Hearts analysis: Legal case could force rethink on reconstruction

Legal threat may be bargaining chip for Tynecastle club and Partick Thistle

Tynecastle side Hearts and Partick Thistle have lodged a joint petition to the Court of Session to either have their relegations overturned or receive £10m in compensation. Photograph: Ross Parker/SNS Group
Tynecastle side Hearts and Partick Thistle have lodged a joint petition to the Court of Session to either have their relegations overturned or receive £10m in compensation. Photograph: Ross Parker/SNS Group

SPFL clubs may be faced with deciding on the lesser of two evils if there is the prospect that Hearts and Partick Thistle’s petition to the Court of Session arguing against the legitimacy of their relegations is upheld.

The SPFL is required to respond by Wednesday to the papers lodged last week that sought £10 million in compensation – £8m for Hearts’ and £2m for Partick Thistle – over the vote to curtail the season as a result of the Covid-19 shutdown. The outcome sent the Tynecastle club into the Championship and placed the Maryhill club in League One.

Yet the monetary recompense can be considered a bargaining chip. Likewise, the alternative of promotion and relegation being suspended – which resulted in a “robust” response from Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers, who would not go up despite being named winners of the Championship, League One and League Two title respectively.

Hearts and Thistle, whose actions have led to them being written to by the SFA, pursued court action following the failure of a league reconstruction proposal that would have altered the set-up from 12-10-10-10 format to 14-10-10-10. Only 16 of the 42 clubs voted in favour of this restructuring last week, most clubs seeing no value in a change that could reduce revenue. That is especially true for clubs finding themselves in the bottom eight following the six-eight split in a 14-club Premiership set-up. They would lose out on nearly £200,000 through the loss of a home game against Celtic or Rangers.

However, the loss from any successful court action by Hearts and Partick Thistle would be far more costly, and required to be covered from the desperately needed £12m tranche of the new Sky television deal due to be paid in August. That could force clubs round the table once more and create the possibility of a rethink on the written resolution to end the season. That was adopted as a result of Dundee flip-flopping and informing the SPFL not to count their original rejection vote that failed to be lodged because of a technical issue with the governing body’s computer.

The papers lodged by Hearts and Partick state that the curtailment vote represented the SPFL acting in a manner that was “unfairly prejudicial” in that it “breached” the governing body’s “duty” to provide “sufficient evidence to members” about the ability to have payments forwarded to them without the requirement to decide on final league placings. Dundee’s actions, meanwhile, are declared in the petition to have rendered it a “matter of fact and law” that the written resolution was rejected. The vote outcome was the “oppression of a minority which was unfair and unjust”.

On BBC Radio Scotland yesterday, former Aberdeen and St Mirren player turned sports lawyer David Winnie, pictured, said that Hearts and Thistle have a “50-50” chance of success in their action. “I would like to think counsel will have figured this out and they will either have to get Hearts and Thistle reinstated, or they are looking for money,” he said. “Once we get a response the court will have a look at this and they will either say we have the jurisdiction to look at this or they will boot it back to the SPFL. The latter would waste time which the clubs – and the SPFL – don’t have. They [the petitioners] have reserved the right where if they think the league is going to start without this matter being settled then Hearts and Thistle could seek an interim interdict stopping the league from being started.

“They [Hearts] don’t want to mess about with champions, this is promotion and relegation. The alternative is they are looking for money: £8m for them and £2m for Thistle. They are going for broke really with this one [but feel] they have nothing to lose.”

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