Before 2008, FA Cup semi-finals were regularly held at neutral grounds around England with consideration given to the travelling supporters of the involved clubs. Following the opening of the costly new Wembley stadium, the situation changed.
A need to justify the investment in a permanent home for the England national team led to the semi-final dates of all clubs being moved to London. For the fans, it never made a great deal of sense. It also diluted the uniqueness of Wembley as the final host.
Yet as so often the case, the concerns of fans were seen as less important than the financial considerations of those with power in the game, and few give much thought or complaint any more when semi-final dates at Wembley are announced each season.
The inconsideration for fans and insistence on Wembley as a permanent semi-final host is bad at the best of times. This year, with track construction scheduled for Easter meaning no trains will run from Liverpool or Manchester to London, it’s ridiculous.
Liverpool are set to face Manchester City. Two sets of fans from northern clubs will be asked to travel en masse to London on a weekend with no train service. As many as 64,000 seats will be allocated. The FA appear to have given this no consideration.
Understandably, supporters groups are asking for a change of venue, and the FA are said to be reactively and after the fact scrambling for a solution—though rather tellingly, it’s said to be a scramble without the supporters groups having been involved.
In the past, venues like Villa Park in Birmingham and Old Trafford in Manchester were semi-final host sites. With Aston Villa’s stadium free over Easter as Liverpool had previously been set to play Villa on that weekend, there seems an obvious solution.
A stadium that used to regularly host the FA Cup semi-final and one that was until recently expecting to host a game that weekend and now isn’t. A stadium closer to the homes of both clubs and that their fans might actually be able to get to.
The only reason not to make the switch would be if the FA fear setting a precedent that could deprive Wembley of revenue in future years. We’ll soon find out, then, whether they care at all for the fans. We’ll hope, but we won’t hold our breath.