The world’s gaze might be squarely focused on Russia at the moment but closer to…
As we all know, Scottish football is often best broken down using references from distinctly average 90’s movies. This current fiasco, with the SPFL organising both semi-finals at Hampden Park on the same day, reminds me of a scene from Rush Hour 2. Just bear with me.
On the cusp of the final act, Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) convinces Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) to abandon his plans to fly home to China and to instead come with him to LA. When Lee asks why, Carter responds: “Follow the rich, white man.”
Obviously, there are plenty of rich, white men in Scottish football. But what Carter really meant was when people begin to panic, you need only look to those keeping their cool to quickly figure out who has really benefited from the situation. And if this week’s fiasco has taught us anything it’s that certain people or clubs are furious about this decision and some can’t help but smile.
“If something goes wrong. Why would you tempt fate with so many things that could happen that would tarnish the name of Scottish football.”
— Sky Sports Scotland (@ScotlandSky) September 28, 2018
As is often the case with Scottish football, the series of events unfolded at a breathtaking pace. Before Aberdeen’s officials had even returned to Pittodrie from Hampden on Thursday afternoon, the club already had a statement on their website underlining their “dismay” at the decision to schedule their game for 12pm.
“We appreciate the authorities have a difficult job to schedule games in what is an extremely congested calendar,” noted the three-paragraph statement. “But to yet again ask our supporters to be in Glasgow for a 12-noon start on a Sunday is, quite frankly, appalling.”
Ann Budge then took to Hearts’ own website to echo a similar statement. While acknowledging that the Hampden staff and Police Scotland had given reassurances over the congested fixture date, the Hearts owner noted that the decision had been made due to “contractual obligations” and that her club were “far from happy” with the decision.
The following day things only got worse for the SPFL. In typical fashion, Craig Levein took to his media conference to rant for no less than seven minutes about the decision. While answering questions from journalists, Levein stated that the decision was “the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced in football” before pointing out that the contractual obligations were in fact down to Celtic and Rangers both reaching either semi-final of the competition. A few hours later Scotrail were forced to concede on Twitter that they hadn’t been consulted at all over extra services for travelling Aberdeen or Hearts fans on the date.
Our events team wasn’t consulted by the @SPFL in advance of its announcement, which is disappointing. The SPFL has only now been in touch after the announcement.
— ScotRail (@ScotRail) September 28, 2018
Which neatly brings us to the rich, white men. While Craig Levein and Derek McInnes were just about foaming at the mouth over the decision to force Hearts and Aberdeen fans to travel across the country on Sunday evening or morning respectively, the two Glasgow managers were, unsurprisingly, much calmer when questioned about the situation.
“It’s a very unique situation,” pondered Steven Gerrard at Rangers’ training ground on Thursday afternoon, seemingly without a care in the world. “But I’ve got nothing to say other than we’re really looking forward to our game. We’re first on the pitch… which is a bonus.” Brendan Rodgers, at first, seemed as though he was going to sympathise with the numerous complaints by suggesting that “it looks operationally and logistically like a major challenge” but the Celtic manager then went on to state that if the organisers and police felt as though they had it under control then they would get on with it.
Of course, neither club have given a single suggestion that they’re unhappy with the decision because it suits them perfectly. While Celtic and Rangers have fans from all over Scotland, a Sunday fixture affords the vast majority of their fans a short trip to Mount Florida, while they recover from Europa League action on Thursday night.
The decision also suits one of their primary sponsors: BT Sport. As alluded to by Levein, the broadcaster clearly made demands to keep both games at Hampden. In doing so BT save hundreds of thousands of pounds that would have been spent on a second broadcast unit had St Johnstone or Ayr won and suggestions been made to showcase a semi-final at a smaller stadium around the country. Yet a simple fiscal decision has now blown into a PR nightmare for the broadcaster, perfectly illustrated by the fact that they have referenced the fixtures on social media since the initial tweet on Thursday afternoon, while Sky Sports have pumped out rolling videos, features and news on the backlash to the SPFL decision all day long.
Clearly, four clubs entered Hampden on Thursday and rather than discuss and figure out a workable solution two were simply told how it was going to be and to accept it. And despite obvious solutions – such as playing one of the two fixtures the following weekend – this plan was pushed through with little concern over the consequences.
Ultimately, perspective will define how each of us views this conundrum. If you support Aberdeen or Hearts your natural inclination is anger. If you support Celtic or Rangers you probably don’t really care all that much. You may support neither and think cold-hearted pragmatism dictates clubs fall in line for broadcasters that are willing to pay the bills. And if you’re a newspaper columnist looking for attention you’ll probably predict doom and gloom, while blood flows down the streets of Mount Florida on the day.
What we can probably all agree on is that this entire fiasco is one entirely fabricated seemingly out of thin air from a single spark. And as always that spark originated from the incompetence of the SPFL.