Hearts owner Ann Budge feels SPFL reconstruction task force was disrespected

Hearts owner Ann Budge has accused her Premiership counterparts of ‘appalling disrespect’ over their outright dismissal of her task force’s plan to restructure the Scottish football pyramid.

Budge has threatened to join chiefs of other affected clubs in taking further action if a cancellation of the top-flight season is announced, with the Championship, League One and League Two already ended early.

Budge had hoped to convince clubs to accept a revamped three-division system, which would have swollen the top-flight to 14 teams and allowed Inverness to be promoted, while those in relegation trouble across the Scottish Professional Football League – including Hearts – would retain their current status.

In a lengthy statement Budge said: “No matter what the task force was able to agree, it was always going to fail if the Premiership would not agree to enlarge the top tier. Yesterday, it was made very clear that a number of clubs were not prepared to do so and nor were they prepared or interested in discussing the matter further.

“I intimated at the start of the meeting that I had prepared a paper, which I planned to send to them following the meeting, which outlined my arguments in writing as to why they should agree to expand the league. They were determined, however, to take a vote as they didn’t want this topic to carry forward to the next meeting. This is so appallingly disrespectful to everyone on the task force.”

Budge rejected suggestions her plan had been motivated by self-interest.

She said: “It is fundamentally wrong that any club should be unfairly penalised by exceptional decisions that have had to be taken to deal with the current crisis. I would stand by that view, regardless of Hearts’ own position.

Heart of Midlothian v Rangers – William Hill Scottish Cup – Quarter Final – Tynecastle Park
Hearts’ relegation from the Scottish Premiership looks set to be confirmed (Jeff Holmes/PA)

“If something is wrong, it is wrong and we should all be doing our utmost to correct that wrong. 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.”

Hearts face relegation should the Premiership follow the other leagues in being cancelled.

Partick Thistle and Stranraer have already had their relegations confirmed from their respective divisions, while non-league champions Buckie Thistle and Kelty Hearts have been denied a chance at promotion.

Thistle have already issued an angry response, claiming to have been “forgotten, ignored and patronised” by the SPFL.

And Budge warned: “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.”

Partick Thistle were bottom of the second tier and met the effective confirmation of their demotion with fury, echoing a previous statement by Falkirk chairman Gary Deans.

A club statement read: “The Partick Thistle board is deeply angered by the decision to halt league reconstruction…it is hard to see this a considered decision about reconstruction, it smacks more about the settling of scores within the Premiership.

“The way that this news was made public before clubs affected by the decision knew – and before they could inform staff and players – was a disgrace.

“Yet again we were left to pick up the pieces due to thoughtless, selfish behaviour that showed no regard for fellow clubs.

“Speaking on behalf of the group of Premiership clubs, Aberdeen FC chairman Dave Cormack said: ‘The strong feeling of the group was that we must focus all of our energies on emerging from the crisis we face’.

“This is patronising nonsense. Is Mr Cormack suggesting that no clubs in other leagues have considered what’s happening to Scottish football? If so, that is disrespectful and offensive.”

The club went on to overtly call into question the role of the SPFL, which has been contacted for comment by the PA news agency.

“We accepted an invitation to join the Reconstruction Group task force. We did so in good faith, despite our initial misgivings that it was not a genuine attempt to address the problems created by a hasty end to the season, after assurances from the SPFL,” Thistle’s statement added.

“The SPFL has fallen way short in this undertaking. Last week, we wrote privately, at length, to the SPFL to raise our concerns that their actions were making it harder to bring Scottish football together and could jeopardise the prospect of reconstruction.

“Our treatment is unprecedented in Scottish football. During this pandemic, across sport, efforts are ongoing to actively try to prevent damage, yet our governing body inexplicably chose a different path. It has singularly failed in its primary duty of care to a member.

“We have been forgotten, ignored and patronised while senior figures, for reasons best known to themselves, have scuppered a potential solution that did the least harm with no regard to the plight of those who have been betrayed for a second time.

“This is a sad indictment on those who govern our game and the clubs who think this is acceptable, especially when some of them may be in our shoes one day.”

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