Aberdeen led the criticism after it was announced that both Betfred Cup semi-finals will be played at Hampden on the same day.
The Scottish Professional Football League reached what they insist is the only “feasible” solution to their scheduling predicament. But the Pittdorie club branded it “appalling”.
On what will be an historic day at the national stadium on Sunday 28 October, Aberdeen will face Rangers in the first semi-final at noon before vacating the venue for Celtic to take on Hearts with a 7:45pm kick-off.
Despite suggestions that one of the semi-finals could be relocated to Murrayfield, the SPFL confirmed they are bound by the terms of their contract with Hampden to stage both ties at the home of Scottish football.
Police Scotland, who were involved in discussions which took place between the SPFL and all four competing clubs yesterday, requested that the Aberdeen-Rangers tie should have the earlier time slot as they prepare to deal with the logistical issues the day will now entail for supporters.
But the Pittodrie club are furious that their supporters will be expected to travel for a noon start on a Sunday. The first scheduled train from Aberdeen does not usually arrive in Glasgow until 12:15pm on a Sunday. The decision to play the Hearts v Celtic match in the evening also drew criticism.
Former Hearts captain Gary Mackay felt the game should have been played at Murrayfield, which was recently in the running to be the new national football stadium before the Scottish FA opted to remain at Hampden.
“7:45 on the Sunday evening? That’s scandalous. An absolute scandal,” Mackay said. “The fact is that you’ve got another stadium which was spoken about which is very close to being the national stadium in Edinburgh.”
Aberdeen said they were dismayed by the kick-off time. A spokesperson said: “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.
“There are other options that should have been investigated further, including staging the games on consecutive weekends or using two different venues which would have allowed kick-off times more suitable.
“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.”
The first semi-final had been slated to take place on Saturday 27 October but when Celtic and Rangers avoided each other in the semi-final draw, their participation in Europa League matches on Thursday 25 October ruled that out.
Iain Blair, the SPFL’s company secretary and director of operations, was the man left with the task of sorting out the chaotic situation.
“We knew 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 Europa League match on Thursday 25 October, we had to find a solution which gave them the necessary two-day gap between competitive matches,” said Blair.
“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 clubs.
“We can confirm that Police Scotland have advised that the Aberdeen vs Rangers game should be played first.”
The day will present a significant challenge for the Hampden groundsman, especially if the first semi-final goes to extra-time.
It will be the first time since 1983 that Celtic and Rangers have both played on the same day in Glasgow. That year, they appeared in the Scottish Cup semi-finals with Celtic facing Aberdeen at Hampden while Rangers played St Mirren at Celtic Park.
The problem the SPFL faced this week was of their own making, having determined the dates for each round of the Betfred Cup tournament in the summer. In essence, they took a gamble on Scotland not having two representatives in the group stage of the Europa League. But Celtic’s elimination from the Champions League and Rangers’ progress through Europa League qualifying meant the Betfred Cup semi-final schedule was always likely to run into difficulties.
The SPFL will also have to find new dates for the four Premiership fixtures involving the semi-finalists scheduled for that weekend.