A pact between Hearts and Aberdeen has led to an embarrassing climbdown by the SPFL with both the forthcoming Betfred Cup semi-finals now being scheduled for different venues.
The Tynecastle club will make the short journey to Murrayfield, as they originally hoped would be the case, to play Celtic at 1.30pm on Sunday 28 October.
Aberdeen’s game against Rangers will be held on the same day at Hampden but, crucially, will kick off at the later time of 4.30pm. Both semis had originally been scheduled to be played at Hampden on the same day. Aberdeen v Rangers was due to kick-off at midday – 15 minutes before the first train from Aberdeen to Glasgow is due to arrive. Hearts v Celtic was pencilled in for 7.45pm. Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne branded the original plan combined with the time taken to review it as a “total embarrassment for Scottish football”.
Hearts owner Ann Budge was in contact with Milne yesterday afternoon to press for a better scenario for their fans. The local evening papers in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, the Evening News and Evening Express, united to carry front page messages railing against the proposed plan and then claimed “victory” for the clubs when the SPFL confirmed they were able to re-think after a contractual stipulation whereby Rangers and Celtic must play at Hampden was waived by Hampden Park Ltd.
While it might be a welcome result for Hearts and Aberdeen, Celtic voiced their dissatisfaction at being made to travel to Edinburgh and branded the decision not to hold a ballot to determine who plays where as “irrational and discriminatory”. The club made what they describe as a “modest request” to draw lots in a written letter to the SPFL.
“Instead they have arbitrarily decided that a chosen game should stay at Hampden and the other should go to Murrayfield,” said the club statement.
Speaking on the eve of his side’s Europa League clash against Salzburg, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers said: “I’m disappointed with the process. We all see the sense in not having the two games in the one venue on the same day. At least there’s a decision made to be away from Hampden but you have to be fair to all four teams and the supporters.”
Rodgers had called for lots to be drawn to decide which game went to Murrayfield. Last year he described the rugby ground as a “proper, well thought-out stadium” while decrying the facilities for supporters at Hampden.
Hearts manager Craig Levei
welcomed the about-turn. He had been particularly vociferous in his opposition to the original plan, stressing he had never in his career known such “disregard” towards supporters. His main complaint was the fact the late kick-off time in another city would impact on the number of children able to go to the game.
Now Celtic supporters will be asked to travel to another city but at the more family-friendly time of early afternoon. “There’s also a part of me that says: ‘Hold on a minute – our supporters have to go to Hampden every year, so why can’t Celtic supporters come through to Edinburgh for one year?’” said Levein yesterday. “We have to play on the Sunday to suit Celtic, so I think it’s reasonable to expect them to come through.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard earlier in the day said he would accept the decision but expected not to have to travel to Murrayfield – which is indeed the case.
“We just leave it to the powers that be to make a decision,” he said prior to his side’s Europa League clash against Rapid Vienna tonight. “It shouldn’t really affect us because we have been drawn out to play in the first game at Hampden and we don’t expect anything to change.
“We will wait to see how it pans out. We look on with interest. We didn’t have a complaint in the first place. We still haven’t got a complaint.
“I mentioned last week that it was a very unique situation because ourselves and Celtic are still in Europe,” he added. “The only advice I would give (the SPFL) is maybe next time they should expect both of
us to get to this stage in
Europe and have a different solution.”
Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, will have his say today at a press conference to preview Saturday’s clash with St Mirren.
He had described the
original early kick-off as “problematic”.
A statement from the SPFL confirmed the latest twist in a long-running saga at just after 6pm last night. “The Hearts vs Celtic match will kick off at BT Murrayfield at 1.30pm, with the Aberdeen vs Rangers game starting at Hampden
at 4.30pm,” said a spokesman.
“In reaching our decision, we have consulted with Hampden Park, the Scottish FA, Scottish Rugby, Police Scotland, Transport Scotland via the Scottish Government and with the four clubs involved. A wide variety of issues have been considered, including the ability of local
transport networks to safely and efficiently handle the flow of fans from all four teams to and from the
Scottish Rugby issued an assurance that they have the ability to stage such a high-profile game at their national stadium despite some earlier uncertainty over the tight turnaround and forthcoming Autumn Tests, with
Scotland due to face Fiji on 10 November.
“We’re pleased to confirm our ability to host Hearts and Celtic in the Betfred Cup semi-finals on Sunday October 28,” a spokesman for
Scottish Rugby said.
“It’s a very short timescale, but our team at BT Murrayfield delivers memorable events and will be pulling out all the stops to give both teams the perfect stage to push for a place in the final.”n