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WILL CLARK: Elgin City humiliation sign of north south divide in lower league football quality

By Will Clark

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Many fans feel losing 6-0 to Jeanfield Swifts was the worst result in Elgin City's history. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Many fans feel losing 6-0 to Jeanfield Swifts was the worst result in Elgin City's history. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

I don’t write much about Elgin City, I buy the Northern Scot every week to read the fantastic coverage of the club they provide.

But in light of them being thrashed 6-0 by East of Scotland League outfit Jeanfield Swifts, which many people says is the worst result in their history, it made me consider the level of quality of lower league football in the north and south.

Even in the Inverness Caledonian Thistle press box on Saturday, we were stunned hearing the news Elgin City had gone 4-0 down after 28 minutes to a team fourth in the sixth tier East of Scotland Premier League.

Elgin City aren’t having a great season, bottom of League Two with one win to their name and already into their second manager this season.

Elgin City manager Barry Smith. Photo: Bob Crombie
Elgin City manager Barry Smith. Photo: Bob Crombie

But despite Elgin City’s predicament in League Two, being thrashed 6-0 by a team, two divisions below them, should never have happened to any SPFL club.

It is not unusual for lower league clubs to cause upsets, but the gulf in class between Elgin and Jeanfield Swifts left everyone stunned.

With the introduction of relegation from League Two in the 2014/15 season, teams from the Highland League and the Lowland League have had the opportunity to win promotion to the SPFL.

Five of the eight play-off finals have involved the Lowland League champions, with four of them, Edinburgh City, Kelty Hearts, Bonnyrigg Rose and The Spartans all winning promotion.

Cove Rangers are the only club to win promotion from the Highland League and since then climbed to the Championship, before being relegated to League One.

But even looking at the success of the Lowland League teams, in the Scottish Cup, it is clubs from the divisions below that have caused the shocks.

Former junior teams who now play in the West of Scotland League, have caused the big shocks in recent years.

The biggest shock of all happened last season when Darvel beat Aberdeen 1-0. In 2019, Auchinleck Talbot beat Ayr United, who were challenging for the Championship title at the time.

Brora Rangers have done well for the Highland League, seeing off Hearts in one of the biggest upsets of all time in 2021 and last week did beat League Two Stenhousemuir 2-0 at Ochil View.

However, the gap between lower league teams in the south compared to SPFL League Two is not as big or exist at all, compared to the Highland League.

Before 2014, the gap between Highland League teams and former junior teams was not as apparent. The Scottish Junior Cup is dominated by teams from the east and west, but before the Lowland League and pyramid system came into being, there was no way to know how they compared to Highland League teams. But in the last decade, the Lowland League and its divisions below have been more successful compared to the north.

There have been success stories from the north, with Brora Rangers and Banks O’Dee beating SPFL opposition in the Scottish Cup along with the success of Cove Rangers.

But Lowland League, East of Scotland League and West of Scotland League teams have enjoyed more success against Highland League clubs when they face each other.

If Elgin City do finish bottom of League Two, you would have to fear their place will be taken by another Lowland League team next season.

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