It is the kind of connected thinking that has put the country in the position it is in today.
A complete and total mess.
Supporters of both Liverpool and Manchester City have come to realize they face a potential travel nightmare ahead of next month’s FA Cup semi-final, with train services from the northwest to London Euston being canceled for that weekend in April.
Such work, of course, has to be done at some point, and the Easter holidays seem just as good as any other stay-at-home commuters. That’s small consolation, though, for fans who now have to think about an overly cumbersome and expensive train journey or join the thousands of others who will clog the roads on their way to the capital.
But what has underlined this unfortunate coincidence is one that has long been a major problem for not only FA Cup traditionalists, but also an increasing number of fans of all ages.
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Why are the semi-finals still held at Wembley?
The decision was made in 2007 to play such matches at the national stadium for the foreseeable future, as the Football Association sought to help pay the £789 million construction cost. Some 15 years later, this is still the case, despite the fact that Wembley hosts all kinds of different events, ranging from club and international football, rugby league, boxing and music concerts.
Indeed, there are 28 events scheduled over the next five months – that’s more than most Premier League grounds will host in a season. Hardly any shortage of opportunities to earn money.
Playing at Wembley might make more sense for the second semi-final between Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but that’s rare – only four times before have clubs from or around London met for the final four at the new national stadium.
Part of what made the semi-final weekend so special for most of the FA Cup’s existence was that it was unique on the football calendar as matches were played in neutral venues that were home to rival teams. There was a certain sense of excitement among Liverpool and Manchester United fans shaking up at Goodison or Maine Road, as happened in 1979 and 1985. Villa Park, due to its central geographic location in Birmingham, has still hosted far more semi-finals than any another stadium.
The trend for Wembley started in 1991 when, under pressure from fans of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, it hosted the semi-final of the North London derby. The FA were obliged to repeat that when they were re-matched two years later, with the Sheffield derby half also taking place at the national stadium. The 1994 semi-finals did the same, but appetites waned and they returned to neutral venues until they helped wave goodbye to old Wembley in 2000.
The vast majority of the time, however, Wembley was reserved for the final. It had a special place. And while it’s no longer such a feat to play in the national stadium, given the plethora of routes available in most competitions, the FA Cup final remains the biggest regular showpiece. Why not allow it to regain some prestige?
After all, interest in the FA Cup has increased significantly this season, propelled by the long runs of championship duo Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough, the fairy tale of Boreham Wood and the near miss of Kidderminster Harriers. The key to all that, however, has been the return to terrestrial television of live matches, both BBC and ITV broadcasting free-to-air matches.
There are now modern stadiums of sufficient size across the country to host the FA Cup semi-finals. Few could complain, for example, if Liverpool’s semi-final was against City at Old Trafford and Chelsea were up against Crystal Palace in the Emirates.
Wanting the FA Cup semi-finals on a neutral club ground was once seen as the domain of people stuck in the past, longing for the supposed good old days. But the events of the past few days have underlined that it makes perfect sense in most cases. The FA must fix it – now and in the future.