SPFL defends Hampden double-header labelled ‘absolute madness’ by Hearts boss

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The Scottish Professional Football League insists there is no alternative to the Betfred Cup semi-final double-header at Hampden after coming under fire from clubs, transport firms and politicians.

Hearts and Aberdeen have vehemently attacked the scheduling of their fixtures and Scotrail also criticised the SPFL over a lack of consultation.

Aberdeen are due to face Rangers at noon on October 28, with Celtic facing Hearts at 7.45pm on the same Sunday.

The SPFL made the decision after being faced with a problem posed by both Glasgow clubs’ involvement in Europa League action on the Thursday and contractual obligations which mean the games must be played at Hampden.

Both Aberdeen and Hearts proposed the Edinburgh club face Celtic at Hampden a week later, and Hoops manager Brendan Rodgers promised to look at any request to switch their league and cup dates around.

Hearts boss Craig Levein said: “We play Celtic the following week so why don’t we just cancel that game, reschedule it further down the line and play that day?”

But the SPFL poured cold water on that idea.

In a feature on its website, the league said: “We looked at every possible alternative. Doing so would have created additional fixture challenges.

“Switching the Celtic vs Hearts tie until November 3 or 4 would have meant restoring the Celtic vs Motherwell Ladbrokes Premiership match to its original date of October 28. That would have created a situation where Celtic and Rangers would both be playing in separate stadia in Glasgow on the same day. Police Scotland would not have supported that.”

Levein branded the SPFL’s decision “absolute madness” and “the craziest thing I’ve probably experienced in football” while Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes claimed the scheduling was “really unfair” on his team’s supporters.

And Scotrail backed that assessment, with the earliest train from Aberdeen to Glasgow not due to arrive until 14 minutes after the first game starts.

A spokesman for the train firm said: “The SPFL is well aware from previous events of the logistical challenges an early kick-off presents, particularly for Sunday morning services from Aberdeen.

“The ScotRail events team was not consulted by the SPFL in advance of its announcement, which is disappointing. The SPFL has only now been in touch after the announcement.

“We will assess all options to see what, if anything, is possible in relation to additional services. But the logistical challenges this presents should not be underestimated.”

SNP MSP James Dornan, whose constituency includes Hampden, wrote to police and the SPFL to outline a number of concerns over the plan. He described it as “ludicrous”, mentioning the potential for disorder and effects on business and residents.

But the SPFL said: “We arrived at this decision only after lengthy and exhaustive discussions with all our stakeholders, including Police Scotland. They have reassured us they are content with the decision to play both ties at Hampden on the same day and have the resources to manage the situation.”

One key individual who was not concerned by the decision was Rangers boss Steven Gerrard, who does not have to worry about the pitch cutting up.

“We haven’t got that problem, we’re first on the pitch so there’s nothing to be said,” Gerrard said. “That’s a question you’d have to ask Craig Levein and Brendan Rodgers. I’m delighted we’re first there.”

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