SPFL lines up change to controversial League Cup hosting plan

The Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) is in talks to switch one of the body’s League Cup semi-finals to Murrayfield after Hampden Park Limited waived its right to host both games amid the furore over the decision to stage the matches on the same day.

It was announced last month that Glasgow’s Hampden Park would host two League Cup semi-final matches on the same day for the first time ever. Aberdeen had been scheduled to take on Rangers at 12pm on Sunday, October 28, with Hearts to face Celtic later that day at 7.45pm.

Rangers and Celtic are both involved in this season’s UEFA Europa League, whose matches are held on Thursday evenings. As a result, the two clubs are forced to play weekend matches on a Sunday and because they avoided each other in the semi-final draw for the League Cup, the SPFL opted to stage both fixtures on the same day.

The SPFL had claimed this was due to the contract it holds with Hampden Park, but the decision had been widely criticised for the logistical issues it created as well as the damage it could cause to the status of the competition itself.

The SPFL has now stated it is in discussions over the possibility of moving one of the games to an alternative venue, widely reported to be Murrayfield (pictured), home of the Scottish rugby union team. Talks are said to have been held with Scottish Rugby over staging the Hearts-Celtic clash at the Edinburgh stadium on the afternoon of October 28.

In a statement, SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “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 (Celtic and Rangers) 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… 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.”

Scottish Police Federation general secretary Calum Steele had earlier called the timings “idiotic”, while Assistant Chief Constable Bernie Higgins said transport plans and negotiations on other concerns needed to be addressed under the original plan.

The issue was also addressed at the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, with MSPs stating the plans had been “botched” and displayed a “disregard” for fans and a “lack of consideration for families”. According to the BBC, Sports Minister Joe FitzPatrick said there was “anger” among fans, adding he hoped that the SPFL would “listen” and “reach the appropriate outcome”.

Image: Jim Barton