So much for tradition. So much, in fact, for the FA Cup. To those who are not habitual watchers of the beautiful game, it might seem of little moment that today’s Cup Final at Wembley will, for the second year running, kick off at 5.15pm rather than the age-old 3pm. Yet those two hours speak volumes about the sadly changing character of English football.
First, there are practicalities to consider. True, a teatime kick-off is more convenient for the estimated half-billion global TV viewers. But what of the local fans of, in this instance, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City, for whom a late finish means no train home? “Real fans”, it seems, are no longer a Football Association priority.
But the triumph of television rights is not the only sore point here. The FA Cup used to be a showcase event. Played after the end of the season, it was the high point of the football year. Now, with one league game at lunchtime today, and another bevy of matches tomorrow, the Cup Final is just one among many. Meanwhile, the Premier League, with its vast wealth and promises of Europe, has eclipsed all else.
What a loss that is – for fans, for football and also for the time-honoured institutions of British sport.