FA defends final kick-off time

BY foxsports • April 19, 2013

The FA will persist with 5.15pm kick-off times for the FA Cup final despite criticism it finishes too late for fans in the north to get home.

The FA is drawing up plans for 2014-18 with broadcasters and FA chairman David Bernstein said the bigger TV audience at 5.15pm compared to the traditional 3pm kick-off was an "important factor".

Bernstein, speaking at the Champions League trophy handover in London, said: "There will be a number of millions more watching at 5.15pm than three o'clock and that is an important factor.

"This is not money driven. Always remember that any additional money raised by the FA goes to the wider football world - we are not a profit-making organisation. If we do raise more money it is going to the national game, to the grass-roots."

FA general secretary Alex Horne insisted the later kick-off time was the right one.

He said "I'm not surprised that fans want to be able to support their teams and travel but on balance we have said clearly that we think 5.15pm is the right kick off time for the final and we want to persist with that.

"We think it is right for the vast number of supporters who can watch the game on TV. We think it is right and reasonable for travelling supporters. We think it is pretty common kick-off time now. It's not 7.45pm."

Asked if there would be a return to 3pm, Horne added: "I don't think so but... we are talking to broadcasters about our TV deal 2014-18. One of the things we want to be clear is does this work for us?"

Horne pointed out that the two FA Cup finalists, Wigan and Manchester City , had been able to organise later trains but had chosen not to.

Bernstein said the FA was reviewing the outbreak of crowd violence at the FA Cup semi-final involving Millwall fans and that it was confident of a trouble-free FA Cup final and Champions League final.

"Our record at Wembley stadium has been absolutely fantastic. We've had seven years and a fantastic record of behaviour and wonderful occasions there. This is almost the first blemish that we've had," said Bernstein.

We've taken it very seriously and are looking into it very carefully but I don't have any specific concerns.

"There are always lessons to be learnt but I don't think we should over-stress one very difficult incident."

Manchester City assistant boss Brian Kidd joined the criticism of the decision to hold the match at 5.15pm.

With two north west teams in City and Wigan involved, much of the widespread criticism has centred on supporters' inevitable late return home and the lack of trains available to them.

The last trains from London to Wigan and Manchester depart Euston at 8.31pm and 9pm respectively that day.

Kidd feels the choice of kick-off time is particularly unfair on younger supporters.

The 62-year-old said: "You look at the younger fans. People who have grandchildren, like I have, want them to be there.

"It's the younger ones, getting back, tired.

"I don't know why 5.15pm, I am a traditionalist - 3 o'clock.

"From our side we'll play any time. It doesn't matter whether it is 9 o'clock in the morning or 10 o'clock at night.

"The FA Cup final is fantastic but you do feel for both sets of fans."

The FA issued a statement earlier this week defending the decision following the initial wave of criticism and suggestions that some fans could be left stranded in the capital.

The governing body pointed out 5.15pm was a "regular kick-off time in the football calendar", said it was agreed with "major stakeholders and broadcasters" and that it allowed "more football fans around the country to watch the cup final in its entirety".

The statement also suggested only "a small percentage of cup final fans use the method of train travel" and highlighted the numerous coach services available.

Meanwhile, the leader of Wigan Council, Lord Peter Smith, has written to Sir Richard Branson, owner of West Coast Main Line service provider Virgin Trains, urging the company to put on later trains.

Smith said: "It seems to me they have decided the time of the FA Cup final without thinking of the interest of the fans.

"If you want to go to London on the train the times the last trains are scheduled mean fans would probably have to leave before the end of the match to get back. If there was extra time there would be no chance.

"I think that is really unacceptable. Surely we want to encourage people to go by train, it is more environmentally friendly.

"If Virgin can put on later trains that would help fans of Wigan and Manchester City go to the match, enjoy the game, and get home at a reasonable time using the train.

"I have written to Sir Richard. I'll await his reply and hopefully he will be positive.

"I think Virgin does a good service from Wigan and Manchester to London and hopefully it will recognise we want to encourage more people to use the trains and this will be a really good opportunity to let them do that on cup final day."

Virgin's position on the matter has been clear with the company stating that providing extra services would not be practical.

It read: "The unpredictability of exactly when the match will end, coupled with the earlier closedown on Saturdays of the West Coast Main Line for essential maintenance and inspection, mean that the planning of any additional services to the north west is extremely difficult given the high numbers of supporters that would attempt to travel that evening.

"Whilst all options have been thoroughly explored around return travel immediately after the match, Virgin Trains finds itself totally constrained by the decision of the FA to have a tea-time kick-off and Network Rail's requirement to carry out essential maintenance on the West Coast Main Line."

Coach companies will expect to benefit from the lack of train options.

Danny Newby, director of Big Green Coach, whose company will offer return travel for a standard ?34 but with a ?3 discount also available, said: "It's a momentous occasion and regardless of the result, it's going to be a great day out for everyone.

"To make sure it isn't spoiled by travel issues, Big Green Coach is laying on extra coaches with cheap return prices and we guarantee to wait until 45 minutes after the final whistle, regardless of extra time."

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