Man City vs Liverpool FC travel fiasco should be watershed moment for FA in how they treat fans – Joe Bray

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If the FA knew about planned rail disruption two years ago, it might not be expecting too much of them to change the location of the upcoming FA Cup semi-final from Wembley. Fans of Manchester City and Liverpool are understandably frustrated at the news that the lack of available trains to London for their semi-final has been known to the FA for two years, with no apparent movement on staging the last-four clash at the national stadium .

Logistically, it may be too late to move it to Old Trafford, or Villa Park, or even somewhere like St James’ Park. However, if the FA want to show they do have the smallest bit of consideration for regular, loyal, match-going fans then they could do worse than use this fiasco to make change for the future.

City are no strangers to Wembley, with 18 trips to the ‘Etihad South’ in the last 11 seasons, not including when Tottenham played there in the Premier League. That could become 21 in 12 seasons if they reach the FA Cup final and Community Shield, while they have reached the FA Cup last four in five of the last six years.

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The FA could have guessed that at least one of City, Liverpool or Manchester United would have got to the semi-finals, with Everton and other North West teams also more than capable of getting that far, as Crystal Palace have done this season.

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In fact, since the semi-finals were permanently held at Wembley in 2008, 23 of the 54 semi-finalists have been Northern. When Midlands teams are added, 50 per cent of teams reaching the last four have traveled from Birmingham or more northerly. Yet on the 12 occasions where a London-based team has faced a Midlands or Northern side in the semi-finals, the London side has won nine times.

The travel chaos highlighted in this season’s semi-finals should rightly put a spotlight on the disregard for traveling fans in English football – from kick-off times, to poor scheduling, to expensive fares and match tickets. Maybe it should also open a conversation about moving the semi-finals away from Wembley again.

Of course, the FA will want to keep the income from those 90,000 tickets, but why not hold one of the semi-finals away from London? Villa Park retains the magic it had when it used to hold semi-finals, Old Trafford is the biggest capacity stadium in the Premier League, St James’ Park is as iconic as it ever was, while Anfield and the Etihad have expanded successfully in recent years.

Leicester are planning to expand their main stand and Everton are building their own new stadium. Even Molineux, Hillsborough, the City Ground, Elland Road or the Stadium of Light have enough current or future seats to facilitate a big game.

It wouldn’t be a fully foolproof plan – what if the Etihad had been chosen for this year’s semi-final and City were drawn to play there? Or if all semi-finalists were Southern for eleven. But surely a balance must be found so that supporters can follow their teams in prestigious games with the least expense and effort possible?

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It might be too late to change this year’s venue, but the embarrassing issues raised by the City vs Liverpool semi-final should be a wake-up call for the FA. Moving at least one semi-final out of London should be an easy start for the FA to make up for the mess they’ve made with this semi-final. Maybe then, wider conversations about away travel and costs can be had.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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