30 July ~ For the clubs in the three lower divisions in Scotland, the season started last weekend with matches in the Ramsdens Cup (the equivalent of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy). The League Cup begins today with the League kicking off next weekend. Here's a brief look at who can be expected to do well in 2011-12. Having faced a 25-point deduction last season due to falling into administration, Dundee managed to finish comfortably in mid-table in Division One (without the deduction they would have been second). With an even playing field this season and the form they showed last season despite their off-pitch troubles, they will be expecting promotion back to the SPL. It won't be easy, however.
One of the main challengers will be Hamilton Accies, looking to bounce back to the top-flight straight away. It will also be interesting following developments at Firhill, where former Celtic and Scotland defender Jackie McNamara begins his management career with Partick Thistle. Last season's Division Two champions Livingston should settle well into life in the division above – they were demoted in 2009 but have enjoyed two successive promotions since. Fellow new arrivals Ayr might face a struggle, however, after coming up through the play-offs.
Division Two features Stirling Albion, one of the most talked-about clubs in Scottish football, who were even said to be considering a name change to “Stirling Meerkats” to increase revenue. They have managed to bring in new faces, goalkeeper Sam Filler and defender John Crawley, but, bizarrely, the two were among 39 players who paid £200 for a trial with the club . Such is Stirling's inconsistency they are just as likely to get relegated as they are to return to Division One. Other teams who will fancy their chances are East Fife, who hammered Montrose 6-1 away from home in the Ramsdens Cup last week, and Dumbarton, whose boss Alan Adamson guided them away from relegation towards the end of last season while caretaker manager.
In Division Three, it'll be interesting to see how Alloa fare on their artificial surface and under their new manager Paul Hartley. Queen's Park, at their Hampden home, will be aiming to go up, having come relatively close last season. In his 2005 book, Pointless, Jeff Connor spent a season following East Stirlingshire who at that point could plausibly be described as the worst senior-level team in British football. They had a revival subsequently, even making the play-offs in 2008-09 and 2009-10. The Shire finished second from bottom last year, however, and will be hoping for another resurgence, along with table-proppers Clyde, who not too long ago were close to promotion to the SPL. David Childs