Hearts supporters have reacted angrily at the decision to stage their club’s Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic on a Sunday night at Hampden Park after Aberdeen play Rangers.
Former Hearts chairman George Foulkes accused the tournament organisers, the Scottish Professional Football League, of treating Hearts and their fans with contempt by arranging a 7.45pm kick-off on Sunday, October 28. Meanwhile, many supporters voiced their own disgust via social media.
Aberdeen and Rangers meet in the first semi-final at noon on the Sunday, with Hearts v Celtic pushed back to an evening kick-off. The decision to hold both semi-finals at the same ground on the same day is unprecedented but the SPFL stressed they were contractually obliged to keep both games at Hampden.
Rangers and Celtic are in Europa League action on Thursday, October 25, and cannot play a semi-final 48 hours later on the Saturday. Talks about switching one tie to BT Murrayfield took place but that would only have become reality had there been no way of accommodating both at Hampden. With a full Premiership card the following midweek, delaying one tie until the Monday wasn’t an option.
Foulkes said the compromise agreement shows complete disregard for the Hearts support and that of Aberdeen. “I think it’s terrible. It’s treating the Hearts fans with total contempt,” he complained.
“It’s the worst of all worlds because there are so many other options, taking into account the understandable concerns of Rangers and Celtic not to play on the Saturday.
“I still don’t see why they couldn’t play the Hearts-Celtic semi-final at Murrayfield. That would have been the sensible option. There must have been a lot of pressure from elsewhere to keep it in Glasgow. It just shows contempt and lack of concern for Hearts fans.
“Think about families. Kids who want to go to that game will have school the next day, people will have to get home for work on the Monday morning. It makes life difficult for everyone. There is real anger among Hearts fans because there is no consideration for us at all. This is just to suit the SPFL. I presume [club owner] Ann Budge was there arguing the case but she would have been outnumbered by people from the west.
“This could have been dealt with more sympathetically. I have some sympathy for Aberdeen fans as well having to get down to Glasgow for a noon kick-off on a Sunday. Given the public transport situation, it’s not going to be easy for them. It’s a decision to suit Glasgow and the west of Scotland – not Aberdeen or Hearts.”
James Kelly MSP, who led the campaign to abolish the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, called the decision “bizarre”. He said: “This is an absolutely nonsensical decision and it must be reconsidered. The idea that Hampden is equipped to cope with two 50,000 attendance games in the space of hours is bizarre.
“There are likely to be serious problems with transport as it takes an age to leave Hampden by public transport as it is – never mind with a hundred thousand people coming and going. Crowd safety must be paramount and the SPFL should review this with full input from the police and other bodies.”
Former Hearts captain and Evening News columnist Gary Mackay was stunned by the decision, brandinfg the move “scandalous”.
He said: “7.45 on the Sunday evening? That’s scandalous. An absolute scandal.
“You’ve got another stadium which was spoken about which is very close to being the national stadium in Edinburgh.
“For Hearts supporters to have to go through on a Sunday evening for a quarter to eight kick-off, it’s treating an Edinburgh club and my club that I support and others support in an absolutely shambolic manner – disgusting.
“I think there’ll be a huge amount of pressure on the shoulders of the Glasgow police. It’s great for Rangers and Celtic that the games are being played on the Sunday because they’re both in European competitions. For Scottish football that’s a great plaudit but Hearts supporters and Aberdeen supporters are being treated in an absolutely disgusting and shambolic manner.”
Andrew Bowie, Scottish Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, said: “This is a ridiculous decision that takes no account whatsoever of the fact the Aberdeen fans have to actually get to the game. A 12pm kick-off on a Sunday makes it nigh-on impossible for any Dons supporters travelling by train to get to the match on time. The football authorities should give some consideration to the fans, for once. They pay hard-earned money to follow their team week in and week out. However, when it comes to showpiece events like this, they are treated as an after-thought. It is a disgrace.”
The SPFL secretary Ian Blair explained the reasoning behind the decision in a statement, which read: “We knew going into [Wednesday] night’s Betfred Cup draw there was a chance that if Rangers and Celtic reached the Betfred Cup semi-finals the draw could keep them apart, and because they both have a UEFA Europa League match on Thursday, 25 October, we had to find a solution which gave them the necessary two-day gap between competitive matches.
“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.
“We met with representatives of all four clubs earlier today [Thursday] and explained that this was the only feasible outcome. The fact that both Celtic and Rangers are in Europe, is good news for Scottish football, but it does mean that our capacity for rescheduling games is significantly curtailed.
“We can confirm that Police Scotland have advised that the Aberdeen vs Rangers game should be played first.”
Hearts fans on Twitter made their feelings clear: “The idiots of world football have basically ruled any Edinburgh kid from going to game. Disgusting bunch of halfwits,” said @jamboscott2006. “Hopefully @JamTarts contest this ludicrous decision not fair on fans except if you’re from Glasgow,” posted @albundy1874.
“Oh but Hampden...blah, blah, blah. Not interested in the welfare of players or fans just lining pockets. A Sunday night game, genius. Not,” remarked @jhmcleod72. “Worst decision in 40 years +,” said @KevGold76.