FA braces itself for the Manchester invasion
Tuesday 15 March 2011
During liverpool's glory, glory years, Kenny Dalglish used to refer to Wembley as "Anfield South". Next month, as three clubs from within a 20-mile radius of each other head to London for the FA Cup semi-finals, it will become "Greater Manchester South".
Some 100,000 fans from the two Manchester clubs and Bolton Wanderers will descend on London for the semi-finals and, although Stoke lies 50 miles to the south, its supporters too are likely to use the same rail line.
The FA will meet tomorrow to decide on the scheduling of both games. Semi-finals at the new Wembley, which is contracted to stage these fixtures until 2036, have tended to start at 5pm or 5.15pm on Saturday with a 4pm kick-off time on Sunday.
The showdown between United and City is likely to be staged on Saturday, 16 April, to avoid the London Marathon the following day and the prospect of fans from City, United and Liverpool – who are at Arsenal on the Sunday – converging at Euston Station.
And it is Euston that symbolises the absurdity of a Wembley semi-final. If the 5.15pm match finishes in 90 minutes, there will be two trains available with a combined capacity of 878 seats, of which 290 are first class. With extra-time and penalties, there will be one scheduled train service that will get supporters back to Manchester Piccadilly. It leaves Marylebone at 10pm and arrives, via a couple of changes at Birmingham, 12 hours and 39 minutes later.
However, Virgin, which runs the West Coast franchise, said it has already received requests to hire charter trains while extra relief trains could be put on, depending on the availability of crew and rolling stock.
An FA spokesperson said: "The fact two teams are coming down from Manchester does pose different circumstances, but we deal with different issues like this on a regular basis. We are not expecting huge problems or issues over this. We will also be talking to rail transport providers who will be bringing fans from Manchester."
The Metropolitan Police will have a major say on what day the all-Manchester semi-final, the first since 1926, will be held, but they are fully prepared for the influx of thousands of fans. "We deal with football matches – FA Cup semi-finals and final, internationals – all the time," said a spokesman.
For those in Manchester's sky blue half who are emerging from the shadow cast by Old Trafford, it scarcely matters where they face United. Every player in Roberto Mancini's squad is aware of the banner on Old Trafford's Stretford End that season by season ticks over the years Manchester City have gone trophy-less. It stands at 35.
"It spurs us on," said Micah Richards, whose header at Eastlands against Reading set up the semi-final meeting. "But we have a good squad now and it would be nice to be part of a team that pulls it down one day. We have players coming back from injury in Nigel de Jong, Adam Johnson and James Milner. We are going to need them, although we still feel we can do something this year."
After their first-leg defeat by Dynamo Kiev in the Europa League, the FA Cup may be the only realistic route to silverware. "Playing United makes it special but it would have been even more special had it been the final," said Richards. "But at least we know that if we beat United there is a really good chance we could win it."
Richards embraced Mancini after the goal, a make-up after the defeat in Kiev that had ended with a dressing-room row about the quality of City's defending in the Lobanovsky Stadium.
"I have always said that since Mancini's been here, he's been good to me," said Richards. "He has given me a chance from day one and he is still playing me. Having been here so long and having come through the academy, it did feel really nice to score such an important goal."
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