The Scottish Cup last-16 clash between East Kilbride and Celtic descended into farce last night when it emerged the venue chosen by the Scottish Football Association for the tie was not available.
With just 13 days to go before the date of the fifth-round match, Hamilton Accies released a statement saying that they would not allow their New Douglas Park stadium to host the encounter.
In a highly embarrassing development for tournament organisers, the SFA, East Kilbride officials will now have to travel to Hampden today to discuss, as one SFA insider put it, “what the hell” has gone on.
New Douglas Park was announced as the venue for the tie by the SFA last Thursday, after it was deemed that East Kilbride’s 500-capacity K-Park Stadium did not meet the necessary criteria for an occasion the club set up with a win over Lothian Thistle the previous evening.
A dispute then arose between the two parties. The Lanarkshire club claimed the choice of Hamilton was a surprise to them, only for the SFA to clarify that Hamilton was seventh on a list of seven venues that East Kilbride themselves had submitted to Hampden.
That list comprised K-Park, Hampden Park, Celtic Park, Broadwood, Excelsior Stadium and Firhill, all with bigger capacities as favoured by East Kilbride. Hamilton was selected on the basis of being the closest suitable setting – as required by cup rules.
Yet, when the decision was made, a bemused East Kilbride chairman Mark Horner said that his club had sounded out Hamilton, but had not heard back from them. Patently, the SFA did not clear it with Hamilton before announcing them as hosts for the tie. Horner seemed at a loss again over the latest twist when speaking to local press last night.
“We never expected this,” he said. “I’ve only just heard, but the SFA have got to contact us by the end of the day. I don’t really know how to react. I’m not sure if this is progress for us or not. At the moment we don’t have a place to play the game.”
Questions will be asked of Hamilton, as well as the SFA and East Kilbride, since it took them a full four days to make public they could not house the tie. The tone of the statement they released yesterday gave the impression they never considered doing so.
“It has recently been reported that we will be hosting the William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round fixture between East Kilbride and Celtic on Sunday 7 February,” it said. “We have a full programme of Academy, Youth and Community events already planned for that weekend and have no intention of altering our club programme and as a result will not be in a position to make New Douglas Park available to stage the tie.”
In another disagreement between governing body and club, St Johnstone have expressed their displeasure at the Scottish Professional Football League’s decision to hand League Cup semi-final opponents Hibernian 600 tickets for Saturday’s Tynecastle clash that they had requested.
The Perth club were initially allocated the Roseburn Stand but were told Main Stand tickets would be available if there was sufficient demand. However, they have now been told segregation issues mean leftover main stand seats can only be bought by supporters of the Easter Road club.
In a statement, the McDiarmid Park club said: “St Johnstone FC fully understands and shares the disappointment this outcome will cause ticketless supporters and will provide a response in due course.”
The SPFL claimed the move was down to “safety and security concerns”: “Following discussions with safety and security staff at Tynecastle Stadium and on the advice of Police Scotland, the SPFL has agreed that it will be unable to release tickets in Section N Upper of the Main Stand at Tynecastle Stadium to supporters of St Johnstone FC.
“This advice has been provided for safety and security reasons and considers the available access and egress routes to and from Section N and the need to ensure segregation of supporters. Rather than leave Section N Upper unused, the tickets have now been released to Hibernian FC for sale to their supporters.”
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