Hearts owner Ann Budge says she is “astonished” that both Betfred Cup semi-finals will be played at Hampden on the same day and has expressed concern about whether the pitch will be able stand up to the double-header.
The Scottish Professional Football League announced on Thursday that Rangers would face Aberdeen at noon on Sunday 28 October and Celtic will play Hearts at 7.45pm.
The plan is the SPFL’s solution to a problem caused by both Glasgow clubs’ involvement in the Europa League on the Thursday night, which effectively ruled out the normal practice of spreading the games out over the weekend.
A full Ladbrokes Premiership fixture card in the subsequent midweek further reduced the options.
BT Murrayfield was tipped to stage one of the matches but the league has made the controversial choice to welcome four sets of fans to the national stadium on the same day following talks with the clubs and police.
The SPFL stated that it was “contractually obliged to bring both semi-finals to Hampden”.
However, Budge was left unimpressed. The Hearts chairwoman attended the meeting and has now expressed serious reservations about the SPFL plan.
“Whatever options I may have expected, I was astonished – and I was not alone in that regard –to be informed that both games would be played on the same day at Hampden,” Budge said.
“I had gone into the meeting, confident that the games would be scheduled for different venues – or if not, for different days.”
In a statement posted on the Hearts website, Budge expressed concerns for supporters travelling to Hampden.
She said: “We were further advised that both Police Scotland and Hampden have given their assurances to the SPFL that they will be able to manage the demands of two games in one day. We discussed this at length and I made it clear that we were far from happy with the scheduling, particularly in light of the difficulties it would cause to all travelling supporters...from all clubs. At a time when Scottish football is thriving we should be doing all we can to encourage fans to come along, not make it difficult or even impossible.”
Budge is also worried that the Hampden playing surface will not be able to stand up to two matches in one day.
“I also expressed my concern, from a footballing point of view, in terms of whether the pitch would stand up to two games in one day, especially if the weather is bad,” she said. “We were assured by the representative from Hampden that this would not be a problem.”
Budge hoped to persuade the authorities to change their minds but is now resigned to both games going ahead as scheduled on 28 October.
She added: “I asked whether the SPFL would explore with Hampden the possibility of releasing us from the obligation to play both games at Hampden given the very special circumstances. I was advised late this afternoon that a formal request had been made following our meeting but that no release from our contractual obligations was possible.
“In summary, I have made my feelings clear, on behalf of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, both in person and in writing, that we do have serious concerns that the planned schedule is not in the best interest of Scottish football, the club and certainly not the supporters. Following further conversations this evening, I do not believe the plan can/will be changed.
“However, we will remain in dialogue with the SPFL to try to ensure we make this occasion what it should be; a memorable day out for the supporters of all four football clubs involved in the competition.”