the real fa cup

Is It All Over

Has the FA’s desperate whoring of Wembley finally killed the Football League?

You’ve got a big day out, a final no less. Where do you want to go? City of Manchester Stadium?  Hmmm, not really. What about Old Trafford? Well, maybe, but can’t we go to Wembley?  ‘fraid not, some beegveegs are in town and they have fatter wallets and they don’t want the likes of you anywhere near the pitch for a couple of weeks before their delicate little waifs have to pirouette around it.  But you’ll bring all your fans up to Manchester, won’t you … ?

It appears not. A final isn’t a final unless it’s at Wembley, even more so if you’re from, errr, just outside London. Like Luton, for example.  They took 30,000+ to Wembley for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final 2 years ago yet well under half that made the trip to Manchester for the Blue Square play off final.  And it wasn’t just because of the journey. Ticket prices played a part too but that’s another matter?  Well, you know, Old Trafford makes sense because they were playing a Northern side … Yes, the famous AFC Wimbledon of Yorkshire (I realise this analogy is in particularly bad taste but the fanbase argument doesn’t work as well from the AFC angle!!)

It’s OK though, that’s just non-league really. The League 2 and 1 finals will be boing-boing bouncing with fans, the average Wembley attendance for a League 2 final is 45,000 after all!  *cough* At the time of writing, various sources suggest 10,000 Stevenage and Torquay fans will head to Manchester and if you look on any Torquay forum you’ll find a series of posts asking the very same question as us.  Why not Wembley?  Stevenage are less unhappy but the response is the same. ‘Wembley please’.

At the time of writing, the Lge 1 final clubs have sold 45,000 tickets for Old Trafford but that is largely thanks to the 75% purchased by fans of the team who are 45mins from Old Trafford.  These same Huddersfield fans didn’t turn out in quite such force for a similar play off final in Cardiff 7 years ago but it wasn’t far off.  How many more would have gone to Wembley? Well, at Wembley, the average League 1 final attendance is 67,000, and that is even with teams considerably less well supported than Huddersfield and Peterborough. It’s also some 50% more than the Old Trafford figure as it stands.

The Championship final, at Wembley, on the other hand sees two fairly averagely supported sides trying to exceed the average Wembley attendance of just above 80,000. Both sides have pretty much sold out, so that’s 75,000 in the bag and the final attendance will depend on neutrals and blaggers.  There were loads around last year, I was one of them.  OK, in all instances, the two Championship teams are better supported on average, come from bigger towns and garner more neutral attraction. However, it looks like Wembley will see an above average attendance, which is odd when you consider Sheff Utd, WBA and Derby have been there recently. Yes, the teams are bigger, in some instances the towns are bigger but neither Swansea nor Reading would come close to filling their Wembley allocations from their average support, or even double their average support.  And the reason they have is because they are going to Wemberlee. If this game was at Old Trafford, would it be as attractive? The League 1 & 2 ticket sales suggest not.

You can finger point at the fickle and selective fans, fairly, but is it not down to the keepers of the game to ensure that ALL fans are encouraged to join in?  They are supposed to be promoting the game, not reducing the access to the elite. Indeed, it is further folly to go away from Wembley because it is almost certain that the League 2 final will cost the league money, it’s even feasible the League 1 will too. This in turn costs not only the clubs in the final but the rest of the teams who got to the play offs

The Football League need to have a word with themselves about where the games are taking place but their hands are slightly tied by the FA’s decision to whore Wembley out to the people who are essentially trying to kill them. What?  Yes, you heard me. In reality I mean the Premier League, not UEFA, but as each year goes by the Premier League erode the FA’s ability to run the game.  They take all the money, they take all the kudos, they belittle the England team and now are trying to put the FA & Football League further in their box by dishing out even more sizeable sums of cash directly to the clubs just below the Premier League in gratuity payments and parachutes.  Why would the bears of the football league be attracted by the FA/FL’s travel sachet of raspberry jam when there’s a big jar of honey next to it with ‘PROMISED LAND’ written on it?

One can only assume that the FA’s game is one of desperation, offering up the big arch in the hope that it will keep the PL wolf from the door.  However, with this decision it risks marginalising and disenchanting the very clubs they need to keep onside by taking away their day out at Wembley and pissing off the fans.  It’s really only a matter of time before the FA and FL lose control of at least one of the leagues (the Championship), only a matter of time before they lose their control over the England side and only a matter of time before that has a major impact on ‘grassroots’ football. Will the PL be supporting the kind of initiatives that the FA are (casting aside whether the FA do that very well, they do at least fund various disabled England sides, youth football across the country and initiatives that spread across communities rather than established football clubs)?

One can only wait and see but I think the decision to cow-tow to the big boys can only lead to further bullying and that isn’t good for the wider football community.

1 Comment
  1. Great piece Damon – I am going to the game on Monday and am pleased that it’s at Wembley although part of my pleasure is due to it being 2 miles from where I live in Hendon. I would also have enjoyed Old Trafford and will reserve judgement on Wembley to an extent – but don’t feel it has the magic of the old ground, a toilet in many ways though it was. It’s too much of a featureless bowl once inside and the Arch has none of the grace of the Twin Towers. The area, aside from the curry houses to the south towards Alperton is still benighted and uninteresting and it just seems shabby these days. old Trafford, with its proximity to better pre- and post match entertainment and eating/drinking options is a serious challenger in appeal.

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