Michael Sweeney is a lifelong Liverpool fan with a soft spot for Wigan Athletic, which makes them officially his second team. He’s been a match going fan for 25 years and says he’s been at the “sharp end of the FA's incompetence” since the 1980s.
The FA’s attitude to the supporters of the national game might be summed up in the following words: turn up, pay up, shut up. Its decision to schedule a 5.15pm kick- off for next month’s FA Cup final can only be seen in this context as the game’s leaders continue to take the fans for fools. The late kick-off arrangements have been rightly condemned by followers of both Wigan Athletic and Manchester City who face paying inflated prices for a hotel room in order to avoid being left stranded in London given the lack of trains returning to the north-west on Saturday evening.
Apparently National Express (coincidentally an FA official sponsor) may be stepping into the breach and offering an alternative but it is hard to imagine fans will feel overjoyed at the prospect of a round trip in excess of 12 hours on congested roads before arriving home in the early hours. It goes without saying that the non-elected apparatchiks and placemen making these decisions will not be in any way inconvenienced themselves, and can look forward to a day comfortably ensconced in executive seats enjoying all the hospitality that comes with it.
Whilst the outrage of fans is entirely justified, it is all depressingly predictable. All too often the FA conducts itself like the worst kind of vested interest solely preoccupied with serving itself rather than the paying public. There is no longer any pretence that the welfare of supporters, shelling upwards of £85 out for a ticket, is a priority.
Put to one side the fact that a late kick-off and all-day drinking may well have been a contributory factor which tarnished one of the semi-finals. Quite simply the reason why English football’s governing body is relaxed about treating fans with utter contempt is because it can be. The actions of supporters for many years provides overwhelming evidence, if the authorities were in any doubt, that the game’s ever resourceful followers will make do and mend, adapting their arrangements accordingly in order to accommodate themselves to the whims of the all-powerful TV producers.
Football’s rulers are happy to display a cavalier disregard for the game’s supporters because they know that although they are increasingly better organised and vocal, they will, despite angry protests, turn up and pay up. The powers that be will not listen and act differently because there is no real pressure for change.
But if fans were simply to boycott the game in disgust and refuse to buy tickets, you can rest assured that the FA would quickly do a volte face reverting to the normal 3pm kick-off. Unfortunately we know that this is not likely to happen. For many, their team is the closest they come to an organised religion, and they will go to extreme lengths to support them.
It is hard wired into the psyche of football fans. For the authorities, however, this is no more than ‘brand loyalty’ to be cynically exploited at will, with fans little more than the cash cow that will just keep on giving. Increasingly fans are saying enough is enough: witness the recent protests at ever-spiralling ticket prices. Whilst it is clearly fanciful to expect supporters to veto the FA Cup final, there is no reason why they could not boycott the various corporations who sponsor the FA and Wembley stadium.
Those prepared to pay exorbitant ticket prices and suffer travel chaos can avoid adding insult to injury by refusing to purchase an official programme and scandalously overpriced food and drink. Falling revenues would certainly concentrate the minds of the FA suits and executives at Budweiser, Coca Cola, Mars, Betfred, Carlsberg, Walkers Crisps, National Express and William Hill, and things would soon change if the corporate bottom line was affected.
And such action need not only be limited to those prepared to dig deep or hammer their credit cards and make the trip on 11th May. It is in the interests of fans from all clubs to draw a line in the sand and send the message loud and clear that they will no longer pay through the nose to be treated as an irrelevance.
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Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.