Shameful Dundee-SPFL postponement saga catches Rangers and Hibs in its crossfire - three strikes and you're out

Latest Dens Park postponement has wide-reaching implications – and potential consequences

Scottish football continues to find new ways to flummox. Just days before the league is due to split in half, there is one outstanding fixture that has consequences on who will be in the top six and the title race. The second postponement of Dundee v Rangers at a perma-drenched Dens Park and subsequent rescheduling to next Wednesday has caused an understandable rumpus, with multiple parties not happy with the situation.

This has been a shameful situation for Dundee and the Scottish Professional Football League. The fifth time this season that Dens Park has failed a pitch inspection, Rangers’ bullish statement in the wake of the latest call-off branded the Tayside club “negligent”. Dundee are due to move to a new stadium and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the club’s hierarchy has not suitably invested in its current facilities. Dens Park, in particular the old Archibald Leitch main stand, holds some charm but those who frequent it regularly will attest to its down-trodden condition.

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Club secretary Eric Drysdale spoke just after the postponement and pointed to climate change as one of the main mitigating factors. “I can understand people are annoyed and are looking at this as being Dundee's fault,” he said. “What I would say is that from the research we've done, this year's rainfall is 35 per cent higher than the last 10 years' average. That shows the effect climate change is having on it.”

Referee Don Robertson calls the Dundee v Rangers match off during a secondary pitch inspection at Dens Park.Referee Don Robertson calls the Dundee v Rangers match off during a secondary pitch inspection at Dens Park.
Referee Don Robertson calls the Dundee v Rangers match off during a secondary pitch inspection at Dens Park.

It is worth noting that climate change is affecting all 42 SPFL member clubs – including Dundee United, who reside 300m away from Dens Park and have avoided such saturation issues at Tannadice.

“The pitch is of a very good quality,” Drysdale continued, “but there have been a number of occasions where our home games have coincided with, for example the storms last October which was the highest rainfall ever recorded in Scotland. And on the back of Storm Babet between Christmas and New Year, we had the fixture against St Johnstone. It appears we need to urgently do more work on the Dens Park pitch and we're absolutely up for doing that in the summer.”

That last comment from Drysdale is a welcome one, just like the ongoing SPFL probe into what exactly has gone on at DD3 7JY.

But the governing body cannot wash its hands of culpability here. When this match was originally postponed on March 17, the first available dates were last midweek. April 2 and 3 were available, yet the league – no doubt in liaison with the clubs and broadcaster partner Sky Sports – plumped for April 9. It is safe to assume that last Sunday’s Old Firm match between Rangers and Celtic weighed on the league’s mind when assessing its options but regardless of preferences of either club, the SPFL ought to have shown leadership in going for the first available opportunity. The Dens Park pitch is wholly unreliable, and the term April showers has been coined for much longer than the SPFL has been in existence. Common sense should have prevailed.

Dundee groundsmen relay the pitch covers earlier in the day.Dundee groundsmen relay the pitch covers earlier in the day.
Dundee groundsmen relay the pitch covers earlier in the day.

Now we have a real problem on our hands that is affecting more than one club. Hibs and Motherwell, who are rivalling Dundee for the last top-six berth, have been unwittingly drawn into this and The Scotsman understands that the Easter Road outfit in particular is not happy with the rescheduling in terms of sporting integrity and have made their feelings clear to the SPFL. The situation has given Dundee a stronger hand: they have more time than envisaged to prepare for their crunch fixture with Aberdeen on Saturday, where a win will guarantee their place in the top six regardless of what their rivals do, and even if they are leapfrogged at the weekend, they have a further fixture to put it right. Not that this is the fault of manager Tony Docherty and his players, but they will be fresher for what is a huge match at Pittodrie and have more than just a points advantage now. Others will rightly point out that the money that has not been spent on maintaining their pitch has been used to replenish the playing squad.

Should Dundee lose to Aberdeen, then regardless of the result between Motherwell and Hibs at Fir Park on Saturday, the publication of the post-split fixtures will be delayed until at least next Thursday. Normally they are out within 48 hours of the final weekend after matchday 33. The league reconvenes on the weekend of April 27, potentially giving clubs less than nine days notice to put tickets on sale and arrange the rest of their campaign. It is not a good look for a professional league, and does not put the people that matter the most in this game first: the fans.

This all could have been avoided if the option presented to the SPFL by two Premiership clubs to stage the match behind closed doors ahead of the weekend had been accepted, although such a scenario would have denied Dundee and Rangers supporters the opportunity to attend. Obviously this “solution” was far from perfect either.

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Rangers stated that “this matter has been handled incorrectly throughout by both Dundee and the SPFL” and it is difficult to find fault in that. Dundee have been repeat and unique offenders this season when it comes to their pitch and it is embarrassing the Scottish game, just days on from a gripping Old Firm match that was watched by a record TV audience. Throw in the continued controversies surrounding VAR, plus disorder in the stands, and football in this country keeps shooting itself in the foot.

What happens if it rains in Dundee next Wednesday? The long-range forecast does not look pretty. It can only be hoped that the days leading up to the match will allow the pitch to dry out, or that there is a transparent, concrete contingency plan in place. Three strikes and you’re out has to be the case for Dens Park and this ill-fated fixture.



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