On Thursday, it was confirmed that Shamrock Rovers would be fielding a B team in the 2020 SSE Airtricity League First Division. 

It wouldn't be the first time the club have had a reserve team within the League of Ireland structure. 

Back in 2014, Shamrock Rovers B took part in the First Division. They finished sixth that season, but withdrew after that sole season. 

They’re not the only club toying with the idea. Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth indicated that his club would be open to following suit when he spoke to RTÉ 2FM’s Game On

While Irish soccer - through Shamrock Rovers B and now Shamrock Rovers II - has only dipped its toes into the tradition of reserve teams within a league structure, it’s common practice in some other nations. 

Gary Shaw, Longford Town, in action against Michael Kelly, Shamrock Rovers B in October 2014
Gary Shaw, Longford Town, in action against Michael Kelly, Shamrock Rovers B in October 2014

The most high-profile example is in Spain, where many of La Liga’s biggest clubs field teams further down the league pyramid. 

Currently, the highest-placed reserve teams are in the third tier Segunda Division B, with the likes of Barcelona B, Real Madrid Castilla, Atletico Madrid B and Sevilla Atletico among the myriad that play in that regional structure. 

Those teams cannot play in the same division as their parent clubs' first teams. For example, when Barcelona B finished third in the 2010-11 Second Division, they were ineligible for promotion via the playoffs as Barcelona’s first team play in La Liga. 

Almost 60 years earlier in 1951-52, Mestalla - Valencia’s then reserve team – actually finished top of the Segunda Division promotion playoffs but did not go up to La Liga where the first team was already in situ. 

However, there was a time when reserve teams could play in the Spanish Cup. That led to a situation in 1980 when Real Madrid beat their reserve side Castilla 6-1 in the final after the latter made a run to the decider. 

Castilla subsequently qualified for the following season's UEFA Cup Winners Cup.

Reserve teams were banned from 1990-91 onwards though, putting the end to that possibility ever occurring again. 

Beyond being a good staging post for young players to develop, it also helped future first team managers grow as coaches.

In 2007-08, Pep Guardiola first put his methods into place at Barcelona B, where he himself had also developed as a player.

He impressed the Catalan club’s hierarchy enough to earn promotion to the role of Barca first team manager for the following season. 

Rafa Benitez represented Castilla during his own playing career and learned his trade as a young manager, as did future Champions League and World Cup-winning manager Vicente del Bosque.

Christian Fruechtl of Bayern Muenchen II defends after a corner during the 3. Liga match between Bayern Muenchen II and FC Wuerzburger Kickers at Stadion an der Gruenwalder Straße in December 2019
Christian Fruechtl of Bayern Muenchen II defends after a corner during the 3. Liga match between Bayern Muenchen II and FC Wuerzburger Kickers at Stadion an der Gruenwalder Straße in December 2019

Germany also allocates places within its league structure for reserve teams. Currently, Bayern Munich II are in the third tier 3. Liga, which means former Bundesliga side TSV 1860 Munich must currently play their leagues derbies against a reserve team rather than their fellow first team. They drew 1-1 last November and meet again in late April.

Bayern II earned promotion from the fourth-tier regional leagues last May, defeating Wolfsburg’s reserve side 5-4 on aggregate to progress.

However, rules regarding German reserve teams stipulate that Bayern II cannot be promoted beyond the third division. 

Outside Europe, Major League Soccer bucks a global trend in not having promotion or relegation. But the MLS franchises’ reserve teams have found a home in a recognised second level of the US soccer pyramid called the USL Championship. 

For example, when Jim McGuinness was in charge of USL team Charlotte Independence, his side were slated to play against reserve sides like New York Red Bulls II and Atlanta United 2 in the USL Championship Eastern Conference. 

The former Donegal GAA manager led Charlotte to a 3-3 draw against Atlanta’s reserves but fell short to Red Bulls II by a 2-1 margin in March and April 2019 respectively.