Northerners will head down south for the FA Cup final - but we're not fans of the transport network

The options available are inflexible, expensive and time-consuming

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Like a flock of migrating birds, the best part of 50,000 Northerners will don their flat caps and venture south tomorrow in search of the mythical Twin Towers. The fact that said towers have now been replaced by a steel arch matters not as this is a migratory pattern that is so instinctive we behave much like proverbial pigeons (of which we own many, of course).

This will be the eleventh ‘all Northern’ final in the past 40 years and – if you include Manchester United (many a Northerner wouldn’t) – 32 out of the last 40 Cup Finals have involved a Northern club. No rebalancing needed here!

You can see where this is heading: Northern thinktank calls for national football stadium to be relocated in the North. Wrong. That opportunity was missed 15 years ago so there’s no point crying over spilt milk on that one, short-sighted as it was. So is it the 5.15pm kick-off I’m going to rant about? No. Daniel Taylor has already waxed eloquently on that subject and his argument receives my full support. Every football fan loves a day out at Wembley, whatever time of the day, the issue is how to get down there from up here.

The closest we can get to our feathered friends is to head to the airport. But by the time you’ve fiddled around checking-in and out, completed the best part of 10k on travelators, negotiated Tube lines in and out of the city (and parted with just north of £150), you might just as well have walked. The prospect of negotiating the megalopolis that is Heathrow on Cup Final day – indeed on any day – doesn’t bear thinking about.

So how about by train? Online booking throws up more ticketing options than Man City have had managers and sure enough there are still 30 quid tickets available to get down. But with the uncertainty of extra time and penalties you daren’t book a fixed train, so coming back it’s the standard fare of £154. And the last train to leave Euston is 9pm: touch and go given the 5pm kick off. Roll-on HS2 which might at least bring down fares on other modes - but with the Bill only just introduced in the Queen’s Speech this week and the Northern branches not scheduled to open until 2035, there’s more chance we’ll be teleporting ourselves to Wembley by then.

Road options include coach or car. The former is ruled out by the prospect of explaining adult language and behaviour during two five-hour drinking sessions to my wide-eyed son and not an environment I would particularly relish myself. So we’re left with the car – much the cheapest option, vindicating the IPPR’s assertion that the war on motorists is a myth – and the rather useful parkatmyhouse app which allows us to use a Hillingdon driveway for £4 rather than a Wembley Car Park for almost ten times as much.

IPPR North has often argued that we live in a nation obsessed by its capital city. In transport terms, there is a very real sense that all paths lead to London – heightened by the recent focus on HS2 – whilst we neglect those vital connections between cities and towns in the North and the Midlands. But even with this being the case, transport ‘markets’ to and from London appear narrow and restrictive and anything but integrated or strategic. With HS2 now very much in the pipeline, it’s surely time we think harder about how we’re planning the nation and its transportation to make the path(s) to Wembley more reasonable and – much more importantly – that Northern success extends beyond the football field.

Ed Cox is Director of IPPR North & will be supporting Manchester City in tomorrow’s FA Cup final.

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