Defiant Hearts owner Ann Budge speaks out on relegation and rule changes

Tynecastle club face double hit if they go down

By Barry Anderson
Friday, 17th April 2020, 4:37 pm
Hearts owner Ann Budge is angry at the SPFL decision.
Hearts owner Ann Budge is angry at the SPFL decision.

Hearts owner Ann Budge insists it is unfair to relegate any club as a result of the Scottish Professional Football League's vote to end the season early.

Budge admits relegation would be a double setback for Hearts and maintains rules have been altered by the controversial poll to end the campaign after the coronavirus shutdown.

The Edinburgh club face dropping into the Championship next season unless league reconstruction is agreed. Budge, the majority shareholder at Tynecastle Park, is leading a task force aimed at restructuring Scottish football with the Hamilton vice-chair Les Gray.

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They need an 11-1 vote from Premiership clubs, plus 75 per cent in the Championship and 75 per cent across League One and League Two to pass any reconstruction plan. Failure to do so would send Hearts down as the club currently bottom of Scotland's top flight.

All three lower divisions have been brought to an end and respective titles awarded to Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers.

Partick Thistle and Stranraer are poised to be relegated. Brechin City sit bottom of League Two but will not face a play-off to stay in the division as all play-offs have been cancelled as per the SPFL vote.

The Premiership officially remains suspended for now until UEFA approve moves to bring top leagues across the Continent to a conclusion. That is likely to happen later this month, confirming Celtic as winners and consigning Hearts to relegation.

Budge stressed it would be unfair to punish any club already suffering due to the financial downturn brought by the global pandemic. She also repeated her anger at how the whole voting process was handled by the SPFL.

"We [Hearts] got off to a shocking start at the beginning of the season and hadn't quite climbed out of yet, so we were sitting bottom of the league when the league was suspended. Why am I angry? I'm angry because I think this whole process has been very badly handled. That's my first complaint," she told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"We were presented with one option to vote on, the consequences of which were that promotion was allowed but relegation would also stand. Essentially I don't think very many people had a problem with promotion – with the probable exception of Rangers – but almost everyone had a problem with relegating clubs in the middle of what is an absolutely awful experience for all of us globally.

"My biggest argument is: Let's find the fairest way possible to address the situation, and that means people shouldn't be penalised. Nobody gains from having relegation, nobody gains at all.

“Clubs just lose on top of everything else they are suffering – unfairness, the fact that a number of rules were changed, clearly it's an impossible situation but some of the rules were changed.

“You shouldn't be awarded a title if you haven't played 38 games; you shouldn't be relegated if you haven't played 38 games, and all sorts of other things in between. Some rules were changed, others weren't.

"It's not yet applying to the Premiership but, the fact it has now been implemented for the other three leagues, I can't see how they can possibly apply one set of rules for the Premiership and a different set for the other three.

“Almost by definition, the decision has been made. The only reason the Premiership hasn't been included is to keep options open for UEFA – to ensure we don't fall foul of calling the league early an druling ourselves out of European competitions.

"To be fair for everyone, if you are going to make promotions when the league isn't finished, and therefore we are rewarding people who have invested to try and achieve success, then I think we should also be recognising that some of us have made substantial investments to try to avoid relegation. As I said, I don't think anyone gains from relegation."

Budge explained why she feels any club relegated right now will suffer an ill-deserved double whammy as they try to cope without income from matches.

"I wrote to the SPFL the day after the leagues were suspended and said: 'Please, whatever you do, ensure that all clubs are consulted over this matter. It shouldn't be a board decision, it should be an all-club decision. Can you please ensure we keep the fairness principle in mind and don't add additional financial penalties to any club already experiencing everththing that we all are?'

"So I think it is a double hit. I also indicated in that letter that I thought we should take the opportunity while we had it to look at: Could we do something with the leagues to avoid penalising anyone? I've been talking about this since the leagues were suspended."