So much has been said about the FA Cup in recent seasons like is the competition now devalued? Do big teams take it seriously? Well, if the FA had any common sense about them then staging the semi-finals at Wembley is further taking the gloss away from the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. It seems universally accepted that football is an ever changing sport but how hard can it be to stage the semis at some of the wonderful stadiums we have in this country?
This weekend is the second successive season in which the semis will be played at the new Wembley. Out of the four teams involved, two are from London, one from the south-coast and one from the Midlands. Irrespective of the fact that two clubs are in London, having to go to Wembley for a semi-final is very unfair in terms of the geographical and financial aspect for the travelling fans of Aston Villa and Portsmouth. I am sure that it will be viewed as a great occasion for the fans because two of the four clubs won’t be coming back in May. Tradition seems to have gone out of the window in this cup competition but you can be sure that those who have grown up watching the FA Cup will be baffled by this decision.
One of the managers who will be present at Wembley on Sunday is Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp. Speaking in yesterday’s London Evening Standard he believed that keeping the semis away from Wembley would be better. He said: “I was there with Portsmouth two years ago and it was great to get two trips to Wembley. When you are involved in it, you take it. But over the years, when you are talking about the FA Cup, I would still prefer the semi-finals to be played at neutral grounds. You certainly don’t want to lose in the semi-finals when they’re played at Wembley.” His comments were reiterated by Michael Ballack, who will be representing Chelsea in tomorrow’s first semi against Villa. He added: “In Germany they play just the final in Berlin and to start playing the semis at the same stadium, I think it takes away a little bit from the special moment of the final.” The fact that a player and a manager are getting involved, when they could just turn a blind eye to the issue, tells us a fair bit about the opinions of those inside the game.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great stadium but a Villa fan could theoretically end up going there three times in the space of three months. Is there any benefit in that? Clearly the FA are just interested in the monetary aspect of it all. They have to pay for Wembley somehow but they are an association who show no loyalty towards the matter. Speaking in the same edition of the Evening Standard, an FA spokesman made some comments that made me think that they have really put themselves up for an opportunity to get slated. The statement said: “It’s always been part of the business plan for the new Wembley. It was always intended for the stadium that those two matches would be played there. The biggest advantage is that the capacity is far greater at Wembley than at other venues and we don’t think it spoils the mystique. It just means that we can have far more supporters here and more possibility of playing games at the stadium than we would have otherwise.” There are two things that I noticed from this. Firstly, the point about how the “capacity is far greater than at other venues.” So why is it that all four clubs have been allocated approximately 30,000 tickets each when Wembley holds 90,000? Secondly, the words “business plan”- well at least they are admitting that the concern is money, not fans. That saying about football being a business and no longer a sport is reflected here.
The essence of this is that Wembley was built for the grand stage- not a semi final. It is bad enough that other sports are taking place at the stadium, thus ruining the playing surface. In addition to that, the FA stresses that they would like to see more games played there, like last year’s and this year’s semi-finals, but why were the 2007 semis staged in neutral venues (which is the normal way)? The FA explanations come across as weak and they just want to be a money-grabbing organisation and even though the fans may well enjoy their day out, taking away the prestige is wrong. Then again, it looks as if corporate affairs more important than taking in to account the merit of the competition.
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