Teams from Northern Ireland and Wales to compete in Scottish Challenge Cup
Teams from Northern Ireland and Wales will compete in the Scottish Challenge Cup after the Scottish Professional Football League announced a revamp of the competition.
The 32-team tournament will be expanded to 54 for the 2016-17 campaign, with two sides from each of the Welsh Premier League and the Northern Ireland Football League, as well as those competing in the under-20 Ladbrokes Premiership, being invited to take part.
The current format sees the 30 teams from the Ladbrokes Championship, League One and League Two joined by a representative from both the Highland and Lowland Leagues.
For next season, the part-time leagues will each contribute four participants, who will join the first round in August alongside all 12 top flight under-20 teams and eight teams from the SPFL's bottom tier.
The rest of League Two and League One will enter in the second round, with the Championship teams joining in for September's third round and the Northern Irish and Welsh clubs being added in round four.
SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: " We are also very pleased to be supported by UEFA in delivering an element of cross-border competition through the invitation to our colleagues in Northern Ireland and Wales which brings a completely new dimension to the Challenge Cup and the levels of excitement and interest in it.
"The introduction of Ladbrokes Premiership under-20 teams will give young players a taste of competitive football at senior level, while extending the number of Highland and Lowland League clubs taking part further strengthens the pyramid system and their place within Scottish professional football."
Football Association of Wales head of competitions Andrew Howard added: "We are confident that this new format will generate a great deal of interest from Welsh football fans and we believe that the quality of the clubs in the Dafabet Welsh Premier League will be showcased for all to see. We would like to thank the SPFL and the Scottish FA for their vision, their invitation and their cooperation and we hope that this is the start of something quite special for all parties and especially the Welsh clubs concerned."
Andrew Johnson, Northern Ireland Football League managing director, said: "I have no doubt that it will prove to be a success both on and off the pitch. It will provide a different kind of challenge for all clubs, and is a great opportunity to showcase the product on offer in the NIFL to a wider audience."
The SPFL also announced broadcasters Premier Sports and S4C will join BBC Alba in screening the competition.