Scottish Leagues 1 & 2: Things to look out for this season
Last updated on .From the section Scottish
The Scottish League Cup shadow boxing is over, the squad reshaping almost complete, and a battle for League 1 and 2 glory about to commence.
Dominated by part-time players and small crowds, the SPFL's third and fourth tiers are often much maligned.
However, it is where you will find the likes of former Scotland internationals Barry Ferguson, Gary Naysmith, Kevin Thomson and Paul Hartley forging their managerial careers, Premiership loanees cutting their teeth, an increasing number of refugees from the top flight finding a football lifeline.
Here's your BBC Scotland guide to what to look out for this season...
- SPFL season preview - how will your club fare?
- Predict this season's league tables
- League 1 ins & outs - summer 2021
- League 2 ins & outs - summer 2021
Will full-time clubs dominate again?
With Partick Thistle promoted and Alloa Athletic dropping down to replace them, the number of clubs with full-time players in League 1 is down to two.
Airdrieonians (eight seasons), and Falkirk (two) have been stuck in the third tier for longer than either would like - or have planned. However, based purely on recent history, they should start as favourites.
Since Cowdenbeath won the title in 2012, only Arbroath in 2019 have bucked the trend of full-time sides being crowned champions.
Can youthful Falkirk blossom?
Although Ian Murray's Airdrie showed their potential with a 2-0 win over top-flight Motherwell in the League Cup, their other three results pressed a less convincing case for being able to surpass last season's runners-up spot.
On paper, finishing bottom of their group does not look promising for Falkirk either, but that was largely because of two 3-0 forfeits because of a Covid outbreak. Having their request to postpone their opening game against potential title rivals Cove Rangers rejected is not an ideal start either.
Falkirk failed to live up to their billing last season, finishing fifth after a late slump, but new manager Paul Sheerin has dispensed with a clutch of recognisable names and turned to youth from Premiership academies and experienced lower league hands to help revive their fortunes.
Will Queens & Cove be dark horses?
A wee bit of investment goes a long way in the lower tiers.
And, although Cove fell just short of a third successive promotion in their League 1 debut, Hartley's outfit have again shown their ambition by signing former Aberdeen right-back Shay Logan and departing Ross County midfielders Iain Vigurs and Ross Draper.
Queen's Park are the latest (relative) big spenders after winning League 2 in their first full season as a professional club following 152 years as amateurs.
They will play at Partick Thistle's Firhill this season after a delay in the redevelopment of Lesser Hampden and parted company with title-winning head coach Ray McKinnon, with assistant Laurie Ellis stepping up.
Consolidation in League 1 is the priority with a second successive promotion seen as a bonus, but they impressed in the League Cup despite their group runners-up spot not being enough to take them through to the last 16.
Can Ferguson get Wasps buzzing?
Former Rangers captain Ferguson will hope to follow Hibernian's Jack Ross and St Mirren's Jim Goodwin by using success at Alloa as a stepping stone to Premiership management.
Leading Kelty Hearts to the Lowland League title and promotion via the play-offs has gone some way to easing the frustrations the 43-year-old felt trying to lift Clyde out of League 2 during his three seasons in Cumbernauld.
Whether Ferguson did not fancy another fourth-tier experience or sees three years as the managerial shelf life, it is certainly a gamble to leave Kelty and try to take Alloa back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
He will hope that recruiting top-flight veterans Conor Sammon and Mark Durnan will bring more success than it did Falkirk last season.
Will Fife fairytale continue to flourish?
In four years, Kelty have gone from a junior side topping the East of Scotland Superleague to East of Scotland League champions then Lowland League and Pyramid Play-off winners making their SPFL debut.
The fairytale rise of the team from a Fife village of just 6,000 inhabitants will be expected to continue by turning investment into league dominance in the same vein as Queen's Park last season and Cove before them.
Ferguson's surprise departure has given an opportunity to another former Rangers and Scotland midfielder, Thomson, to prove his managerial worth. Centre-back Jordan Forster, who has switched from Championship winners Dundee, is the latest eye-catching name with top-flight experience to be recruited.
Impressive League Cup performances will raise expectations that Kelty will not become stuck in League 2 like previous Lowland League winners Edinburgh City.
Who will impress in half a league of new bosses?
Kelty are not the only League 2 side managed by a former Scotland international and Naysmith, who took over at Edinburgh City in March, will hope that returning to a refurbished Meadowbank Stadium will help end their five-year wait to win promotion after two seasons as runners-up.
It will also be the first full season in charge for Gary Irvine at Forfar Athletic, where he stepped up to replace Stuart Malcolm as they headed for relegation; Jamie Hamill at Stranraer; and Stephen Swift at Stenhousemuir.
However, if the League Cup is anything to go by, Stirling Albion - who finished above a Championships side and two from League 1 in their group - and Albion Rovers - who held two second-tier sides to draws - could be surprise packages.