Football: County are ready for the elite: A Scottish club is about to enter a brave new world. David McKinney reports

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THE players and management of Ross County will travel the 140 miles to Alloa on Saturday for a third-round Tennents Scottish Cup tie, but the club will not reach their true destination until August, when they become paid-up members of the most exclusive club in Scottish sport: the Scottish Football League.

Joining the elite comes cheap: for a membership fee of pounds 1,000, a football club can become part of the SFL. The hard part is being asked. Unlike its English counterpart, entry to the SFL is by invitation only, and vacancies are as rare as a Jim Baxter or Kenny Dalglish: they appear once in a generation.

With league reconstruction taking place at the end of the season to accommodate four divisions of 10 clubs, Ross County and Caledonian Thistle, from Inverness, have been asked to join the present 38 clubs, which will bring a share of pools revenue and a chance to reconstruct Victoria Park, their ground in Dingwall, into a 7,000 all-seat stadium.

Station Park, Forfar, became a proving ground for Ross County, who recorded a 4-0 win in the second round of the Cup this month. Bobby Wilson, County's manager, believes that result won more than just a cup tie.

'There's little doubt our win at Forfar took us into the League, and even Forfar themselves voted for us. I have now thrown down the gauntlet to my players to prove against Alloa that they are good enough to stay at the club. We face a cup tie every week next season.'

In Brian Grant, County have an exceptional talent. The striker who scored five goals in an 11-0 win over St Cuthbert Wanderers in the first round and three against Forfar has waited a long time to make his name. Unsuccessful spells with Dundee, Forfar and Brechin led him back to Dingwall.

Southampton are one of several clubs showing an interest in the 25-year-old, but Wilson maintains his key player is staying at the club, saying: 'My hair has turned grey shouting at him to tell him what to do, but he is a great touch player and will always score goals.'

Having beaten Alloa 3-1 three years ago, County are confident of repeating that feat. This time, however, defeat will not be greeted with despair. With League membership, they are about to enter a competition from which there is no exit.