Betfred Cup semi-final schedule ‘punishing the fans’

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ONCE again, it would seem the fans are the last people who matter when it comes to the scheduling of a showpiece game in the Scottish football calendar.

Staging the Hearts v Celtic Betfred Cup semi-final at 7.45pm at Hampden on a Sunday night is outrageous. The timing of the Aberdeen v Rangers semi at the same ground at noon on the same day is just as bad.

When did we reach a stage in our beautiful game where those who actually fork out the cash to go to the games matter not a jot?

That is why the Edinburgh Evening News has today joined forces with the Aberdeen Evening Express to demand a fair deal for fans.

Early kick-offs and games being moved is part and parcel of the way football is these days. We are dictated to by TV deals, and ultimately money. Our game wouldn’t have the standing it does without deals with the likes of BT and Sky.

Hearts manager Craig Levein said the SPFL and its chief executive Neil Doncaster will be to blame if his team’s game isn’t a sell-out.

He’s right.

Jambos keen to take in their club’s first Hampden semi since beating Celtic on their way to Scottish Cup glory in 2012 face a tough decision.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of children who were excitedly told by their parents “we’re going to Hampden!” after the thrilling 4-2 win over Motherwell in midweek will face the heartbreak of being told they can’t go because of the late kick-off.

Those same parents will now have to sit their youngsters down and explain (if they can work out the reasoning) why they are now not going to the national stadium.

Even Hearts players have been saying to Levein how their kids can’t go and watch them play at Hampden.

What sort of message is that sending out to the next generation of fans? Why should a cup semi-final which is being played on a Sunday be scheduled for such an awkward time? It’s little wonder with bizarre decisions like this that across the streets of Scotland we see kids wearing replica jerseys of teams they have only seen on TV.

What is the point in supporting a Scottish team if they are going to have such ridiculous hurdles put in front of them? They would be as well staying at home that Sunday and watching Crystal Palace v Arsenal and Manchester United v Everton on Sky Sports.

The suggestion from Aberdeen to change the Premiership clash between Celtic and Hearts at Parkhead the following week from a league game to their semi-final makes sense. But perhaps that is the problem.

We’ve seen games played at lunchtime for long enough as part of the league season. That’s fine, the vast majority of them are not showpiece games.

This is different. This is an occasion. Let’s face it, it’s games like these that bring out fans in their numbers, those who might not normally attend. But they are fans that can catch the bug. It could be that one game that means they follow a team for the rest of their life.

Asking thousands – tens of thousands – of people, families, to travel across Scotland at outrageous times just so they can follow their team in their quest for that glory is simply not acceptable. For the SPFL to say this is “the best solution to a logistically-challenging situation” is absolute rubbish.

Who is it the best solution for? One thing is for sure – this is not the “best solution” for the supporters.

Yes, there will still be thousands of Hearts and Aberdeen fans willing to make the journey to Glasgow on October 28 and they should be applauded for their dedication and willingness to travel.

It doesn’t mean those who don’t make the journey are no less of a supporter, but there is a higher chance of a better attendance and atmosphere if the games were at a reasonable hour.

Why should a club’s fans be punished for their team doing well?

What is the point in Hearts and Aberdeen going to all those efforts if they are going to have the disadvantage of playing in front of a stadium which is predominantly filled with Celtic and Rangers fans?

Few things in Scottish football do make sense, be it the issuing or rescinding of red cards on the field to having the country’s four biggest clubs play in the same city on the same day, let alone at the same stadium. The mind boggles.

It seems that as long as the teams and people from Glasgow are happy and treated well, then we should just sit back and be grateful to have them in our league. What nonsense.

It’s our national game. National. It’s about time the football authorities started treating it that way.