The joy of seeing Everton reach the FA Cup Final for the first time in fourteen years still hasn’t worn off, but even in the face of such a great achievement, I still have to marvel at the incredible stupidity of the English FA. Seeing the ticket allocations for the Final on the 30th of May was a sobering moment, as even though I almost certainly can’t attend, marooned in New Zealand as I am, I feel it is only just that the hardcore season ticket holders of both clubs should have the privilege of watching their teams play at Wembley in the final of the world’s most prestigious domestic competition.
However, because the FA have allocated each team just 25,000 tickets each for the Final in May, that is not going to happen. Despite Wembley having a capacity of about 90,000, the FA has decided that only just over half of the supporters in the stadium should have any emotional involvement with the teams on the pitch. The others will be made up of representatives from ‘regional associations’ and basically, old pals of the bigwigs.
I appreciate that this has always happened, and you may allege that I’m only bothered now because Everton are in the final, but that is not the case. It is simply a coincidence that the year I start this blog Everton reach the final and thus I am exposed directly to the FA’s lunacy first time around. The fact is though, most proper football fans will surely agree that the majority of spectators at such a prestigious event should be fans of Everton and Chelsea.
Because, let’s face it, it’s not as if these teams would struggle to fill a stadium even as big as Wembley is. Everton have for years, even while fighting relegation, consistently attracted around 25,000 season ticket holders to Goodison Park, while Chelsea as one of the glamour clubs of the glitzy Premier League must have plenty more than that figure (I don’t have any information on exact numbers – if you do, let me know!).
Everton consistently fill Goodison Park during the regular season, and have for some time been in the throes of a convoluted stumble towards a new, larger stadium. Indeed, in the semi-final last weekend, Everton’s fans easily out sung Manchester United’s (not hard) and left a massive impression on all the watching spectators; it was arguably the loudest crowd the new Wembley has witnessed and that was during a rather turgid semi-final.
Chelsea, as I mentioned, have plenty of support too, and though some may argue that with their huge wealth and glamour many of their hardcore fans may have been priced out of a season ticket at the Bridge and been replaced by more corporate fair-weathers (and they have a point), there is little doubt that Chelsea could find 45,000 fans to fill half of Wembley and I’m sure they’d create a great atmosphere with the vociferous Evertonians.
Instead though, English football’s showpiece Cup Final, that will be screened all around the world to millions and millions of people (hell, it’s even on free TV in New Zealand!) will be attended by a bunch of day-trippers, football fans yes, but football fans who aren’t emotionally invested in the specific match on show. And for me, that is simply not the way the FA Cup Final should be.
Before anyone jumps down my throat, I do respect the job that these people do. I acknowledge that the people who will benefit from the 40,000 tickets that aren’t going to the fans of Everton and Chelsea do do good work in regional football in the UK. They are the people that run the game at grass-roots level, that work tirelessly to organise the lower, less glamorous, echelons of English football. They do deserve a reward, and some perks to their job, as we all do if we work hard and do our job well, but I think that such a generous allocation of FA Cup Final tickets is actually demeaning to the competition as a whole.
A few times over the past couple of years there has been debate about teams demeaning the competition, when Manchester United declined to enter in favour of the Club World Cup, and numerous times when some of the nation’s bigger clubs have fielded weakened teams in the competition. I sympathised with these complaints, and agree that the FA Cup is a big competition, it’s prestigious, and should be taken seriously.
However, when people are criticising teams for not taking it seriously because they do not allow their star players to attend and play in the matches. But then, how seriously are we to take the competition when it is deemed simply a day-trip for the FA’s workforce, a day out for their employees, an end of season work party? Surely a serious competition allows all of it’s teams’ serious fans to attend the matches and support their team, especially when it comes to the final?
In all, I have to say I feel quite disheartened by the FA’s continued insistence on treating this event as a ‘national get-together’ for it’s old pals. The teams involved work really hard to get to the final for a chance of some silverware, and the fans of those teams too will often have completed rigorous tours of the country following their team through the previous rounds to reach this final hurdle. Why should they therefore be defied one last big day out, the biggest day out of all, simply because the FA wants to reward its fellows for their service.
As I said, I cannot seriously hope to attend the Final, unless of course I manage to win the Lottery before the final and can thus afford flights to England and a ticket (which could perhaps be more expensive than the flight, given their rarity). But for my fellow Evertonians and their Chelsea counterparts, I feel severely let-down by the FA’s ticket allocations. Not only does it deprive some of Everton and Chelsea’s fans of one of the biggest events of the season, it also undermines the prestige of the tournament as a whole.
The last time Everton were at Wembley for the FA Cup Final I was five years old but already a season ticket holder alongside my father, brother, uncle and cousin. However, when it came down to it, we could only get two tickets for the Final and so my Uncle and Cousin went to the game and saw us win the beloved old trophy while I had to watch the greatest footballing event in my life so far on TV.
I don’t know if it was the same back then as it is today but I think it was. I think that I missed out on seeing Everton win the Cup at Wembley because of the FA’s idiotic allocation policy. I also think that my idealistic vision of an FA Cup Final is of a rocking Wembley stadium half in blue and half in red (though this year maybe all blue!) with 90,000 passionate fans singing their hearts out for their team. Unfortunately, the day when that ideal becomes a reality is, like so many ideals in today’s world, seemingly a thing of the distant future.