The Sweeper: Franchise Football in Scotland

Cowdenbeath, the Blue Brazil

Big Story

The words “Franchise Football” strike fear into football fans across Britain. The reason that Wimbledon’s move to Milton Keynes, where they became the MK Dons, continues to generate outrage now many years on is because it abrograted a simple cultural belief common to the vast majority of fans: in some sense, a team “belongs” to its local community. It shouldn’t be moved about like a McDonalds.

But, as Bobby Brandon wrote on these pages last year, MK Dons were not the first “Franchise FC” in Britain; a Scottish precedent had been set in 1995, when what is now Livingston FC (then known as Meadowbank Thistle) abandoned Edinburgh for a new home and stadium in Livingston, West Lothian.

And then in 2002, Airdrie United bought out Clydebank FC to take their place in the Scottish Second Division, killing Clydebank FC despite extensive efforts by United Clydebank Supporters  to save the club (the rise, fall and rise again of Clydebank was covered in detail here by Damon Main last year).

Now it looks set to happen again, and unless the Scottish FA steps in, a trend of “franchising” could spread in Scottish football. This time, as the outstanding Scottish blog Away from the Numbers explains, “Cowdenbeath FC and their supporters seem to be facing the fight of their 119 year history at the moment, as it was revealed that they may be looking at possibly groundsharing or possibly a merger with/takeover by Edinburgh East of Scotland non-league side Spartans.”

Details are sparse, but Away from the Numbers speculates it could mean “a takeover by Spartans to buy the Cowden name, move them lock, stockcar and barrel to Edinburgh and have them play under Spartans name in Spartans’ Ainslie Park ground.”

One reason Spartans might want to do this is the same as that of Aidrie United’s reasoning before them: the lack of a true pyramid system in Scotland means the incentive to “buy” a place in the Scottish League is strong for clubs below that level.

In this case, Spartans currently play in the East of Scotland Football League, one of three “non-leagues” immediately below the Scottish Football League, which does not have automatic promotion and relegation with those leagues below (a lack of promotion/relegation isn’t just for  MLS, folks!). Opportunities to join the league are thus rare, and in 2008, Spartans were denied their application to replace defunct Gretna.

The situation, then, is not quite comparable to the way MK Dons jumped the pyramid in England by taking over and moving Wimbledon (in England’s true pyramid system, they could have started a local club and fairly moved all the way up the league, as Wimbledon originally did starting in non-league football).

The Scottish football authorities could alleviate what seems to be a growing pattern of clubs attempting to parachute up the pyramid by instituting a promotion and relegation system from the non-leagues to the Football League.

If they don’t, more franchising may well follow.

Quick Hits

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