4 June 2013

Scottish Premier Non-League

Paul Gascoigne: A Scottish Premier Division signing from the 1990s.
In the late 1980s and the best part of the 1990s, Rangers dominated Scottish football, winning nine Premier Division championships in a row.

How did they do it? With big name signings such as Mark Hateley, Duncan Ferguson and Paul Gascoigne. They even managed to persuade Danish great Brian Laudrup to swap the warmth of Fiorentina in Italy for the less sunnier climes of Glasgow.

Retrospectively speaking, Rangers spent way beyond their means, but they formed one of the greatest football teams ever to come out of Scotland. An even in those glory years, spent largely under the management of current Gers chairman Walter Smith, there were plenty of teams fighting for second place.

Aberdeen were briefly semi-competitive until 1995, when they nearly got relegated, while Heart of Midlothian and Motherwell both had a go of playing second fiddle to Rangers. Celtic missed out on the top two for an incredible seven consecutive seasons, and during that time, they brushed with bankruptcy, but they would come back with a vengeance soon afterwards.

When I was growing up in the early 2000s, the Old Firm were still reasonably competitive on the European stage, and they had some big-name players as well. Celtic had Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton and UEFA Champions League winner Paul Lambert, while their rivals at Ibrox could boast Claudio Caniggia, Ronald de Boer and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. Between 1997 and 1998, Rangers' squad included future FIFA World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso.

Even back then, the other Scottish Premier League teams - Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts, et cetera - were recruiting a significant number of players from teams in the English Premier League or what was then known as Division 1. There were a few from the lower English leagues, but not that many.

And now I get to the reason why I wrote this article. Inverness Caledonian Thistle finished 4th in last season's Scottish Premier League. That means that they are, according to the league table at least, one of Scottish football's leading teams. Therefore, one would expect Inverness to show a bit of ambition, and try to recruit some players from the Championship or League One as they bid to break into the European places.

Yet when their manager, former England hardman Terry Butcher, looked south of the borders, he didn't sign players from League One, or even League Two.

In recent years, some SPL also-rans have signed the odd player from the English Conference. Striker Clayton Donaldson moved to Hibernian from York City in 2008, I recall. To sign one non-leaguer in these austere times is understandable, to sign two is worrying, but Caley Thistle have - in the last couple of days - snapped up THREE English midfielders from non-league football.

One of them is our old friend, Ben Greenhalgh, formerly of Inter Milan and other football luminaries such as Maidstone United and Welling United. The winner of Football's Next Star in 2010 has swapped the fifth tier of English soccer, where he most recently played for relegated Ebbsfleet United, for the first tier in Scotland.

Joing him at Inverness is James Vincent, whose Kidderminster Harriers side played against Greenhalgh's Ebbsfleet in last season's Conference Premier. To be fair to James, though, Kidderminister did at least reach the play-offs.

The third new boy at the Caledonian Stadium is Danny Williams, who took time out of singing "Moon River" and fighting Vitali Klitschko for the world heavyweight title to lead Chester to Conference North glory this season.

The 24-year-old left-winger was only on loan to Chester, though. To whom was he actually contracted before moving to the SPL? Kendal Town. In the Northern Premier League Premier Division. From which they were relegated this season in 21st place.

In other words, the 4th-best team in Scotland have signed a player from the joint 221st-best team in England! Is that how desperate the Scots have become? You couldn't imagine it the other way round! I certainly can't see Arsenal bringing in a new goalkeeper from the local pub team in Kincardine O'Neil!

Either Danny Williams is a MASSIVELY underrated footballer, or Scottish football is continuing to plumb to new depths.
Danny Williams: A Scottish Premier League signing from 2013.

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