Liverpool fans want the FA to move their semi-final encounter with Manchester City to Old Trafford – despite United having a home game that weekend.
Supporters feel they have been severely let down by the FA, with transport links from the north west to the capital decimated by engineering works on the weekend of April 16-17.
Fans are justifiably furious at what they believe is a complete lack of planning by the game’s governing body, which was made aware of the impending travel chaos up to six months ago, according to rail industry sources.
Both sets of supporters now want the game moved from Wembley, and the Spirit of Shankly group believe Old Trafford is still the best option, even though Manchester United are due to face Norwich City in the Premier League that weekend.
‘In an ideal situation we would like to see it played at Old Trafford. It is easily accessible for both sets of fans, rail travel is available and cheaper coach travel,’ Joe Blott the Chairman of the Spirit of Shankly told Sportsmail.
Liverpool fans face major travel disruption on the railway for their FA Cup semi-final with City
‘It is a big ground and if there is a hit on tickets the FA should take the hit on it not general admission.
‘I appreciate United have a home game but this is on the FA. They should be on top of this.’
Euston is the capital’s hub for travel from the north west but will not service trains across the weekend of April 16-17 due to upgrades that had been planned up to two years in advance. Liverpool are expected to face City on April 16.
Supporters of Manchester City will face similar problems for the game scheduled for Wembley
City fans have said they would have preferred the semi-final to be played at Old Trafford
The FA said in a statement on Monday that the location of the fixture would not be moved from Wembley, but fans continue to call for a switch to a more suitable venue.
‘As days go by it becomes more unrealistic,’ admitted Blott. ‘This is why the FA should have realized when the quarter-final draw was made. Did they not know? At least three north west teams were in those quarter-finals.
‘Where was their forward planning? Engagement with the Premier League should have taken place weeks ago. Where was Plan B?’
The quarter-final draw was made on March 7 and included Everton, who subsequently lost at Crystal Palace, as well as City, who knocked out Southampton, and Liverpool, who won with a late goal at Nottingham Forest.
MP Clive Efford, who is a prominent member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has also questioned the location of the game.
‘This is ridiculous, either the Government should tell network rail to reschedule the maintenance work on the railway or the match should be moved to the north west,’ he told Sportsmail.
There is real anger among fans, who feel the FA’s handling of the situation is another example of football authorities riding roughshod over supporters.
And there are growing questions over why semi-finals involving northern clubs are slated for Wembley, at all, given the additional burden it places on fans. Coach travel, for example, from Liverpool to Wembley is around £49, compared to £19 to Manchester.
The supporters traveling to the FA Cup game are facing severely disrupted journeys
The prospect for Liverpool’s fanbase is bleak, with Saturday’s last available train home out of King’s Cross currently scheduled at 7.35pm – minutes after full-time of a 5.30pm kick off
Following the abortive attempt to create a European Super League last year, there has been a renewed focus on fans and their importance in the game. The ESL debacle gave fuel to the Government’s fan-led review of football.
However, incidents like this make renewed commitments from football authorities to put supporters at the heart of the game look and sound hollow.
Blott said the Spirit of Shankly group are ‘incredibly disappointed’ that no contingencies were put in place and supporters were not contacted or consulted when it emerged there would be problems.
‘It is obviously lip service, because they are not speaking to us,’ added Blott. The supporters’ groups have still not received any approach form the FA.
The FA has said it is speaking to the clubs, Network Rail and National Express to find a solution to the problem, but fans feel it is too little too late and conversations should have been had long before now.
Other venues could be considered. The Principality Stadium in Cardiff has proved a happy hunting for the Reds in the past.
During the reconstruction of Wembley Stadium, major finals were held in Cardiff from 2001 to 2006, with Liverpool collecting two FA Cups and two League Cups.
However, in a poor reflection of the current state of Britain’s public transport system, Transport for Wales is also warning of major travel disruption that weekend with a 20 per cent reduction in services due to engineering works.
Other alternatives would inevitably mean a reduction in capacity. Villa Park, one of the traditional venues for FA Cup semi-finals, has a capacity of less than 43,000.
If the game is played at a reduced capacity, Blott believes the FA’s own ticket allocation should be reduced to maintain as many tickets for general admission as possible.
Manchester City’s fans would also have liked to see the game played at Old Trafford.
Kevin Parker, of the club’s official supporters’ club, said yesterday: ‘Nobody is surprised. The FA will have known this was going to be a problem and yet have done nothing about it. They could have made arrangements to play this game at Old Trafford. However, for them it is just about money, not the supporters of City or Liverpool.’
London Euston (above) will have no running service due to pre-planned railway works
A return trip from Manchester, that includes changes and bus replacements, is almost impossible on the day — and subject to further disruption.
The prospect for Liverpool fans is bleaker, with Saturday’s last available train home out of King’s Cross scheduled for 7.35pm — minutes after full time of a 5.30pm kick-off — and involving a tight five-minute change in Leicester. City are understood to be looking into the availability of extra coaches for fans.
The Football Supporters’ Association, which represents fans’ groups across the country, sees the current crisis as part of a wider malaise.
‘It appears to be another glaring example of common sense failing to prevail,’ Kevin Miles, the FSA chief executive told Sportsmail.
‘Unfortunately, it seems fans are still the last consideration and we still have a position where nobody asks fans what they think. The key thing is consultation and find out what people think. No one has asked.
Meanwhile, the FA continues to search for ways to mitigate the impact on supporters.
‘The FA will be liaising closely with both Liverpool and Manchester City on all match arrangements, including supporters travel for the upcoming semi-final at Wembley Stadium, with further details to be announced in due course,’ the FA said in a statement released yesterday .
‘We are also continuing to work with both Network Rail and National Express to find a solution so that supporters of both teams are able to travel to and from the fixture with as minimal disruption as possible.’