Berwick Rangers to vote against Conference League proposal

The Board of Directors at Berwick Rangers can confirm that the club will be voting against the introduction of the proposed Scottish Conference League at the Scottish FA AGM, on Tuesday 6 June.

Last month, the club were sent details of the proposal, which would require a change to the SFA’s Articles of Association, and see the creation of the Scottish Conference League at Tier 5 of the Scottish football pyramid for the start of season 2024/25.

The proposal is designed to improve the pathway for young Scottish players aged 17-21, and would entail the establishment of a new 10-team league, comprising the top 4 Lowland League clubs, top 2 Highland League clubs, and 4 SPFL B teams. Next season’s SPFL promotion playoff would be unaffected, but after next season the proposal would see the top placed eligible Conference League side go directly into a playoff with the bottom placed side in League 2. The Lowland League champion from 2024/5 onwards would not be guaranteed a place in the Conference League, but instead still need to win a playoff. B teams would be ineligible for promotion out of, or relegation from, the Conference League – so in effect the new Conference would have 6 teams competing for 1 promotion playoff place, and hoping to avoid automatic relegation for finishing bottom or a relegation playoff for finishing second from bottom.

As a club, we have studied these proposals carefully, considering the implications of this proposal to us, our supporters, and the wider game. We held an online forum with Club 1881 members, and invited further thoughts on the Club 1881 Facebook page. We received emails from supporters with their views on the proposals as well. We felt we were able to engage in an articulate, thoughtful and informed conversation through this process, and the overwhelming sentiment we heard was that our supporters oppose the Conference League. These sentiments were shared in our informal conversations with first team coaches and playing staff.

As a club, our continued success on and off the pitch is driven by our fans – those who attend matches, cheer on the team, and ultimately support us financially. We recognise that the Conference League is a bad deal for our fans. We have enjoyed competing against B teams in the Lowland League, and won some memorable victories against Celtic B and Rangers B last season. However, the prospect of a third of our league fixtures being against B teams would be an oversaturation, and reduce the appeal of matches at Shielfield Park for supporters and potential sponsors. The increased travel distances for our loyal away support was another issue that was reported back to us consistently, and we have listened to those comments as well. Voting in favour of the Conference League would go against the wishes of the core of our fan base, and as a club we would never allow that to happen.

On a wider level, while we support the ambition to improve the pathway for young players, we do not believe that the creation of the Conference League is necessarily the best solution to this problem. At Berwick, we have played our part in helping talented young players to progress while on loan with us – Robbie McCrory, Jack Hamilton and Aidan Denholm to name three recent examples. We will continue to play our part in the conversation on the game’s future – a conversation that we hope will involve all stakeholders from the Scottish football pyramid.

After reaching the decision to vote against the upcoming Conference League proposal, we felt it best to bring you, the fans, up to speed with the club’s thinking. Whatever the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, you can rest assured that we will continue working to build a community-focused club which offers the best possible matchday experience. Our goals on the pitch next season remain the same – promotion to the SPFL for our men’s team and to the next tier of the English FA system for our women. Even if the context in which we play changes, the values and ethos of Berwick Rangers will remain consistent; supporting our community, improving the experience, and working to ensure our long-term sustainability.