THOSE deeply involved in the world of Scottish junior football can be awfully sniffy about the senior game.

Well, maybe not all of it. Back in the day, it was common place for one of the big boys to farm out their best youngsters to a local side for some toughening up.

Cumbernauld United are rightly proud that one Kenny Dalglish spent a season with them at the beginning of his career.

But it was always fun watching the reaction from some long-serving committee member whenever the mere notion of their club becoming a senior member was put to them.

The juniors were just fine, thanks very much. They had good players, better than many senior teams, strong clubs and in many ways played by their own rules. It worked well for years. So many, and this is inarguable, were bigger and better run than those who ply their trades in what is now League One and Two. Perhaps even higher up.

However, the juniors weren’t interested in going anywhere; not that there was really any chance as the senior ranks was a closed shop. And now everything has changed. 

The pyramid scheme, introduced in 2013, gives clubs from the non-leagues a pathway, once denied to them, to the SPFL, a road which Edinburgh City went down in 2016. But the traditional junior sides bided their time. Until now: a total of 99 clubs have voted for joining the pyramid, with 55 rejecting the proposal. 

There are obstacles in the way and no concrete timeline.  As of today, only 15 of the 154 clubs meet the entry level club licensing committee, which is essentially facilities and infrastructure.

But this is happening. Junior football in the country will soon change forever.

Kelty Hearts moved last season from Super League (in the the junior ranks) to the East of Scotland League and others such as Clydebank and Bonnyrigg Rose are set to do the same. That trickle could become a stream.

The SFA will discuss at their April board meeting proposals that the juniors should  join system.

Scottish Junior Football Association secretary Tom Johnston has written to the SFA’s stand-in chief executive, Andrew McKinlay, to inform him of the result of the vote, with clubs expected to thrash out plans at an extraordinary general meeting to be held in the coming weeks.

It is understood that, having been involved in discussions surrounding the possible shake-up for some time, the SFA is generally receptive to what would be a major change to Scottish football outside the SPFL.

However, several issues remain to be ironed out, not least the entry level of junior clubs, with some keen to bypass the East of Scotland and South of Scotland layer of the pyramid to join at tier five - the same as the Lowland League and Highland League and just a play-off victory away from League Two.

There is a lot to be done.

Johnston is on the phone when I chap on his office door on the sixth floor of Hampden Park at the appointed time for our chat on Wednesday morning. His phone has been ringing non-stop for the past few days and life isn’t about to get any less frantic.

“When the pyramid system was first set-up, we took part in the discussions and the feeling of the clubs at that time was it wasn’t for them,” he tells me. “One of the main reasons was they had to get a licence and clubs were not in a position financially or otherwise to enter the pyramid.

“In the Highland League, for example, part of the criteria is you need floodlights. That’s 80 grand a pop.

“Plus, there was the fact we had, and indeed have, a strong product. Teams such as Pollok and Arthurlie would rather play together because, and this is true, at the bottom end of the pyramid the standard is possibly not as good as it is in junior football.”

That was true but things are changing and quickly. The standard in the East of Scotland and Lowland League is far better than it was a few years ago. This is why after over a year of talks and proposals being put back and forth, the clubs voted overwhelmingly to join the pyramid.

How this literally happens remains to be seen. Johnston obviously wants his clubs to stay where they are but his fear is some will go.

“This decision hasn’t been taken lightly,” he said. “There is a lot of discussion still to be had, we need to put some meat on the bones, and go back to the members at the egm. We don’t want to lose our better teams, or any teams or that matter, so there has been a bit of turmoil over the last few weeks.

“Can I be honest. I didn’t see this day coming. I always felt the clubs, at least some of them, would want to join the pyramid but I thought it would be a more gradual progression to it.

“What we have tried to is to maintain the identity of the juniors but that will be diluted through time. We have 132 years of history and it would be a great pity to lose that. We are where we are. The clubs feel the need to take this step forward.

“If we can maintain our identity and be part of the pyramid as the Scottish Junior Football Association, then that might lighten the blow going forward.”

So, who are the ones who could well be challenging for the SPFL soon?
“That is difficult to say,” admitted Johnston. I don’t know the finances of the clubs. It would be down to how much they would be prepared to invest in the facilities to get a license. Some would be chapping the door such as Pollok and Petershill. They wouldn’t be far away. We could lose them over a period of time,

“Bonnyrigg Rose are talking about going to the East of Scotland League. But other top clubs would need major investment.

“This is the stage we are at. Maybe we did stand still for a while. We took a watching view of the pyramid and I think it is right that now the clubs have a say on where we go.”

One negative about progress is that some always get left behind. The clubs which voted against this are too small to ever have any chance of emulating Edinburgh City and it could mean they will lose old rivals. 

However, this day has been coming. And there will be clubs in League One, Two and, yes, even the Championship looking over their shoulders.