The vast majority of Hearts fans would fully endorse switching their club’s Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic to BT Murrayfield.
The Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs stressed that it would be “the most sensible decision” of all the available options. The Scottish Professional Football League, who organise the Betfred Cup, have revealed that they are now considering moving one of the semis away from Hampden Park. Both ties are currently scheduled to take place there on Sunday, October 28, with Aberdeen-Rangers at noon and Hearts-Celtic at 7.45pm.
The matches were originally planned to be played across the weekend but, with Rangers and Celtic both in Europa League action the previous Thursday, it was deemed unsuitable for one of the teams to play on the Saturday.
Hearts and Aberdeen fans are outraged by the original decision but the SPFL insisted their contract with Hampden Park Ltd meant both games had to be played at the national stadium because Rangers and Celtic were involved. On Tuesday, league officials announced Hampden Park Ltd would finally allow them to move one of the semis.
Talks have taken place with the Scottish Rugby Union regarding Murrayfield but several issues still need to be agreed before a change of venue and kick-off time could be ratified. The difficulties of organising such a large-scale event unexpectedly with less than four weeks’ notice means nothing is certain as yet.
Nonetheless, thousands of Hearts supporters are praying the SPFL can negotiate the switch successfully.
“We would definitely welcome any move,” said Stevie Kilgour, secretary of the Federation of Hearts Supporters’ Clubs.
“Firstly, we would welcome the change from four teams playing in one stadium in one city on the same day. They are now reconsidering that plan and, if they go ahead and make the switch, it would be the most sensible decision they have made.
“Moving the Hearts-Celtic semi to Murrayfield is probably even more sensible given that’s what should have happened in the first place. For once in Scottish football, hopefully common sense is going to prevail.”
Kilgour revealed how some Hearts fans had decided against going to the semi-final because of its Sunday night slot in Glasgow. “There has been absolute uproar and disbelief. I haven’t heard one single person saying the original timings show even the remotest bit of sense. Everybody was in shock about it,” he added
“I had asked my members to get their ticket orders for the semi-final to me as early as possible. Some people came back and told me: ‘Don’t bother getting me a ticket now because there’s no way I’m taking the kids through to that game on a Sunday night.’
“So I think a lot of people will be praying they can agree to stage the game at Murrayfield. It would be ludicrous to keep it on the Sunday night at Hampden. Hearts have used Murrayfield before, as have Celtic, so they aren’t averse to playing there.
“Also, you would expect a really good crowd and a fantastic atmosphere for an occasion like that given Murrayfield’s 67,000 capacity.”
The SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster released a statement explaining why his organisation are now able to rethink the Betfred Cup semi-final scheduling.
It read: “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.
“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.”