Only weeks after Hampden snub, rugby has chance to bail out football

Celtic v KR Reykjavik in a 2014 Champions League qualifier at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS.
Celtic v KR Reykjavik in a 2014 Champions League qualifier at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS.
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It was a closely-fought contest but Murrayfield eventually lost out in its bid to become the new home of Scottish football. Now, three weeks later, rugby
finds itself in the intriguing
position of being able to potentially rescue the round-ball game from the almighty mess created by the Betfred Cup semi-final scheduling.

The question is: can and will Scottish Rugby help?

BT Murrayfield is a fine stadium – the biggest in Scotland with its 67,000-plus capacity. But the proximity of the semi-finals to the national rugby side’s autumn Test series could be a little too close for comfort for the SRU. There is also concern that time is running out to put in place all the necessary groundwork to host one of the last-four ties.

Issues such as ticketing, stewarding and catering will all have to be addressed if the match is to go ahead in Edinburgh later this month.

The Scottish Professional Football League contacted
Murrayfield yesterday to inquire about the possibility of moving one of the semis to the rugby ground. Hearts v Celtic would be the obvious contender, with Aberdeen v Rangers remaining at Hampden.

Scottish Rugby is more than amenable to staging football – “open for business” has almost become the catchphrase of the SRU’s chief operating officer Dominic McKay, pictured.

Both Hearts and Celtic have already successfully staged matches at the Roseburn ground. But, with Scotland due to host Fiji on 10 November, only 13 days after the semi-finals, there are concerns about the timescale involved.

The Scotsman understands that Scottish Rugby has gone back to the SPFL with a list of questions. Neil Doncaster and Co better hope they can come up with the right answers otherwise they could find themselves exposed to more public ridicule.

Hearts and Aberdeen have already made their feelings known about the original plan to have both semi-finals played at Hampden on 28 October.

Police Scotland upped the ante yesterday when they called for fresh talks over the controversial proposal to stage Aberdeen v Rangers at noon and Hearts v Celtic at 7:45pm on the same Sunday, which was the league’s solution to a problem posed by both Glasgow clubs’ Europa League commitments.

Police Scotland had initially approved the plan but Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins called for further talks after police federation officials came out strongly against the proposal.

“Idiotic,” was the police union’s considered verdict on the SPFL’s scheduling. Politicians have also had their say and during a Holyrood debate yesterday the football administrators were accused of “treating fans with contempt”.

Utilising Murrayfield is the obvious solution. The rugby ground lost out to Hampden last month when the Scottish FA board decided football would be better served by keeping its big games in Glasgow at the sport’s traditional home.

There is a large dollop of irony around the fact that the home of rugby in Edinburgh now offers football a chance to save face.