For some football fans, the Juniors are a no-go zone. The thought of spending a Saturday afternoon amongst a group of a few hundred fans standing on cold terracing is not everyone’s cup of tea.
But for every football fan looking for a gourmet burger, there is your loyal Junior football fan happy with a basic cup of coffee, a season ticket that costs £40 and a game of darts in the social club at halftime.
The Scottish Junior Football Association (SJFA) is an affiliated national association of the SFA and is the governing body for the Junior grade of football in Scotland.
The SJFA was formed in Glasgow on 2nd October 1886 and its holy grail is the Scottish Junior Cup. Contested on an annual knock-out round basis by over 160 clubs, the first competition in 1886 saw 39 clubs take part with the now-defunct Fairfield Govan the winners.
Gradually the strength of the Junior Leagues has grown over time with a variety of league and cup competitions now spread across the East, North and West of Scotland. Numerous fall outs and breakups have occurred over the years but a stronghold of Junior football remains in Glasgow and in the Ayrshire regions of Scotland.
What do we mean by Junior Football?
The terminology used to describe this level of football can itself be confusing.
By ‘Junior football’ we actually are referring to the level of football being played i.e. not ‘senior’ football (the SPFL). Nor does Junior football refer to the age of the players involved.
Junior football is essentially a hybrid football association of non-senior league football clubs who have never fully integrated into the senior ranks. While the teams cannot gain promotion to the current 5 tier SPFL set up they do regularly play football in the national Scottish Cup tournament.
One issue is the regionalised nature of the league set up. While many of the clubs in Glasgow and Ayrshire have large financial muscle and sizeable support those in the north, and east have fewer resources and face a ceiling in terms of progress.
Such a gap in financial resources has naturally led to a cultural gulf growing between the clubs and regional associations. A ballot in 2017 showed evidence that 99 of the 158 Junior clubs were in favour of withdrawing from the Junior set up and joining an SPFL pyramid system.
But within that figure exists an imbalance since many of the traditional Ayrshire and Glasgow junior clubs have neither the desire, support, or infrastructure to be bigger than they are at present. Moreover, many of these clubs cherish the local rivalries they have whilst the ground licensing requirements needed to join the fifth tier SFA lowland league are costly and could see the distinctive character of Junior football disappear forever.
During the early part of 2018, many Junior clubs from the east region withdrew from the Junior set up and applied to join a new 3 tier East of Scotland League set up.
The EoSFL now exists as the sixth tier of the Scottish game and provides former giants of the East Juniors (St Andrews United, Kelty Hearts, Dundonald Bluebell, Linlithgow Rose, Bonnyrigg Rose and Jeanfield Swifts) with a pathway to real progress in senior football – a place in the SPFL.
As we move into 2019 the main issue now facing Junior football in Scotland is then one of ‘identity’.
But with 55 Junior clubs expressing a desire to remain in the Junior ranks there is every chance the junior set up (with its crumbling grounds, welcoming social clubs and ramshackle turnstiles) will continue to sustain itself as league set up for years to come.
Images from the Juniors can be found here.