Every step of how the Betfred Cup farce unfolded - and what to expect next
How did this mess start?
We start on 26 September. In the quarter-finals of the Betfred Cup, Aberdeen won on penalties against Hibs, Hearts saw off Motherwell, while Celtic and Rangers defeated St Johnstone and Ayr United, respectively.
The draw which followed the Parkhead side’s 1-0 win in Perth saw Celtic drawn against Hearts with Rangers pitted against Aberdeen.
The Old Firm avoiding each other in the semi-finals caused the SPFL a headache, which has evolved to become a full-blown migraine.
Why the headache?
The semi-final matches were scheduled for 27 and 28 October. However, both Celtic and Rangers have Europa League fixtures on 25 October. Brendan Rodgers’ side travel to Germany to face RB Leipzig, while Spartak Moscow are visitors to Ibrox.
Having played in Europe on the Thursday, the teams are deemed unable to play on the Saturday. This is nothing new. Teams competing in European competition on Thursday have games moved to Sunday. In the last couple of seasons both Hibs and Aberdeen have had fixtures shifted due to their involvement.
There is also a full Ladbrokes Premiership card the following midweek, including an Edinburgh derby.
On 27 September, the day after the draw, the SPFL met with the four semi-finalists in an attempt to solve the dilemma.
What was the solution?
This is where the ‘fun’ really started. It was announced, to the surprise of fans, players, management and many other stakeholders, that the semi-finals would both be played at Hampden Park on the same day.
Aberdeen v Rangers were scheduled for midday on police advice. Hearts v Celtic would take place at 7.45pm.
Why was this decision taken?
The SPFL secretary Iain Blair, in a statement, said: ““We’ve been working hard with Police Scotland and Hampden Park on contingency planning for exactly this scenario and, together, we examined every possible permutation. The crowded fixture calendar means that this is the best and most practical solution as any alternative had the knock-on effect of causing major fixture congestion, not only for Celtic and Rangers, but for several other SPFL clubs.”
The organisation stated that it was “contractually obliged to bring both semi-finals to Hampden” as per their agreement with Hampden Park Limited and that the ‘Super Sunday’ semi-final day at Hampden Park “was the only feasible outcome”.
What are the contractual obligations?
“We inherited from the SPL a contractual obligation with Hampden Park Ltd to play certain matches at the National Stadium. These include any Betfred Cup semi-final game involving Celtic or Rangers, as well as any other semi-final match where the attendance is expected to be greater than 20,000,” read a statement from the SPFL.
The organisation asked Hampden Park Ltd to be released from the obligation but the request was declined as they were “unwilling to breach this contract and risk legal action,” according to the SPFL.
Daryl Broadfoot, former head of communications at the Scottish FA, told BBC Sportsound on Monday: “This contract has been in place for about 18 years. It goes back to the days of SPL and SFL but I think there was an SPL contract that was merged with an SFL contract. There’s references to Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs and matches between Ayr United and Kilmarnock... High volume matches.”
What was the reaction to the decision?
To say there was a disapproving backlash is putting it mildly. A Hearts fan created a petition calling for the schedule to be amended, warning against “carnage” in Glasgow. It has garnered more than 13,000 signatures.
Over the last week the following has been said:
• Aberdeen FC: “We appreciate the authorities have a difficult job to schedule games in what is an extremely congested calendar but to yet again ask our supporters to be in Glasgow for a 12 noon start on a Sunday is, quite frankly, appalling.”
• Hearts owner Ann Budge: “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. 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.”
• Hearts manager Craig Levein: “It’s the craziest thing I have ever experienced in football. How they have come to this decision is beyond belief. It’s madness, honestly. There’s so many things that could go wrong.”
• Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes: “The fact is our supporters are going to have to travel to Glasgow anyway, which is always the case when we get to semi-finals and finals, and we are well used to that. But I just feel find it really unfair and I reiterate the statement the club put out. For them to try and get there for an early kick-off just makes it all the more problematic.”
• Scotrail: “Our events team wasn’t consulted by the SPFL in advance of its announcement, which is disappointing. The SPFL has only now been in touch after the announcement. We’ll assess all options to see what, if anything, is possible in relation to additional services. But the logistical challenges this presents shouldn’t be underestimated.”
• Scottish Police Federation’s general secretary Calum Steele: “The one word that describes it best is just simply idiotic. Even if there was nothing else on that date, the police service is going to be run ragged.
• Ann Budge (again): “Almost a disaster waiting to happen.”