Late Kickoff For FA Cup Final Riles Man City, Wigan Fans Who Will Face Travel Headaches
Tens of thousands of fans "face the prospect of major travel difficulties" after the FA ignored advice from rail operators and announced that next month’s FA Cup Final between Man City and Wigan Athletic would kick off at 5:15pm, according to Ebner & Munnery of the LONDON TIMES. The governing body was warned by Virgin Trains that supporters would be “unable to return to the North West” following the match on May 11, but "stuck with the late afternoon kick-off time." Fans of Wigan and Man City "are likely to miss their last trains back, a possibility that will be significantly increased if the match has to be decided by extra time and penalties." The FA "has defended its decision," and invited fans to use National Express, Wembley’s “official coach partner.” Wigan Athletic Supporters Club Committee member Jason Taylor said, "They’ve scuppered all of us. We’re not totally surprised, but we were hoping they would have the common sense to look at this and come to a different decision -- giving fans a decent crack at getting home." The last train back to Manchester on the day is at 9pm, but Wigan fans "will need to be even quicker as their last train leaves London’s Euston station at 8.31pm." That City and Wigan fans will be using similar train lines and motorways is an "added complication" to travel arrangements (LONDON TIMES, 4/16).
MADE FOR TV: In London, Andy Hunter reported the FA has been "accused of prioritizing television revenue over supporters' welfare." For the second season in a row, the FA's showpiece event "will be played on an evening when train services from London to the north will be disrupted by engineering work." Wigan Athletic Supporters Club believes that decision "should allow the final to start at 3pm." Taylor: "It seems the FA are more interested in what the television companies want than the logistics of supporters getting to and from their final." FA General Secretary Alex Horne last week "defended the late kick-off times on the basis of their appeal to a television audience." Horne: "We're now used to consuming our football in those time slots. It really works. Lunchtime kick-offs just haven't got the same appeal" (GUARDIAN, 4/16).
TRAIN TROUBLE: The MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS reported Virgin is "unlikely to put extra trains on." In a statement, Virgin said, "The unpredictability of exactly when the match will end, coupled with the earlier close down of the route for essential maintenance and inspection means that the planning of any additional services is extremely difficult given the high numbers of supporters that would attempt to return to the North West that evening" (MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, 4/16). In London, Ladyman & King reported Virgin did say it "would help City and Wigan supporters return to the North West a day after the Cup final." Virgin's statement added, "We are of course more than happy to bring Wigan and Manchester City supporters down to London on the Saturday and for them to return on the Sunday. We are looking at the possibility of running an additional service from Wigan on Saturday morning" (DAILY MAIL, 4/16).
HOTELIERS DREAM: Also in London, Tony Barrett opined for London hoteliers, the late kick-off is "great news." For the tens of thousands of supporters who will travel to London from the Northwest, "it is an absolute inconvenience, one that borders on being an imposition." The FA "will defend itself vigorously." The kick-off time "is the same as last year’s, they will say." They will also point out, "quite rightly, that this is the continuation of an established policy and not a deviation from it." However, such defenses "will count for nothing to those who will leave Wembley after the final with very little chance of public transport being available to take them back to Manchester or Wigan" (LONDON TIMES, 4/16).