Hearts and Partick Thistle’s SFA arbitration panel defeat was a win for Dundee United before the season has even started.
For the SPFL and its chief executive Neil Doncaster, it was a hugely significant victory after four months of conflict that has torn the Scottish game apart from the moment Dundee submitted their controversial ‘yes’ vote to end the 2019/20 campaign.
Unsurprisingly, they hailed the ruling, with Doncaster describing it as a “clear, comprehensive and unanimous decision”.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted that our approach has been vindicated throughout, following an intense period of legal scrutiny and review.
“It has been a very demanding process, but I had complete confidence in the actions and decisions of the SPFL board and the SPFL executive team.”
SPFL chairman Murdoch MacLennan added: “The formation of this SFA Arbitration Panel was an important step for Scottish football and one which enabled a minutely detailed examination of the entire process of ‘calling the season’.
“Directors and officials from the SPFL co-operated with the panel to the fullest possible extent, during which they were subjected to forensic examination by QCs, all under the scrutiny of a Senator of the College of Justice and two experienced Sheriffs.
“No-one should be under any illusion about the rigorous and challenging nature of this process. I would fully expect all those involved to agree that no stone was left unturned, no allegation left unanswered.
“Every aspect of the various arguments put forward by both Heart of Midlothian and Partick Thistle was examined minutely, with full access to all relevant documents, records, emails and telephone logs.
“The panel heard from many witnesses, including senior figures from across our game and three members of the SPFL executive team. Thousands of pages of evidence were considered.
“I’m therefore very pleased that the tribunal unanimously held that the challenges to the written resolution of 15 April 2020 failed, and that the SPFL were entitled to pass, and give effect to, the written resolution and all that flowed from it.
“Throughout the process, and whilst under the most severe pressure, criticism and media scrutiny, the SPFL has followed appropriate legal guidance and acted in accordance with the best interests of the SPFL as a whole at all times.
“It is regrettable that the league had to be concluded in the way that it was. However, despite calls to the contrary from some parties, subsequent events, including the virtual shutdown of our entire country for months, confirm that there was no viable alternative.
“With contact training only being allowed to resume on 29 June, it was simply impossible for games to be played or for season 2019/20 to continue.
“I want to make clear that it is unfortunate the early curtailment of the season relegated Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer. However, in circumstances where reconstruction was comprehensively rejected by SPFL member clubs, there was no viable alternative.
“I sympathise hugely with all three clubs, but given this clear and unequivocal tribunal decision, it is imperative that everyone accepts it and works together to ensure that our game can move forward and tackle the enormous and continuing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Jambos and the Jags had embroiled United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers against their will in a dispute with Hampden chiefs that placed a question mark over their respective Premiership, Championship and League One promotions.
The pair took legal action after being consigned to the drop as a result of April’s controversial vote by clubs to curtail the season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A Court of Session hearing resulted in the case being referred to a three-person arbitration panel convened under SFA rules with a private hearing taking place last week.
According to the promoted clubs, the panel conclusion read: “The tribunal appointed in terms of Scottish Football Association Article 99 issued its decision today.
“It unanimously held that the challenges to the Written Resolution of 15 April 2020 failed, and that the SPFL were entitled to pass, and give effect to, the Written Resolution and all that flowed from it.
“Accordingly it refused to grant any of the orders sought by Heart of Midlothian FC and Partick Thistle FC and continued the arbitration for submissions about expenses.”
Raith, in a statement, welcomed the decision after what they called “a costly distraction”.
The Kirkcaldy club, along with the Tangerines and Cove Rangers, thanked the supporters who raised thousands during the legal fight.
Rovers added: “This has been a difficult time for our club and the decision today means we can now draw a line under this affair and move forward.
“We would like to place on record our grateful thanks and appreciation to all our supporters who contributed to the various fundraising efforts to offset our substantial legal costs.
“Thanks also go to the many football clubs and their supporters throughout the leagues in Scotland for their financial assistance and for the many messages of support.”
Hearts and Thistle insisted they had no regrets in taking legal action.
In a brief joint statement, they said: “As all parties have been requested not to comment on the tribunal’s decision or reveal details of the hearings on the grounds of confidentiality, all we can only say is how disappointed and surprised we are at the outcome.
“We don’t regret taking this action as it was the right thing for us to do.
“There were better ways to deal with ending the season, fairer ways other than putting the burden of a pandemic on to three clubs.”