SPFL face £6m compensation claim from Hearts and others if league reconstruction fails

League’s document refers to ‘perceived unfairness’

By Barry Anderson
Friday, 12th June 2020, 4:06 pm
Updated Friday, 12th June 2020, 4:44 pm
Hearts are planning a potential legal challenge at Tynecastle Park.
Hearts are planning a potential legal challenge at Tynecastle Park.

The Scottish Professional Football League are facing a potential multi-million-pound compensation claim if reconstruction plans fail.

Hearts are prepared to take legal action after being relegated prematurely, with Partick Thistle and Stranraer also unhappy at their enforced demotions. Claims from all three could total more than £6million.

The bill would be borne by all 42 SPFL clubs as the governing body do not have cash reserves to cover a seven-figure payout. League reconstruction has been offered as a means of reinstating the three relegated teams to divisions above, but a number of chairmen are reluctant to back that idea.

Hearts previously expected to lose up to £4m as a result of relegation from the Premiership, although the final figure could now reach as much as £5m.

Playing in a truncated Championship season – expected to start in October with 27 league games rather than 36 – would hit revenue harder than predicted on top of reduced prize money outwith the top tier.

More than 80 per cent of SPFL sides voted in favour of ending the 2019/20 campaign early after coronavirus struck.

As Hearts suffered demotion from the Premiership with eight games unplayed, Partick were relegated from the Championship to League One and Stranraer sent from League One into League Two. They both had nine fixtures outstanding.

League One and League Two may not start the 2020/21 campaign until late this year or possibly into 2021, so Thistle and Stranraer would be prevented from playing.

Their compensation claims for loss of income would amount to more than £1m when added together, pushing the total amount beyond the £6m mark before court costs.

The SPFL sent all 42 clubs a document proposing permanent league reconstruction on Wednesday night in an effort to quell the discontent. It suggested a four-division model containing 14 Premiership teams and 10 in each league below.

If implemented, that would return relegated sides to the divisions they occupied last season and avoid any court action. Lowland League winners Kelty Hearts and Highland League champions Brora Rangers would be invited into the bottom tier.

Chairmen in all divisions were asked to indicate their support for such a set-up by 10am this Monday, June 15. At least 32 of the 42 clubs would need to agree and a number of them are disinclined to vote for it as it stands, so meeting the threshold will be difficult.

Changing to 14-10-10-10 is now the only alternative to the current 12-10-10-10 structure after previous plans by Hearts and Rangers failed to garner enough support.

The SPFL will arrange an EGM and formal vote within days if enough teams are willing. If not, the league would then be open to a claim for lost revenue totalling several million pounds from Hearts, Thistle and Stranraer.

In the reconstruction document emailed out on Wednesday, the SPFL said: "Much has been said about the curtailment of league season 2019/20 due to Covid-19, with a number of matches still to be played.

"While it is now clear that there was no realistic workable alternative to that curtailment, the introduction of a 14-10-10-10 League structure for season 2020/21 would address any perceived unfairness and ensure that those teams relegated as a result of that curtailment would regain their previous divisional status."

Neil Doncaster, the SPFL chief executive, admitted that this proposal is the final attempt at league reconstruction for next season. “I do feel that this is the last realistic prospect of an expanded Premiership being delivered for the season ahead,” he said.

One source told the Evening News: "The SPFL are trying very hard to avoid legal action by finding a solution but time is running out because next season's fixtures need to be released as soon as possible."

Papers are already being worked on for a legal challenge on clubs’ behalf. Relegations in France and Belgium have been blocked after appeals by teams there and the SPFL are aware of the situation in both countries.

They want to avoid going to court, but in their favour is the fact more than 80 per cent of Scottish sides passed their proposal to end the 2019/20 campaign based on average points per game.

Any legal action would present a major headache for the SPFL board. Should litigation against them succeed, compensation money would have to be paid by the clubs – most likely deducted from next season’s £30m prize pot.

Last month, the SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster admitted: "Any action that's taken by any member against the league ultimately is taken against members as a whole.

"We don't hold reserves year to year, so any action that any one individual club takes, effectively the burden of that would fall on all the other members."

Legal experts believe teams would have several grounds for a civil case – primarily that the SPFL abandoned their common purpose and duty of care to members by relegating clubs without completing all fixtures.

Additionally, Rangers' allegation that the SPFL did not reveal a potential £10m liability to broadcasters and sponsors in the event of last season's league being called early could go against the governing body if proven.

There is also Dundee's controversial part in the way the campaign was halted. The Dens Park club submitted a 'no' vote on ending the season but were then allowed to change it to 'yes' after the result of the poll was published by the SPFL. Consequently, Dundee's became the decisive vote of the 42.

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