Roberto Martinez, the Wigan Athletic manager, has expressed his bewilderment at the Football Association's decision to move the kick-off time of an FA Cup final featuring two clubs from Greater Manchester to 5.15pm.
The last train back to Wigan on a Saturday leaves at 8.30pm, some 75 minutes after the final whistle, assuming there is no extra time. The journey from Wembley Park underground station to Euston will eat up 33 of those minutes. Those travelling to Manchester Piccadilly have until 9pm to make the last train. Having taken Wigan to their first FA Cup final, Martinez smiled that he was prepared to kick off against Manchester City at "eight o'clock at night".
Nevertheless, Wigan faced a similar kick-off time for the semi-final against Millwall and were criticised for failing to sell their full allocation of tickets. The attendance of 62,335 was more than 20,000 below Wembley's capacity.
"When the FA makes a decision of that magnitude, there must be a reason behind it and I would like to know what that is," said Martinez. "It cannot be a decision they would take lightly because the lack of trains from London was a problem for the semi-final.
"I hope they would look at it in a different way considering we have two clubs from Greater Manchester playing in the final. I am sure the FA are well aware of the importance of getting the fans down and then back up."
However, for the foreseeable future 5.15pm will be the kick-off time for the English game's greatest showpiece. The FA argues that broadcasters prefer it and that last year's final attracted a bigger TV audience than the European Cup final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.
Its analysis suggests that only three per cent of those who go to Wembley do so by train. Wigan will have the option, which they did not take up for the semi-final, of chartering trains. The overwhelming majority travel to the national stadium by car or coach.
Martinez may have been exaggerating when he said that the fixture with City was more important than the one on 11 May. Nevertheless, in the fight against relegation, Sunderland's revival under Paolo Di Canio and Aston Villa's achievement in matching Wigan's tally of 10 points from their last five games meant an uneasy weekend for Martinez.
In the dressing room after the semi-final, he said Wigan's British players were "part of a dream, floating in the air". The foreign contingent were much more sanguine, perhaps realising how much the club still has to do.
Their manager conceded that even winning the FA Cup would be an empty triumph were it combined with missing out on the Premier League's record TV deal next season. "Staying in the league would allow the next 10 years of the club to be very stable," Martinez said. "It would allow the club behind the scenes to go to a different level.
"The only remaining clubs involved in two competitions are Manchester City, Chelsea and Wigan Athletic. We have never had that before and it requires a strong mentality to cope with it."
Odds Manchester City 1-4 Draw 11-2 Wigan 14-1
Referee A Taylor (Greater Manchester)Reuse content