SPFL ready to move Betfred Cup semi-final to Murrayfield

The Scottish Professional Football League are in talks with Scottish Rugby about moving the Betfred Cup semi-final between Hearts and Celtic to Murrayfield on Sunday 28 October.

Facing a barrage of criticism for their initial decision to have both semi-finals at Hampden that day, with the Aberdeen v Rangers tie at noon before a 7.45pm start for Hearts v Celtic, the SPFL are now able to consider a change of plan after securing a temporary release from their contract with the national stadium.

Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell stepped in to persuade Hampden Park Ltd to give up their rights to one of the games because of the unprecedented circumstances which sparked such a furore.

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Both matches have to be played on the Sunday as Rangers and Celtic are involved in Europa League fixtures on Thursday 26 October.

If an agreement can be reached with the Murrayfield authorities and broadcasters BT Sport, it’s understood the Hearts-Celtic game will have an early afternoon kick-off at the home of Scottish rugby while the Aberdeen-Rangers tie will take place later in the afternoon at Hampden.

Maxwell’s intervention was welcomed by his SPFL counterpart Neil Doncaster who also confirmed fresh talks with Police Scotland over the timing and venues.

Doncaster said: “After the draw, we spoke to Hampden Park Limited to ask whether they would release us from a contractual obligation to host all semi-finals involving the Old Firm at Hampden. They declined our request and we were unwilling to breach this contract and risk legal action.

“However, I’m pleased to report that we have been contacted this morning by SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell who said that Hampden Park Limited has now reconsidered that position and have agreed to waive that legal obligation.

Celtic played Champions League qualifiers at Murrayfield in 2014. Picture: SNS

“This is clearly extremely welcome news. We immediately contacted Police Scotland and informed them of this development and this has enabled us to open talks to explore whether the match could be staged at an alternative venue in the timescales available.

“Whilst we are taking nothing for granted and are unable to make a definitive announcement at this early stage, if agreement can be reached between all parties involved, this would allow us to change from the original kick-off times which Police Scotland specified to ensure the matches could be staged at Hampden on the same day. The good news is that fans would have more convenient travel arrangements.

“Whilst we received firm assurances from both Hampden Park Limited and Police Scotland that they were able to host both games on the same day, today’s very welcome call is a potential game-changer.

“Everyone recognises that it would be better if we can hold these matches in separate stadia and the fact that we’re now able to explore that option is great news.

“We will now discuss with a number of parties, including the SFA, Police Scotland and the clubs involved before reaching a definitive position, which we will announce as soon as possible to enable fans to make the necessary travel arrangements.”

Aberdeen, who were unhappy with the original kick-off time of their semi-final, expressed their satisfaction at the potential changes.

An Aberdeen spokesman said: “We’re pleased and relieved alternative arrangements are being investigated, something Hearts and ourselves have been calling for since last week’s meeting.”

While Police Scotland had endorsed the original plan to hold both semi-finals at Hampden on the same day, it caused unrest among rank and file officers with Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele branding the decision as “idiotic”.

Shortly before the SPFL confirmed it is now exploring the possibility of moving one of the games, Police Scotland assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins stated his organisation now felt it was necessary to reconsider the situation.

“We’re aware of issues and concerns that have been raised over the last few days about the date and venue of the League Cup semi-finals,” Higgins said.

“As a responsible organisation and taking into account these public concerns, I think it sensible to discuss the issues raised with the SPFL and other stakeholders and I have asked the SPFL to look again at the transport plan so we can make a full public safety assessment.”