The New Era of Junior Football

By Keiran Fleming

From the beginning of next season teams from the North Caledonian League, the Super League and the East Region North will have the opportunity to be promoted into the Highland League.

Assistant Editor Keiran Fleming sat down with Culter FC manager Lee Youngson and the manager of Dundee Violets JFC Andy Heggie to discuss the impact joining the pyramid could have on their clubs.

Culter FC are one of Aberdeen’s historically successful Junior clubs. Manager Lee Youngson welcomes the decision of the Super League joining the Scottish football pyramid but he doesn’t believe it will make the division any more competitive than it already is:

“I think it’s a stronger Super League now than it has been in recent years and it’s only going to get stronger because there’s a lot of ambitious people involved in these clubs. I would disagree that if teams were to leave for the Highland League it would make our league more competitive, would it make the Highland League more competitive, certainly. We would all hold our own in the Highland League that’s quite clear.

“It’s an interesting time I think. It’ll be interesting to see how things develop over the next few years. You would look at probably Dyce, Culter and Hermes and think their facilities are ok for the Highland league but they’re not. There’s criteria we wouldn’t meet and for us there would be a big financial outlay to get to that standard. It’s something we are planning to do anyway in regards to adding flood lights at some point and all the other bits that go with it, just to try and make our facilities the best we possibly can. It’s new to us, it’s something we’re interested in and we’ll just have to see what happens in the coming months.”

There have been rumours for years that the northern Junior leagues were going to link to the Highland League much like the West of Scotland Football League links to the Lowland league. However, the news of the link being made came as a surprise to many of the Junior clubs in the north.

“In regards to (joining) the pyramid system we’ve been told it’s going to happen, it’s not going to happen, then it’s happening and that’s as much dealings as the clubs have had or certainly us. I think it is the right move. There’s progression there. There’s probably clubs in the Highland League that are quite happy with finishing bottom and there being no repercussion for that.

“I strongly believe the top two, three teams at our level would do well in the Highland League and they would certainly push into the top half.”

Although a chance to be promoted may act as extra motivation for sides competing in the Junior league. Youngson says that there will be some in the Super League that won’t want to make the step up:

“A lot of our players are probably quite happy playing at this level, they could play in the Highland League but they choose not to. It’s local, it’s on their doorstep and that’s the biggest attraction for it (Junior Football).

“Adding that extra motivation of being a part of the pyramid system is only going to help.

Our focus, and I probably speak for a few other teams, is closing the gap on Banks o’ Dee  before we consider anything else. We’ve got to be more competitive in our league and I think that’s what clubs have looked to do in regards to recruiting players and doing things with facilities. Everyone is trying to catch up on a team that’s been so progressive and dominant for so long now.”

“The good thing is people are making up ground quickly. Banks o’ Dee will only get stronger because they’ve got a young squad, but if everyone else can improve at a quicker rate it should make things more competitive, not only for us but for Banks o’Dee, they are probably crying out for someone to be in the run with them. I suppose this adds a bit of the energy to the new season now knowing there is something new at the end of the season for everybody.”

Dundee Violets JFC are considered to be one of the bigger teams in the Tayside Junior football scene. Manager Andy Heggie is extremely excited about the season ahead especially with a new incentive.

“I’m a former player up in the Highland League myself so there is an attachment there. I think the new tier system coming into place could only be good for Scottish football. For us as a club at this moment in time we’re looking to promote players, we’re looking for a fresh start. We’re really excited about it, I think going forward it’s an avenue to go down. The way that Junior football has gone recently with teams leaving for the East of Scotland it’s broken up the Junior scene in Dundee. Going towards the Highland League gives us someplace to go now.

“I think it’s an opportunity for clubs around the tayside area to push for that (promotion). Obviously with the geography side of it there’s a lot of miles to cover which is something that anyone with ambition to take their club forward would be ok with because being part of the Highland League is massive for a club from this area. It’s a great platform for younger players and as a club we want to work with younger players. I think it’s everybody’s aim to play at a higher level.”

Heggie believes that now clubs are playing for promotion it will give those who are part of the team that extra push when it comes to fighting for the top spot of the table:

“Our coaching staff are certainly excited about it. The players I have seen are mixed about it because of the travelling side and that we are part time. They are concerned about how the fixtures would play out if we were successful. There are some players who are really keen to test themselves in that league. I think it’s a good platform for kids who have been released from the likes of Montrose and some other clubs as it’s another avenue to help them get to the level they want to get to.”

During the talks over the years there has been a lot of difficulty when it comes to discussing the Tayside clubs. The main struggle being whether the clubs from the area would be linked with the Lowland or the Highland League. The Violets manager explained to Keiran why this has been so controversial.

“We were always told as we were north of the Tay we would have to go to the Highland League. Teams from the Perth area have then left for the East of Scotland league. To be honest with you the news has come around quite quick. In terms of timescale I think talks started at the tailend of last year so it has had quite a turnaround. I think it was the introduction of the West of Scotland League that kind of prompted everything again. I think it’s (the Highland League) the sensible route”

NE98 would like to thank both Lee Youngson from Culter and Andy Heggie from Dundee Violet for taking the time to speak to Keiran. We wish both clubs all the best in the future.

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