Hibs chief executive Leeann Dempster today admitted she was “staggered” that the SPFL had been surprised at the furious row their decision to move Rangers final game of the season – against Hearts at Tynecastle – back 24 hours for the sake of television had created.
The authorities were forced into an embarrassing about-turn only hours after announcing that decision, one which had been immediately attacked by both Dempster and Hearts chairwoman Ann Budge, who both lodged formal complaints with the league, reminding them of their responsibility for protecting its sporting integrity.
Now, it has been revealed the final round of Championship matches will be played on Saturday, May 2, as originally scheduled but with 12.15pm kick-offs and the Hearts v Rangers game being televised live by Sky, who had intended to broadcast it the following day.
Today Dempster revealed she didn’t find the fact Hearts final game was being moved unexpected, but she was surprised not to receive another email informing her all the matches were to be switched.
The SPFL hurriedly invited others to ask for their fixtures to be moved if they so wished, but given Hibs play Falkirk at Westfield on the final day of the regular season, Dempster pointed out that could have set the two clubs against each other if she had asked for such an accommodation, but the Bairns refused in any case.
While most saw the SPFL’s decision as handing Rangers a clear advantage in the race for second place, allowing Stuart McCall’s side, currently a point ahead of Hibs, to know exactly what they’d need to do, the league insisted: “It’s not clear to us why this has caused so much surprise.”
But Dempster retorted: “It staggers me that there is a position where it was stated that their would be no advantage or disadvantage. I just do not see how that can be true. The moment it hit my inbox it resonated with me what the implications would be.
“You expect all games to start at the same time. That’s what has happened in the past, that’s what will happen for the top six Premiership sides and the bottom six. Why should it be different for the Championship when that last round means so much to the clubs involved. It’s not just ourselves and Rangers, there’s other clubs in this competition that this last round is important to.” Asked if she felt the SPFL were out of touch having expressed their surprise at the furore caused, Dempster said: “I think I am surprised that they are surprised.” And when questioned as to whether she thought it was a matter of competency, she added: “When it’s so obvious to everyone else, I think there need to be a look at the governance of the organisation.
“Let’s be frank here – the onus was put on this football club to make a decision. We are the ones that were asked to ask for a move rather than the league itself. That’s not our job. Our job is to play games and win games. Our job is not the fixtures – that’s the responsibility of the league. It ought not to fall on clubs.
“It could also cause issues between clubs. The last thing we want to do is to be seen to be forcing another club to move a home match – that does not foster good relations. It’s not our role in the game, which is why we did not do that and did not put the focus on Falkirk.”
Asked if she intended to take the matter any further, Dempster said: “I think we have to sit back and reflect on what has happened in the last 24 hours. We’ve a cup semi-final on Saturday, as have Falkirk, and we have to switch our minds to that.”
Head coach Alan Stubbs also expressed his relief that commonsense has prevailed. Admitting the row was totally avoidable, he said: “I was surprised, but I am glad it’s been put back to everyone kicking off at the same time.”
There remains, of course, the play-off fixtures to be announced, with the likelihood of the season having to be extended should Hibs be involved in the final stage of that process and the Scottish Cup final as well. Demspter revealed Hibs have already made moves in regard to player contracts should such a scenario arise.
She said: “We planned well ahead so I am confident we will have a strong squad at the end of the season and should there be a requirement for us to play in June, our squad will be available.”