Hearts to launch legal action against relegation after Scottish clubs reject reconstruction proposals
"This was the final opportunity for kinship to prevail... It is an unfortunate condemnation of Scottish football that this was not possible," say Hearts in statement
By Allan Valente
Last Updated: 15/06/20 5:49pm
Hearts have announced their intention to pursue legal action against their relegation after only 16 clubs indicated that they would vote for league reconstruction and a 14-team Premiership from next season.
Various discussions had been held over potential reconstruction plans since the season was curtailed in Scotland due to the coronavirus crisis, with the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) recently proposing a new 14-10-10-10 format, asking clubs to provide an indicative vote on the plan by Monday.
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The organisation have now announced that only 16 of the 42 member clubs supported a plan for an expanded top flight in an informal vote, meaning Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer's relegations have now been confirmed.
The SPFL's proposal would have seen a 14-team top flight, meaning Hearts would have remained in the division and be joined by Championship winners Dundee United as well as Inverness Caledonian Thistle, who finished second after the leagues were called.
The Championship, League One and Two would have consisted of 10 teams, with Partick Thistle retaining their place in the second tier, Stranraer keeping their League One spot and both highland and lowland champions Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts joining the SPFL pyramid in League Two but the proposal did not get enough support to go to a formal vote.
The statement confirmed the SPFL board had "agreed to draw a line under reconstruction talks".
Hearts to launch legal action
However, shortly after the results of the informal vote were announced, Hearts revealed that they will now pursue legal action to stop their relegation.
In a statement, the Edinburgh club expressed disappointment in their view that Scottish football had failed to show unity in the face of a crisis.
A Hearts statement said: "To say we are disappointed, yet sadly not surprised, at this outcome is, of course, an understatement. We have, from the outset, worked tirelessly with fellow clubs and the SPFL Board to try to find a solution that would right the most obvious wrongs that have been caused in Scottish football by decisions taken as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Hearts, along with many others, have stated repeatedly that no club should be disproportionately disadvantaged because of this crisis. This was the final opportunity for kinship to prevail and for Scottish football to stand together in an emergency. It is an unfortunate condemnation of Scottish football that this was not possible.
"We thank those who were open minded, pragmatic and willing to come together to try and reach a fair outcome for all. Sadly, there were too few of us."
The statement added: "Now that all other avenues are closed, we are left with no choice but to proceed with a legal challenge. The club has tried throughout these last few months to avoid this course of action but we must now do the right thing by our supporters, our employees, our players and our sponsors, all of whom have been unwavering in their commitment and support. We can hold our heads up high as we have acted at all times with integrity, common sense and with the best interests of Scottish football at heart.
"We have stated from the beginning that the unjust and unfair treatment of Hearts, Partick Thistle, Stranraer and indeed other clubs cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. While many weeks have been wasted in trying to find a solution, we must now formally challenge this outcome.
"The club can confirm that the necessary steps have been taken to begin this legal challenge. Given that this is now an active legal matter, the club will be offering no further comment at this time."
Hearts are understood to be confident they have a legal case following the French courts decision last week to suspend relegation from Ligue 1. Although Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, told Sky Sports News that the situation in France was "wholly different" to the SPFL, because clubs in Scotland voted to end the season while the decision in France was taken at government level.
The other two relegated clubs Partick Thistle and Stranraer have said they will not start a legal fight due to financial costs, but Partick Thistle reiterated their right to do so.
Partick say they "cannot risk monies if they want to return to the Championship at the first possible opportunity."
The club also say the League One season must start at the same time as the Championship season, which is due to begin in mid-October. Partick added that they feel badly let down by the SPFL board and chairman Murdoch MacLennan.
Doncaster said the informal vote had provided "absolute clarity".
In a statement, he said: "In recent weeks, we've been consulting closely with our clubs regarding possible reconstruction and, based on the feedback we received, the board decided to ask all 42 clubs to give their views so that we could have absolute clarity, which we've achieved today.
"Whilst a number of clubs were in favour of a new divisional set-up, the support for it was insufficient and we will now move forward with a fixture programme for Season 2020/21 based on the current 12-10-10-10 structure."
Championship clubs vote for shortened season
It was also confirmed that Championship clubs had approved a shortened 27-game season, which is expected to kick off in October. That will see teams playing each other three times, rather than four.
Doncaster added: "Due to the restrictions forced upon us by the coronavirus outbreak, the Championship clubs also voted overwhelmingly to play each other three times next season, rather than four, which enables a later start to the Championship league season.
"Now that we have a confirmed structure for next season, the SPFL's fixturing team will begin work on the Premiership fixture list, which will start on the weekend of 1 August, and the Championship fixture list, which will start on the weekend of 17 October."
The SPFL statement added that discussions regarding arrangements for Leagues One and Two remain ongoing.