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Partick Thistle to join Hearts in legal challenge over relegation after receiving funding for court action

© Euan Cherry / SNS GroupPartick are to challenge their demotion in court
Partick are to challenge their demotion in court

Partick Thistle will back Hearts in a joint legal challenge to their respective relegations after receiving external funding for court action.

The Glasgow club are to fight their demotion to League One for next season, after being only two points from safety with a game in hand when the SPFL called time on the Championship season.

A reconstruction proposal that would’ve prevented relegation for Hearts, Partick and League One bottom side Stranraer was rejected by SPFL clubs yesterday.

In a statement on behalf of the club’s board, Chairman Jacqui Low said: “Yesterday, we said that court action was our preferred route to challenging our relegation to League 1. It was only a lack of funding that stopped us. At that time, we reserved the right to change our position should circumstances change.

“Last night, in response to our statement, we received a proposal to fully fund legal action should we wish to pursue it, at no cost to Thistle. After careful Board consideration, we have now accepted this extremely generous offer of unexpected help.

“Today, following discussions with Hearts, we have agreed that we will launch a joint legal challenge to resolve what others have failed to do since April.

“To those who think we should just move on and accept what’s been dished out to us, yesterday 26 clubs put themselves first. Today, we have now been given the opportunity to do the same.”

The SPFL board yesterday “agreed to draw a line under reconstruction talks” after only 16 of the 42 clubs backed plans for a 14-10-10-10 set-up in an informal vote.

Hearts, who were four points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, then launched legal action against the Scottish Professional Football League after being consigned to a shortened season in the Scottish Championship.

Championship clubs had approved a reduced 27-game campaign, which is scheduled to kick off on October 17.

A Hearts statement read: “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.

“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.”

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster had proposed the permanent alteration after three previous attempts at reconstruction failed to garner enough support.

He said: “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.

“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 proposal would have resulted in no relegation and divisional runners-up Inverness, Falkirk and Edinburgh City being promoted, while Highland League champions Brora Rangers and Lowland League winners Kelty Hearts would have joined the league after the pyramid play-offs were abandoned.

The SPFL would have pushed for a general meeting in seven days’ time if there had been enough support but the numbers fell well short with some clubs not willing to rush permanent change.

The change would have required 11 of the 12 Premiership clubs voting in favour along with at least six Championship clubs and 75 per cent of the league overall.

While Partick have now opted to pursue legal action with Hearts, it seems unlikely Stranraer will join them.

Chairman Iain Dougan ruled out legal action, telling Sky Sports News yesterday: “We are small fry. We are one of the older clubs, we are going into our 150th year, but in financial terms we are one of the smaller clubs, and it’s not a route we can afford to take.

“I’m disappointed but not actually surprised. I think there’s a bit of weariness towards all the various different votes over the last couple of months. That would probably be one of the major problems.”