties involving these clubs.

There are 119 spectators who can proudly say they were there when Hamilton Accies under-20s beat Cumbernauld Colts 3-0 in round one. A total of 190 people crammed into Cove Rangers’ ground to see them play Dundee under-20s, while at Hampden, less than 300 saw Queen’s Park play Kilmarnock’s colts.

As for the first round ties involving the “box office” Old Firm teams, 493 people saw Rangers beat Stirling University, while Celtic’s game with Annan Athletic attracted a massive 216 people.

In total, the attendances at the 12 first round ties involving colt teams came to 3,817. That’s an average of a shade over 318 per tie. Yep, massive interest, Neil.

Getting back to your critique: “If you look at Spain or Germany, both of these very successful leagues have colt teams playing in the lower reaches of these leagues.”

Perhaps those leagues are successful because of the money ploughed into them? Just a thought. And they are two of four leagues which were, disgracefully, recently granted a guaranteed four places in the Champions League group stage.

The other two, England and Italy, don’t. It’s never stopped them.

But Neil really outdoes himself here: “The general view is that this structure helps player development, having talented young players competing against seasoned professionals; it helps them.”

It helps player development, does it? Wow.

Just in case you missed it, Neil, none of these colt teams lasted more than three ties in the Irn Bru Cup. Only one of them survived more than two.

Not exactly the sign of teams who can compete with, as you put it, seasoned professionals.

However, the real laugh is from the idea that these teams would actually be used to develop players to progress to the first team.

You can just imagine Brendan Rodgers, Mark Warburton, Derek McInnes – any of them, sitting in his office.

And thinking: “This guy’s been playing really well against League Two opposition, even though his team has been getting beaten more often than they’ve won.

“I think I’ll give him a game in the first team in a must-win game next week.”

Pull the other one. This would simply be an opportunity for young players to wear the shirt, with about as much chance of first team football as they’ve got now.

You want them to play competitive football? Play them in the first team. It is REALLY not that difficult.

Since the introduction of the SPL, our top division has become some sort of refuge for players who aren’t wanted down south, or are sent out on loan.

It’s a poor relation, in terms of player quality, to the English Premier League. Another division which fails to help its national team.

England have been knocked out of the 2014 World Cup at the group stage, and beaten by Iceland at Euro 2016. And they STILL don’t get it.

The multi-million pound signings are good for the spectators and fantastic for the media. But Sam Allardyce must be wondering what he’s got himself into by accepting the England job.

In time, through little fault of his own, he’ll go the same way as Roy Hodgson. He’ll be made a scapegoat for England’s failings when, in reality, it’s the Harlem Globetrotter domestic league which isn’t doing its bit when it comes to player development.

About the only talking head who raised this after the Iceland defeat was Alan Shearer, who did exactly the same when they went out of Euro 2012 to Italy. They didn’t listen then and they haven’t listened so far now.

But that’s beside the point.

Run those first three words past us again, Neil. “The general view”?

The wide opinion is that it would be a positive?

Have a look at social media. Take in all the negative feedback that there’s been to these proposals.

These are from the fans, Neil. The people who plough their money into the product you’re supposed to market (LOL).

They didn’t like it when colt teams were first mentioned some years ago. They made their views known.

And here we are again. They still don’t like it. They know as well as anybody that any such move would compromise the integrity of Scottish football and devalue the lower leagues.

The divisions which, in many cases, they’ve spent decades following their team in, and possibly kept their clubs going.

There are only so many times their patience can be tested before they decide that the right thing to do is to walk away.

It would be a total last resort and, should it come to pass, a painful decision. A passion which has lasted most of their lifetimes would be over through a self-inflicted action.

But when their wishes are continually treated with contempt, what other course of action is there?

The fans, though, are not the ones who make the decisions here. The SPFL are.

If the clubs – for they are the SPFL – want to bring in colt teams to be regularly beaten by more experienced sides, in front of an average crowd of 318, that’s up to them.

But they’ll do it without many of the people who make the game what it is. The fans.

They’ve had enough of being alienated and ignored. And for many, this may be it.

So what matters more? ‘Development’ sides in the lower leagues or the continued participation of hundreds of fans? It’s nearly certain you can’t have both.

Over to the clubs.

What do you think? Share your opinions by using the comments section below.

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