Can you imagine losing a cup final and knowing you’re going to be stranded in an unfamiliar city for the night?
Well this could be a genuine reality for Manchester City or Wigan Athletic fans on May 11th, the date of this year’s FA Cup Final. This is all thanks to a decision made by the 150 year old Football Association, which genuinely claims to have been ‘supporting football since 1863’. Ha!
This week the FA announced that this year’s FA Cup Final will again kick-off at 5.15pm, just as the previous final between Chelsea and Liverpool the year before did.
Such a decision will cause travel chaos for both set of fans travelling down from the North-West, but the FA will just be pleased to satisfy the many global broadcasters of the match, including the presumably delighted chiefs of ESPN and ITV in this country.
Jason Taylor, a Wigan Athletic Supporters Club spokesman, says; "It seems the FA are more interested in what the television companies want than the logistics of supporters getting to and from their final.”
Provided the final doesn’t go to extra-time, or god forbid penalties, fans travelling back to Manchester from London Euston have three possible trains to catch; the 7.40pm, the 8.20pm and the last train at 9.00pm.
Wigan fans realistically will only have two possible trains to catch, at 7.30pm and 8.31pm. This means Wigan fans will have to get from Wembley Stadium to London Euston via tube in roughly 25 minutes, and that’s provided the match is finished after 90 minutes.
What if Wigan somehow manage to win? Surely a number of their fans won’t be able to watch captain Gary Caldwell lift the trophy for fear of being stranded in London?
Well there is a later train to Wigan, leaving London Euston at 9.00pm. The slight downside here is that it doesn’t actually get to Wigan until 9.11am the next morning.
The Football Supporters' Federation has very publicly criticised the decision, saying; "Fans of Manchester City and Wigan Athletic are being asked to pay for an overnight stay in London to satisfy the whims of a TV company.
“Part of what makes the FA Cup great is its tradition but that tradition has been eroded over the years thanks to the abolition of replays, too many semis at Wembley, and now, late kick-offs."
A Telegraph online poll revealed that just short of 91% of people believe the later kick-off time devalues the competition. Perhaps we should instead turn our attentions to Fenerbahce v Galatasaray in Turkey or Lazio v Sampdoria in Italy, both of which kick off at a similar time, as a form of protest?
Alex Horne, The FA's general secretary, defends the move because it maximises television audiences; "We're now used to consuming our football in those time slots. It really works.
“Lunchtime kick-offs just haven't got the same appeal. The 5.15pm kick-off for the final was really successful. We added a couple of million viewers. It's a sensible compromise."
If that isn’t evidence of footballs governing body siding with the corporate world and broadcasters instead of the fans, then what is?
The FA’s statement defending the kick-off time argues that only a small percentage of fans travel by train. However, even if the majority of fans do come down by car, having a late kick-off time will cause major congestions on the motorways heading to the North-West later that day, with Wigan and Manchester only 18 miles apart.
The FA also notes that there will be additional coach services for the final, but surely National Express will now bump up the price as a result of the sudden rush in people requiring a seat.
The statement also reads; “The domestic viewing figures for last year’s FA Cup Final, shown on ITV and ESPN, recorded a combined peak in-home audience of 11.7m people in the UK.
“This was the highest peak viewing figure The FA Cup Final has achieved under the current TV deal and a higher audience than that of Bayern Munich v Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Final.”
I have also heard FA officials on the radio claiming the kick-off time means it will not clash with football league and other non-league matches - the only Premier League match on the same day starts at 12.45pm.
Surely if the FA was concerned with raising the profile of its own competition and for the final not to clash with other matches, it would have kept with tradition and left it as the last game of the football calendar.
Nowadays though the Premier League and Champions League final bring an end to the season, further devaluing what was once considered the most sought after trophy of any footballer.
The FA is of course the same organisation that in recent years has considered scrapping replays, seeding teams, regionalising the competition and automatically giving Premier League team’s away ties.
Instead, they’ve been far kinder to this once great competition by changing traditional kick-off times, sponsoring the competition with an American lager company and scrapping restrictions on minimum ticket prices.
I for one can’t wait to see the genius ways in which the FA will be ‘supporting football’ over the next 150 years...
Here’s some links on this subject if you’re interested: