Hearts manager Craig Levein has launched a savage attack on the SPFL over the decision to play next month’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Celtic at night as part of a Super Sunday Hampden double header.
An indignant Levein claimed the plan for Aberdeen versus Rangers to take place on midday on Sunday, October 28 and for Hearts to face the holders at 7.45pm later that evening was ‘madness’.
Just hours after Heart chair Ann Budge admitted she was ‘astonished’ that both last-four clashes were taking place on the same day, Levein delivered a no-holds-barred broadside ahead of today’s Premiership visit of St Johnstone.
- Said the day could be an ‘unmitigated disaster’ that would tarnish Scottish football.
- Raised concerns over 100,000 supporters being in Glasgow and the state of the pitch
- Admitted his players were already gutted that their young children would not be able to attend and that he had never seen such ‘disregard’ for fans.
- Thought Murrayfield was a suitable alternative and claimed the SPFL have not even asked to be released from their Hampden contractual obligations.
- Was willing to forgo the ‘competitive advantage’ of Celtic playing in the Europa League three days earlier by switching the tie to the following weekend.
- Said Hearts would demand a 50/50 allocation but feared they will only sell 15,000 tickets.
- Was adamant that any controversy on the day would fall ‘squarely back’ at the feet of SPFL chiefs Neil Doncaster and Iain Blair.
The semi-final double header has come about as the Old Firm will both need time to recover from their respective Europa League clashes before the ties, with the SPFL citing a Hampden contract for both games needing to be played at the national stadium.
But former Scotland manager refused to accept the governing body’s reasons over the divisive decision.
Levein said: “In all my time in football, I have never seen such disregard for supporters in any situation.
“If you could find a way to inconvenience people, then this is the perfect way to do it. It’s a shambles, honestly.
“I’m angry. It’s a disaster for the supporters, particularly for us and Aberdeen.
“There is human stuff. (Hearts assistant coach) Austin MacPhee has spoken to a few of the players and they are frustrated.
“They want to enjoy the experience and they want to take their families to Hampden for a semi-final.
“If is 7:45pm on a Sunday night that is not going to happen as kids won’t be going as they have school the next day.
“Every Hearts supporter, whether it be a mother and father taking their kids or grandparents taking their grandchildren – brothers or sisters – these matches are supposed to be family occasions.
“I’m not even going into other things which could be unmitigated disasters. You’ll have 100,000 people in Glasgow, not all drinking but one or two will be.
“Anything could go wrong. You’ve got the pitch situation, possible damage to toilets which has happened in the past. There is a list of things which could go wrong.
“If any of those things do go wrong, Scottish football will be tarnished by it. Why are we asking for trouble? It’s just madness.”
Levein insists embattled SPFL chief executive Doncaster and secretary Blair would be solely to blame if game is played in front of thousands of empty seats.
He added: “We have to ask for 50 per cent of the tickets for the Sunday night, that’s only fair. We have to give our supporters the opportunity to go.
“The fact is, it’s unlikely we will sell them all – we might only sell 15,000.
“But I’ll tell you something: This will fall squarely back at the feet of Neil Doncaster and Iain Blair. If the people don’t come, then that’s their fault. It’s nothing to do with the supporters and it’s nothing to do with us. It’s a joke of a decision.”
With Hearts due to travel to Celtic Park on November 3 on league duty, Levein admits he would be more than happy to delay the semi-final tie for a week.
He added: “Here’s the thing: Our competitive advantage is Celtic playing on the Thursday night in Europe.
“We don’t have a midweek game (ahead of the semi-final) but I’d give that up now to swap the fixtures so we could get a memorable occasion at Hampden.
“I don’t care about the competitive advantage. I want our supporters to be there so it feels like we’ve got the backing of the Hearts fans.
“That’s more important to me. I want to walk out and see 50 per cent of the stadium maroon. I don’t care about the advantage of Celtic having played on the Thursday night (away to RB Leipzig).”
Levein claims the league did not even consider waiving the contractual obligation with Hampden.
He added: “Why are we contractually obliged to play at Hampden?
“They haven’t even asked to be released from this contract.
“Is that not the first thing you would do if you are trying to find an alternative.
“At least ask the question. Murrayfield could easily have accommodated one of these games easily.
“I will play anywhere but I want the Hearts supporters to be there in as big a number as possible and to enjoy the experience.
“We have not been in a semi-final for five years and it is a big thing for us.”