Aberdeen and Hearts furious
Clubs blast SPFL for cup semi-final scheduling
Hampden Park is to host both Scottish League Cup semi-finals on the same day next month (pic: SNS Group)
Aberdeen and Hearts have criticised the SPFL for deciding to stage the Scottish League Cup semi-finals at Hampden Park on the same day next month.
The SPFL is contractually obliged to stage the semi-finals at Hampden and it will be the first time the National Stadium has hosted two domestic semi-finals on the same day.
Following discussions between the four clubs, Police Scotland and the SPFL, the Dons will meet Rangers at noon on Sunday, October 28 before Hearts take on Celtic a few hours later at 7.45pm.
With the Glasgow teams playing in the Europa League on Thursday, October 25, the Saturday was discounted as a possible date for either match
While SPFL secretary Ian Blair said the decision was the ‘most practical solution’, a furious Aberdeen said they were ‘appalled’ while Hearts owner Ann Budge was ‘astonished’ by the move.
Edinburgh’s Murrayfield Stadium had been suggested as an alternative venue for one of the ties.
Mr Blair said: “We knew going into last night’s Betfred Cup draw there was a chance that if Rangers and Celtic reached the Betfred Cup semi-finals the draw could keep them apart, and because they both have a UEFA Europa League match on Thursday 25 October, we had to find a solution which gave them the necessary two-day gap between competitive matches.
“We’ve been working hard with Police Scotland and Hampden Park on contingency planning for exactly this scenario and, together, we examined every possible permutation.
“The crowded fixture calendar means that this is the best and most practical solution as any alternative had the knock-on effect of causing major fixture congestion, not only for Celtic and Rangers, but for several other SPFL clubs.
“We met with representatives of all four clubs earlier today and explained that this was the only feasible outcome.
“The fact that both Celtic and Rangers are in Europe, and will hopefully be playing in the Europa League after the New Year, is obviously good news for Scottish football, but it does mean that our capacity for rescheduling games is significantly curtailed.”
The Aberdeen-Rangers clash will be played first on police advice and the Pittodrie club released a statement hitting out at the early start.
“As a club we have repeatedly asked that the authorities stop giving us kick-off times which, for our large travelling support, are completely unacceptable, but yet again, what should be a showpiece occasion, is scheduled to start at a time that does not take supporters into account,” said a spokesperson.
“While we appreciate Police Scotland was insistent that our game was played first for operational reasons, we believe, and stated along with others, that having both games in the same stadium on the same day, is inappropriate.
“There are other options that should have been investigated further, including staging the two games on consecutive weekends or using two different venues which would have allowed kick-off times more suitable for what are hugely significant occasions in the Scottish football calendar.
“Contesting the two matches on consecutive weekends would be an alternative surely worth investigating, particularly as Celtic are due to face Heart of Midlothian in the Ladbrokes Premiership the following weekend, while also fulfilling the contractual obligations.
“We appreciate the authorities have a difficult job to schedule games in what is an extremely congested calendar but to yet again ask our supporters to be in Glasgow for a 12 noon start on a Sunday is, quite frankly, appalling.”
Hearts owner Ann Budge said she was ‘astonished’ at the SPFL’s decision (pic: SNS Group)
Mrs Budge was equally scathing of the decision, saying it was not in the best interests of Scottish football.
“Whatever options I may have expected, I was astonished – and I was not alone in that regard –to be informed that both games would be played on the same day at Hampden,” she said.
“I had gone into the meeting, confident that the games would be scheduled for different venues – or if not, for different days.
“We were further advised that both Police Scotland and Hampden have given their assurances to the SPFL that they will be able to manage the demands of two games in one day. We discussed this at length and I made it clear that we were far from happy with the scheduling, particularly in light of the difficulties it would cause to all travelling supporters…from all clubs.
“At a time when Scottish football is thriving we should be doing all we can to encourage fans to come along, not make it difficult or even impossible. I also expressed my concern, from a footballing point of view, in terms of whether the pitch would stand up to two games in one day, especially if the weather is bad. e were assured by the representative from Hampden that this would not be a problem.”
She added: “I asked whether the SPFL would explore with Hampden the possibility of releasing us from the obligation to play both games at Hampden given the very special circumstances.
“I was advised late this afternoon that a formal request had been made following our meeting but that no release from our contractual obligations was possible.
“In summary, I have made my feelings clear, on behalf of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, both in person and in writing, that we do have serious concerns that the planned schedule is not in the best interest of Scottish football, the club and certainly not the supporters.
“Following further conversations this evening, I do not believe the plan can/will be changed. However, we will remain in dialogue with the SPFL to try to ensure we make this occasion what it should be; a memorable day out for the supporters of all four football clubs involved in the competition.”