FA defend final kick-off time after Liverpool fans express anger
The Football Association have defended their decision to change the FA Cup final's traditional 3pm kick-off time despite the travel chaos it is set to create for Liverpool fans.
Wembley's May 5 encounter between the Reds and Chelsea will start at 5.15pm but with maintenance work on the rail network over the May Day bank holiday weekend, many supporters may face the prospect of not being able to get back home after the game.
A change to the kick-off time was mooted almost a year ago and the FA claim extensive fan research backs up their choice, although they admitted television coverage plays a significant part.
"We stated on record at the end of last season's final that we were looking at a later kick-off time after an FA review of the competition with fans and broadcasters," said a spokesman.
"Research showed that 5.15pm was more appealing than 3pm.
"5.15pm obviously gives people a chance to attend or play in a game earlier that day before watching the final on TV.
"The later time also maximises a bigger domestic and global TV audience for broadcasters."
But while the television audience will be happy as they settle down for an early evening kick-off, thousands of fans who attend the match are more likely to be worrying about how they are getting home.
Engineering work, planned up to 18 months in advance, by Network Rail over the bank holiday weekend means Virgin Trains have cancelled all but three of their Liverpool to London services on the day of the final.
And while fans are being advised to travel to the capital via Manchester, Chester or Stoke, there appears to be no means of making the return journey as there are no trains returning to the north-west after the game.
Further engineering work near Milton Keynes means return journey times of over five hours for those hoping to travel back the day after.
"As we explained to the FA, the choice of both a 5.15pm kick-off and the staging of the FA Cup final on a bank holiday weekend when Network Rail had already planned essential route improvement works means we cannot offer fans the level of train service they have come to expect," said a Virgin Trains spokesman.
A Network Rail spokesman added: "Unfortunately, with the FA Cup final earlier in the month than usual and with the FA choosing a later kick-off time, it has resulted in Liverpool fans being unable to return by train."
Liverpool fans, some of whom had to get up at 3am to make their way to Wembley for Saturday's semi-final victory over Everton which kicked off at 12.30pm, feel hard done to by the authorities.
"The FA running the game in this country is an absolute joke," a spokesman for the Merseyside branch of the Liverpool FC Official Supporters Club told Press Association Sport.
"Once again the FA Cup has been totally and utterly devalued. It should have kicked off at 3pm. The last people who are thought of by the FA are the fans. Football fans don't matter to anyone.
"We are seen as a money-making machine who will do anything to follow their clubs.
"And the fact Chelsea fans can spend all day drinking in London as they don't have any travel problems means there is then the potential for trouble."
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