Well, we’ve seen commodities we never quite expected today, sensitivity and wit from Millwall supporters horrified at the notion, accurately reported, that some of their number might want to cause trouble at Upton Park come Sunday. But let us not forget our real enemies, those upstanding folk in authority whose determination to kill off the FA Cup knows no bounds. This year’s final, when some of us would have enjoyed devoting a whole day to rooting for underdog versus moneybags, was reduced to a mere morsel of an ordinary Saturday programme. Pete Sixsmith certainly didn’t forget …
I’m paraphrasing the title of a fondly remembered Jack Rosenthal play from the 70s here, but it just about sums up the negative attitude that many fans have about the great and the good who run our national game.
For the first time in my memory, they scheduled the FA Cup Final on the same weekend as Premier League fixtures. Not the odd left over fixture, but a whole programme. They needed to play the Final early so that UEFA could take possession of Wembley for the Champions League Final which takes place on the May 28.
Fair enough, you might say. So, switch any Saturday games to the Sunday and leave Cup Final day free for those who want to watch it and for those who escape to Scotland for the day.
Enter Sky TV and the Premier League who don’t want a full programme on the Sunday because it will cut across their broadcasting plans. Who wins that argument? Is it the moral correctness of the FA or the financial clout of BSkyB. Answers on a postcard please …
That’s acceptable (just) if it only happens once, but, believe it or not, it will happen again next year because of the need to prepare for the European Championships. And it gets worse; the FA Cup Final, the one time pinnacle of the English game, will kick off at 5.15pm, just like a Championship game on Sky 10 or wherever they broadcast Doncaster Rovers v West Ham nowadays.
5.15!! It’s bad enough if the final were to involve two London clubs or Manchester United, but at least their fans will be able to get home on a Saturday night. What if it were Sunderland v Blackburn or Newcastle v Wigan Athletic? What time would they get home?
Fans will no longer be able to spend an evening cavorting in the Trafalgar Square fountains or popping into the Sherlock Holmes and asking for “a pint of Elementary, my good man” as we did in those wild and wacky days of 73.
Instead, they will be forced to spend an uncomfortable journey on a coach or an even more uncomfortable night in a Premier Inn or an Ibis or a Travelodge, which has specially upped its rates for the weekend.
Blooming ridiculous. There they are, trying to boost the image of the FA Cup and there they are making the final game in the competition inaccessible to half the football-watching population.
I have no desire to go back to “It’s An FA Cup Final Knockout” or to watching Jackie ”Mr TV” Pallo take on Mick McManus, but I do think the competition should be treated with a little more respect and restored to its rightful place as the final meaningful game of the season.
Not that we at Sunderland have played any part in helping the FA. In fact, it is clubs like us that have contributed to its demise by turning out sub-standard XIs in the early rounds. Anyone who had the misfortune to watch the games against Notts County and Portsmouth over the last couple of years will have seen where the FA Cup comes on Steve Bruce’s radar.
There are rumours circulating that the FA is preparing to stop playing the finals of the two subsidiary competitions, the Trophy and the Vase at “The home of football” because of costs and low crowds.
Don’t they realise that the attraction of these two competitions is that the final is at Wembley? Fans and players don’t want to finals at Villa Park or the Britannia Stadium – Wembley is the magnet. But the FA doesn’t want to use it because it’s too expensive. Piffle.
Maybe they should look at the prices charged inside the FA owned stadium: pie and a pint £8.50. I could get a decent meal for that in County Durham. And they fleece fans: for the recent Vase Final, there were no concessions for Over 60s, something I am now extremely sensitive about.
The FA has spent the last few years looking at whether it should reform itself. It has lost chief executives and chairmen as easily as we have lost leads under Steve Bruce and the whole structure of the guardians of the national game is about as secure as the Irish banking system.
Where do the FA go from here? They have lost the trust and confidence of those who watch the game in this country and their crawling to the likes of Jack Warner and various other FIFA delegates as they failed to achieve their holy grail of hosting the World Cup. Seems to me (and many others) that they have lost sight of what they are supposed to do.
Were I in charge, I would ensure that the FA Cup Final was ALWAYS the final game played in the domestic season; that all FA finals would be played at the ludicrously overpriced Wembley and that the grossly over inflated tail would no longer wag the far too subservient dog. Or is it just me that is barking mad?