by Kevin Henning
The FA’s decision to host cup semi finals at the national stadium in a bid to pay for the mortgage is one that is held up to scrutiny every year. This weekend’s double header threw up so many points for discussion and a number should be on the agenda at the very next meeting held by new Chairman Greg Dyke.
* Wigan Athletic are a fairly young club. Although founded in 1932, the Latics only joined the Football League in 1978. Wigan is a town with a population of approximately 80,000 people. Last week’s headlines announcing that the Lancashire club had failed to sell their allocation were unjust and unfair. Wigan sold around 20,000 tickets. That is more or less a quarter of the population of Wigan. That figure is akin to Newcastle United taking 73,000 fans to the capital or Southampton flogging almost 60,000. It’s simply staggering that a club based in a town more renowned for Rugby League, situated 25 miles from Manchester and 22 miles from Liverpool therefore slap bang in the middle of four enormous football clubs can attract such a percentage of it’s population.
Had the semi final been staged at Villa Park, the game would have sold out and the cruel mocking of Wigan’s fanbase would never have materialised. It may also have dissuaded a number of thugs in the opposite end of Wembley from attending.
* Millwall Football Club have a long and disgusting charge sheet when it comes to the behaviour of the lunatics who follow it. As a Manchester City fan hoping to take my sons to the final, it speaks volumes that I wanted Wigan to win the Saturday semi. My reasoning was that it’s unlikely that there’ll be any repeat of the shameful scenes witnessed on ESPN two days ago. I’d rather my team play a Cup Final against a Premier League team capable of bloodying the nose of any team in the country rather than run the risk of having my own nose broken by a “supporter” of a lower league Championship outfit.
We shouldn’t blame Millwall as a club, although the recent Sky Sports report into racism showed that disgraceful behaviour does go unchallenged at Millwall home matches. The South Londoners have gone to great lengths to eradicate these problems from the New Den. Unfortunately for the club, generation after generation of scumbags have chosen to carry on the tradition of hooliganism under the Lions’ name. Rather than continue punishing the club though, the Police force of each and every community that hosts them should monitor and film the away section and root out the bad eggs before dishing out the maximum punishments to those found guilty.
* For a large amount of money, any individual can purchase a Club Wembley ticket. Even the most basic package entitles the ticket holder to attend all England home internationals, both FA Cup semi finals, the final, League Cup final and Rugby League Challenge Cup Final. The problem with this scheme is that the types of people who can afford to shell out for such a privalege, are the very same people who can afford to pick and choose which matches take their fancies. An England match against San Marino, a friendly against Sweden on a Tuesday night or a semi final between two lesser lights hardly has these people on the edge of their plush seats. The loyal supporters of whichever teams are playing often miss out and this leads to the Club Wembley tickets inflated the black market as seats are sold on at inflated prices to fans locked out due to the ridiculous amounts reserved for the scheme in the first place.
Once inside the stadium, the refreshments on offer are too tempting for these people to actually bother making use of their seat, rubbing salt in the wounds of season ticket holders around the country who are watching on tv because their clubs’ allocation is smaller than it should be. The FA has cocked it’s leg on the loyal football fans up and down the country in a bid to bring in guaranteed hard cash and the full system stinks.
* It can also be good. At Sunday’s semi final, a match between rival clubs at the top end of the Premier League saw an almost capacity attendance (the only empty seats being those in Club Wembley suprisingly) but with a different atmosphere to the one created by Millwall’s following 24 hours earlier.
I attended the semi final Manchester derby with my son in 2011. A match where I didn’t dare walk down Wembley Way due to the reports of attacks taking place. Yesterday, the entire day was more relaxed and it made for a much better experience. Chelsea and City fans got behind their teams, created a charged atmosphere to compliment the game and if there was any trouble, nobody who I’ve spoken to since saw it.
As my son and I slowly made our way back to Wembley Park Station, there was a sing off between the two sets of supporters who mixed on the famous walkway freely. The Metropolitan Police, suspicious earlier in the day after the trouble on Saturday, mellowed as the day went on as they realised that those present simply wanted to have a drink, a sing and the chance to watch their team.
When a match like Chelsea v City passes, the FA and Wembley board can hold their heads high and be justifiably proud of the events they host. It wouldn’t take a lot of work to right the wrongs and give the game back to the majority of fans who go to our national stadium and embrace the occasion.