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SPFL crisis

Hearts poised for drop after league shake-up talks fail

Ann Budge

Hearts owner Ann Budge will need to prepare for next season in the Championship (pic: SNS Group)

Hearts moved a step closer to relegation after Scottish football’s reconstruction talks ended without support to reconfigure the league.

A 15-strong ‘task force’ headed by Jambos owner Ann Budge had been set up to look at proposals in the wake of the SPFL’s ballot to end the season.

But a meeting of the top-flight sides – along with Dundee United – ended with the majority against changing the 12-10-10-10 format of the league structure.

Hearts are now facing relegation with eight games still to play – the SPFL board is expected to declare the Premiership season over later this month. Celtic will then be awarded a record-equalling ninth title in a row.

Budge has said that dropping into the Championship could cost the club up to £3 million and threatened legal action should it happen. It remains to be seen whether she still has the appetite, or budget, to go down that route.

The decision also means that Partick Thistle will drop into League One, with Stranraer relegated into League Two.

Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack said: “The strong feeling of the group was that we must focus all of our energies on emerging from the crisis we face, due to the pandemic, on getting back to playing football safely and getting fans back into grounds as soon as practicably possible.

“Whilst the group sympathises with the plight of the situation the relegated teams are faced with, it concluded that this is not the right time to consider immediate reconstruction in the midst of a crisis.

“But the group is willing to engage in and pick up on these discussions once we are through COVID-19.”

That, of course, will be too late to save Hearts, with the future now bleak for Budge’s Tynecastle outfit. The financial consequences will be serious, both on and off the pitch.

Falkirk trailed Raith Rovers by just one point in League One when the lower league season was ended and chairman Gary Deans hit out at the SPFL after the restructuring failure.

He said: “Today’s announcement will not come as a huge surprise to Falkirk supporters who have, along with the rest of Scottish football, witnessed firsthand the utter shambles engulfing our game these last few weeks.

“I have been working with the SPFL Reconstruction Group over recent weeks and I received a call late this afternoon (8 May) informing me that six Premier League clubs had indicated they would not support any league reconstruction at the present time.

“The handling of this entire situation has been farcical ranging from the decisions made by the SPFL board to those clubs who have, what could only be charitably described as, misled and deceived. 

– Gary Deans, Falkirk FC chairman

“As a club we embarked upon this process with eyes wide open and tempered optimism, hoping that the SPFL and other clubs might see the bigger picture and act in the best interests of Scottish football.

“In fairness, some did see that bigger picture and approached talks in a constructive manner – but once again progress has been hampered by the short-sightedness and self-preservation of a small cabal within Scotland’s top division.

“You will share my anger at this latest injustice, the failed promises and the general mismanagement that has occurred at the top of Scottish football for many years

“The handling of this entire situation has been farcical ranging from the decisions made by the SPFL board to those clubs who have, what could only be charitably described as, misled and deceived. 

“The principle of ‘do no harm’ to Scottish football during the pandemic was thrown out of the window a long time ago and the decision taken today will cause harm to many clubs – Falkirk included.

To add insult to injury to release a statement on a Friday evening adding to the stress of players, staff and the many people connected with football clubs is a sign of the blatant contempt that those in charge of our game hold for us all.”

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