Blog#50 – But where are all the fans?

The 2018/19 FA Cup semi-finals were held over the weekend. The first match saw Manchester City run out 1 – 0 winner’s over Brighton & Hove Albion, while Watford FC came from behind to beat the Wolverhampton Wanderers in extra time 3 – 2. But it is not the results I’d like to discuss.

Prior to 2008, the FA Cup semi-finals were always held at a neutral ground in England. This was the case as long as the grounds were large enough and wasn’t the home ground of a team competing in the semi-final.

So why the change? Well in 2003 The FA announced that semi-finals would be played at the new Wembley Stadium once it’s construction was completed. The cost of rebuilding the national stadium ensured this was going to be a regular occurrence and not a temporary measure, as the FA looked to recoup as much of its outlay as possible.

Fans are now growing frustrated with the current arrangement. This can be evidently seen by the lack of attendance at the FA cup semi-finals which were played on the weekend. The original rules for choosing a stadium for the FA cup semi-final ties were only limited to it’s neutrality and capacity. However, Wembley’s abundance of these two factors seems to be pushing the crowds away rather than drawing them in.

The match between City and Albion drew a reported crowd of 71,521, almost 20,000 short of the stadium’s capacity. The match between the Wolves and Watford drew a closer to capacity crowd of 80,092.

These reported figures by the FA are usually that of tickets sales and generally not the amount of fans that actually walked through the turnstiles that day. Taking a quick look at the stadiums during the match, you would not be naive in thinking that the stated attendance figures were that of just ticket sales, with large rows of empty seats to be seen all around the stadium.

Making these particular ties even more unattractive is the inflated ticket prices, (£30, £45, £65 and £80 for adults), the travel costs, especially those travelling greater distances who might need to factor in accommodation, and the outdated design of Wembley Stadium which can reportedly have a mediocre atmosphere when attendance is low. All this is enough to scare away even the most passionate of supporters.

Plus, who really wants to attend a match that has the setting of a final, without actually being the final?

In my opinion, it would have been a far more attractive fixture if it were held at Tottenham’s new stadium. It checks all the boxes in terms of neutrality and size, but also gives the modern stadium some additional promotion, domestically and internationally. The stadium was built to help produce an amazing atmosphere, which would have made both semi-finals more appealing to fans of the competing clubs.

But the FA, like most governing bodies, seem to be stuck in their ways looking for revenue wherever they can find it. They should instead be making decisions based on fan engagement. Because without us, what is football?

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