INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle would be likely to receive a ‘bye’ into the Scottish Communities League Cup final were Hearts to go out of business before the two are scheduled to meet at Easter Road in the last-four stage on 26/27 January, it emerged yesterday.
The Edinburgh club face a winding-up order from HMRC over an unpaid tax bill of £450,000 and a desperate appeal to supporters on Wednesday was made on the terms that without them digging into their pockets to invest in the club the home game against St Mirren a week on Saturday could be their last.
When pressed on the matter of a contingency for the League Cup in the event of this doomsday scenario at the semi-final draw in Broughton High School yesterday, Scottish Football League chief executive David Longmuir stressed any such decision would be made at board level but that his own initial musings favoured Inverness progressing from the current round unopposed.
“I’ve already had a think about it and we would possibly have to allow the club that Hearts were playing against to go through … but I do not envisage that happening,” he said.
“I know Hearts fans will want to go to Easter Road in January to see their club, the Scottish Cup holders, playing in the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup. I’m looking forward to seeing them there.
“It is very early days. The
issue is for Hearts fans to rally round, and nurse the club through the next short period and I am sure the SPL will be doing their utmost to support their clubs. We have come through a difficult period in Scottish football but this is not new news in terms of clubs finding themselves in financial difficulties and I do feel that we have to make some fundamental strategic changes to the game, both structurally and financially to ensure that we never encounter these situations again.
“And having dealt with a few over the last five years we have a tried and tested process but at the moment it is too early to comment. Hearts have a future, they are a great club and I am sure the supporters will rally round. Today was about our League Cup draw, Hearts are in that draw and I fully expect them to perform well in the semi-final.”
Inverness manager Terry Butcher was delighted to avoid Celtic but added: “I am concerned that one of the great sides of Scottish football is in trouble and hopefully they can resolve that. It is a sign of the times unfortunately. Hearts is a fantastic club. I have enjoyed playing against them many times as a player and as a manager so hopefully that will continue.”
Meanwhile, St Mirren manager Danny Lennon, whose team were paired with Celtic in the other semi-final, has said that the Scottish game needs Hearts to find a way through their troubles following the demise of Rangers. “It is a difficult situation they have been in over the last couple of years,” Lennon said. “The players have had their wages late and now it is coming to a head. They are a proud club with a lot of history in the Scottish game. They won the Scottish Cup last season and are in another major cup semi-final this season. The top tier has already lost a top club and it is important we don’t lose another one. Whatever Hearts have got to do, I just hope the fans dig deep and come up trumps.
Lennon is looking forward to testing his team against Celtic’s Champions League heroes. “At this stage it’s all very, very good teams and Celtic are riding on a high from last night after beating Barcelona,” Lennon said. We are just thankful the game is in two months’ time and we can let them come down from that high. On a serious note, it’s a wonderful occasion for us to look forward to. We are going to the national stadium and playing against the best in Scotland at this minute in time.”
Celtic won 5-0 at St Mirren Park last month but Parkhead midfielder Joe Ledley will take nothing for granted in the semi-final. “Every game is going to be very difficult,” the Wales international said.