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Semi-final controversy deserves only a shrug of the shoulders


hislopsoffsideagain

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Does a season go by without Scottish fans getting angry about a cup semi-final kickoff time?

Well, for the upcoming League Cup semi-finals we have two clubs, and their supporters, up in arms. Aberdeen face a Sunday lunchtime kickoff at Hampden against Rangers. Hearts have a 1945 start the very same evening to take on Celtic. Neither are happy campers.

The Dons have certainly been here before. Their issue is not really the distance - it's 150 miles from Pittodrie to Hampden according to Google Maps - though that would mean pretty early starts for those travelling by car. The problem is public transport, or the lack of it. The first train from Aberdeen to Glasgow that day gets in at 1214, 14 minutes after kickoff. Though given the capacity of a train runs in the hundreds and the Red Army can be expected to number several thousand at least, a single train that ran on time wouldn't make a massive impact.

Hearts complain that the evening kickoff will also prevent fans from attending - for example plenty of families are likely to be put off by the prospect of a late trip back from Glasgow on a school night. It should however be remembered that up until a few years ago the League Cup semi-finals were played in midweek, mind...

There are also lots of concerns being raised about the prospect of both games being played on the same day. But crucially the police seem cool with it. Since this is the same police who won't let fans drink on trains and have previously predicted a catastrophe before a Hogmanay Old Firm game, their agreement with the move is rather reassuring. After all, if the presence of four sets of fans in the same vicinity on the same day is a recipe for a riot, should we not be spending more time bemoaning the fact that we can't trust said fans to behave?

The fixtures have been scheduled in this way for two reasons. Firstly, both Rangers and Celtic are playing on the Thursday night in the Europa League. Whatever some say, it wouldn't be fair to have another game within 48 hours. Frankly, if Aberdeen had made the Europa League Group Stages and been forced to play on the Saturday they would be raging about it.

Secondly, it'll be because BT Sport, and their cash, say so. And that's the nature of it. If the clubs don't want awkward kickoff times then they can watch the TV money disappear. BT aren't going to put one of these matches on against an English Premier League game at the same time because even a decent number of Scottish fans would rather tune in to (checks schedule) Manchester United v Everton.

And both Aberdeen and Hearts know this. They are also members of the SPFL, the organization that has made this decision. They therefore have the power to demand changes, and they also have the power to try and vote off members of the board - *cough* Neil Doncaster *cough* who don't accede to their wishes. Last year both Aberdeen and Hearts had representatives on the SPFL board. Did they not have any opportunities to deal with this issue in all that time?

The cynical part of me - which is pretty much all of me - suspects a lot of the whinging from Aberdeen and Hearts is just playing to the gallery. There is a good chance both clubs sell their allocations for the ties, or at least sell as many tickets as they would have done for a 3pm Saturday kickoff. Certainly the TV cash will make up any shortfall. The sympathy for their supporters may be genuine, but publicly using words like "appalling" certainly keeps them sweet and gains a few column inches.

That's not to say I agree with this plan. There are bound to be a few twits at the first game who wreck some seats in a terrible rage because "the referee is clearly an orange/fenian (delete as applicable) b*****d" which will be a headache for the second match. I'm curious as to how the long-derided Hampden surface will hold up with two matches on the same day. And there is a far better option available, which was to play the second game the following weekend instead.

And don't forget the traditional PR cockup from the SPFL. All of this controversy was totally predictable, after all. Any vaguely competent organization would have acknowledged these issues when the announcement was made, explain the decision-making and take control of the narrative. And the slogan 'Semi Final Sunday' rolls off the tongue so easily. But some things never change.

However, as long as supporters keep turning up for games and subscribing to the TV channels then this is going to keep happening and nothing will change. And deep down we all know that, really. But that's okay because this at least allows football fans to do what they enjoy doing best - feeling aggrieved!


Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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