Angry Hibs fans today hit out at the SPL after the kick-off time for the Easter Road club’s clash with Inverness Caley at the beginning of next month was switched for a second time for the sake of television.
The match, originally scheduled for Saturday, March 31, was put back to the following day, April 1, with a noon start to accommodate the cameras of broadcaster ESPN.
But now, with Celtic poised to clinch the SPL flag in double-quick time after Old Firm rivals Rangers were docked ten points for falling into administration, Sky intend to televise the Hoops match with St Johnstone live that weekend to ensure they don’t miss out, should the title be won.
As a result, that game at Celtic Park has also been rescheduled and will start at 12.45pm on the Sunday, resulting in Hibs’ match against Caley, which is still live on ESPN, being moved again and now having a 3pm kick-off. This second switch leaves hundreds of Hibs fans who had already made their travel arrangements for Inverness, the longest journey of the season for them, facing the prospect of being left heavily out of pocket.
The issue was raised at a meeting of branch delegates of the Hibs Supporters’ Association and the Easter Road club themselves have written to the SPL to express the annoyance the decision has caused.
Today Fyfe Hyland, managing director of Hibs, said: “To move the game once is bad enough, but to do so again when supporters have already booked buses, trains and, in some cases, hotels and now face additional fees is not on.
“We have been discussing the situation with supporters and supporters groups and we have expressed our frustration with the SPL that fans were not being considered at all.
“We want as big a crowd as possible to go to Inverness.”
While the income generated from live television is welcomed by every club, the greater percentage of their income remains from those attending matches.
Crowds have fallen noticeably up and down the country and there is a growing feeling that a better balance needs to be struck with broadcasters. Consistent times need to be set for televised games rather than the current situation, which Hibs — who didn’t vote for the current deal — reckon has dictated 11 different starting times for matches this season.
Mike Riley, chairman of the Supporters’ Association, branded the decision to switch the Caley match for a second time as “a disgrace,” accusing both the SPL and television companies of failing to consider the fans, the lifeblood of the game.
He said: “We had our branch delegates meeting on Thursday night and they were very unhappy. There are fans who have made their arrangements based on a noon start in Inverness on the Sunday. Many had decided to make a weekend of it because of the early kick-off, travelling up on the Saturday, staying the night and coming back on trains booked shortly after when the match should have finished.
“As everyone knows, to get the best deals you have to book early and they’d accepted the move from 3pm on the Saturday. But now, because the game has been moved for a second time – something no-one was even contemplating – means they are going to be even more out of pocket. We’ve had complaints from fans who will be losing money, is anyone going to reimburse them? It’s a disgrace but it is typical of the way football treats the fans, we always seem to be a secondary consideration.
“We all talk about what is wrong with Scottish football, perhaps they should start considering the supporters and see what they can do to encourage rather than discourage us from going to matches.
“Television puts a lot of money into the game and we all like to see live matches on the box, but football is, after all, a spectator sport and without the supporters there is no spectacle.
“It isn’t the club’s fault in any way but it’s good that they have taken the matter up with the SPL and complained on our behalf.”