Chairman of Scottish League Two club accuses SFA of offering a 'bribe' to Lowland League teams

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Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy has accused the SFA and SPFL of offering ‘grubby backroom deals’ in a quest to shoehorn Celtic, Hearts and Rangers B teams into next season’s Lowland League.

Plans to admit the Premiership trio to a divided fifth tier were waved through after a casting vote by the league chairman.

Asked to change their rules to accommodate all three in a 19-team division, SLFL sides recently voted against the proposal by a margin of 13 to three.

The preference of the Lowland League sides was to accept two of the three — and reject one.

Faced with an ultimatum to either admit all three or none at all, however, teams from the fifth tier held another vote on Monday night. And, after an 8-8 split, Lowland League chairman Thomas Brown voted ‘yes’ in return for the promise of a review of the pyramid structure by the pyramid working group.

Celtic, Hearts and Rangers are willing to pay £40,000 each for entry, with the £120,000 split evenly between the other 16 clubs.

Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy has accused the SFA and SPFL of offering 'grubby backroom deals'

Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy has accused the SFA and SPFL of offering ‘grubby backroom deals’

It comes after plans to shoehorn Celtic and Rangers B teams into next season's Lowland League were waved through

It comes after plans to shoehorn Celtic and Rangers B teams into next season’s Lowland League were waved through

Rejecting accusations of money-grabbing, however, a club source told Sportsmail that the Lowland League teams hope to secure the abolition of the promotion play-off against the bottom team in League Two as their price for accepting the three B teams.

And that prompted McMenemy to accuse the SFA and SPFL of offering a ‘bribe’ to the Lowland League teams certain to be rejected by teams in League Two.

The Stenhousemuir chairman said: ‘Reconstructing the pyramid was not on the agenda, so you have to ask what’s changed? Why now?

‘It seems pretty obvious that this issue has been hastily thrown into the negotiations at the 11th hour. We knew nothing about it.

Scottish giants, Hearts, also decided they wanted to enter a B team into the Lowland League

Scottish giants, Hearts, also decided they wanted to enter a B team into the Lowland League

‘Those at the negotiating table have offered to look at relegating more League Two clubs from the SPFL in order to bribe the Lowland League into accepting Premiership colt teams into their league next season.

‘The manner in which they have gone about this is just not acceptable. Clubs in Leagues One and Two are not here as bargaining chips for Premiership clubs and our fate won’t be decided in grubby backroom deals behind our backs.

‘I can tell you now that reconstruction will not happen under these circumstances. I feel sorry for the Lowland League clubs who have been deceived into thinking this was likely.’

With no reserve league in operation in Scotland, concern is growing over the future of academy players. And, while Celtic, Hearts and Rangers fielding B teams in the Lowland League is a short-term solution, the pyramid working group will be asked to come up with a more permanent plan for improving the flow of players between 17 and 21 before season 2023/24.

Lowland League chairman Thomas Brown voted 'yes' in return for the promise of a review of the pyramid structure

Lowland League chairman Thomas Brown voted ‘yes’ in return for the promise of a review of the pyramid structure

Forced to cast the decisive vote after Lowland League teams were split down the middle on the issue of admitting three Premiership B teams, Brown said: ‘We were always open to the inclusion of guest clubs for a further season given the successful player development outcomes from last year’s pilot.

‘We want to be a modern and progressive league and we are excited to be playing our part in the ecosystem that develops Scotland’s talent.

‘Importantly, we now look forward to working with the Scottish FA, the SPFL and our friends in the pyramid to create some new solutions to some existing challenges which will provide a bright future at all levels of our game.’

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell made a personal appeal to Lowland League clubs to accept the colt sides and said: ‘We are delighted that the Lowland League clubs have approved the participation of three guest clubs for the forthcoming season.

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell made a personal appeal to Lowland League clubs to accept the colt sides

SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell made a personal appeal to Lowland League clubs to accept the colt sides

‘The Scottish FA supports the principle of elite player development and particularly providing opportunities for talented players in the key transition years from 17 to 21.

‘The Scottish FA will oversee a discussion in parallel to propose and implement a long-term plan with the objectives of optimising the pyramid, which has been a resounding success in Scottish football, harnessing the player pathway and accelerating the development of the country’s most talented young players through the national youth teams to the full international stage.’

League sources favour a speedy review by the pyramid working group in order to propose change to promotion and relegation rules before vested interests kick in midway through a season.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: ‘The SPFL will commit our energies to a process that will explore options and, hopefully, allow us to move forward various aspects of our game for the benefit of our 42 member clubs and Scottish football as a whole.’

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