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Hearts ‘bitterly disappointed’ at failed SPFL reconstruction

Tynecastle chair Ann Budge said 'self-interest' and fear over losing the Sky contract had played a role.

Hearts ‘bitterly disappointed’ at failed SPFL reconstruction SNS

Hearts owner Ann Budge has said she is “bitterly disappointed although sadly not surprised” after plans for league reconstruction next season fell through.

The Tynecastle chair said “self-interest” and “fear” around losing the SPFL’s contract with Sky were partly why clubs had not given the proposals sufficient support.

The development came at a meeting of top-flight clubs on Friday and means Hearts face being relegated to the Championship if the Premiership season is ended, with Partick Thistle starting next season in League One and Stranraer being demoted to the bottom tier.

Budge said if the Premiership is called and Hearts relegated, the club will consider options to “formally challenge” that outcome.

All SPFL divisions below the Premiership have already come to an end as they stand, with Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers declared champions of the three divisions.

There is a desire among top-flight clubs, however, to revisit the issue of revamping the league structure in the future.

But Budge blasted this position as “totally missing the point”, saying current plans would “pour more financial hardship on specific clubs” and “unfairly penalise” them.

Following the vote to end football in the lower leagues in April, a 15-strong reconstruction group was set up to look at league reconstruction options.

Two main plans were being discussed for the season 2020/21 – both with a three-division structure.

One would have seen each division contain 14 sides. The other would have been a 14-14-16 system, which would have allowed for Highland League winners Brora Rangers and Lowland League champions Kelty Hearts to be promoted to the bottom tier of the SPFL.

In a statement, Budge said: “I am bitterly disappointed, although sadly not surprised, that there is insufficient support from premiership clubs to expand the top league of Scottish football to avoid unfairly penalising any club as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is the only option available to avoid the unfair treatment of a number of fellow members of the SPFL but it was yesterday dismissed.

“There were a number of reasons offered as to why this could not receive support, including a view stated by a number of club representatives that this was, effectively, a distraction, and all of our efforts needed to be focused on the bigger issue of how we get football back playing as quickly as possible.

“Firstly, this is incredibly sanctimonious, suggesting as it does that those of us involved in looking at this issue are failing to recognise what ‘the real issues’ are.  Or perhaps it suggests that we are all incapable of considering more than one challenge at a time. Speaking for myself, I am pretty good at multi-tasking.

“Secondly, to say we will look at this question at some point in the future, when we have dealt with the current crisis, is totally missing the point.”

She continued: “The suggestion was also made at yesterday’s meeting that the only reason that this is even being discussed is because it is one of the larger clubs, namely Hearts, that will be affected.  

“Not only is that statement hugely disrespectful to those other clubs in the same position, it flies in the face of the view expressed by so many that no club, however large or small, should be disproportionately disadvantaged because of this crisis situation… 

“To pour more financial hardship on specific clubs, given what we are all going through both now and for the foreseeable future, is both outrageous and shameful. 

“We should be standing together to help clubs to survive and to save jobs.  This decision simply flies in the face of all of this.”

The Hearts owner added: “Fundamentally, the main reason clubs are not prepared to consider a restructure is because of the Sky contract. 

“It is well known that Sky would have to agree to a restructure. Without any discussion with Sky, there is a totally incomprehensible assumption that we would be unable to navigate successfully through any such negotiation. 

“What does that say about the strength or otherwise of our ‘partnership’?   Perhaps more tellingly, what does it say about the confidence our clubs have in the ability of the SPFL to negotiate? 

“The message is clear.  This could be difficult so let’s not bother trying. It’s too risky!”

Budge said there was “no question in my opinion that self-interest played a part” in Friday’s talks, “as did previous history”.

Referring to the Sky contract, she went on: “Fear has also played a part here. We are all confronting a huge number of issues and lack of clarity over the future. 

“Clubs are worried. They do not want to do anything that might in any way impact a major income stream.” 

Budge continued: “I had hoped that we could have agreed a sensible, pragmatic approach that would have seen a positive outcome for Scottish football as a whole.

“Our objective should have been to stand together to protect each other. 

“This would have demonstrated genuine leadership for the first time in many weeks.”

Addressing Hearts fans, she concluded: “Please also be reassured that while the Premiership has not yet been called, should it be so, with Hearts expelled as a result, we will be taking further advice on what options are open to us and to other clubs in the same position, to formally challenge this outcome.”