Sports writer James Eddington evaluates whether or not having FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley detracts from the special nature the ground should bring to fans.
A day out at Wembley is a special occasion for any football fan, but does playing a semi-final here diminish the value of the ground and the competition?
During the discussions regarding the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium, it was decided that all FA Cup semi-finals after 2008 would be played at Wembley. In the history of the competition only 7 previous FA Cup semi-final ties were played at Wembley. So why has the decision been taken to play all the semi-finals at this venue?
I myself am a fan of a lower league football team, Southend United. I have already been fortunate enough to see my team play three times at the Millennium Stadium and twice at Wembley. Each of these games were special, but to see us achieve victory in the League 2 play-off final last year at Wembley was the greatest feeling I have ever experienced since I started following Southend.
It is every football fan’s dream to see their team win at Wembley. Watching your team win on the hallowed turf has a much sweeter feeling than winning a final in any other stadium. This makes Wembley the only stadium within England worthy of hosting the FA Cup final. In my opinion, the fact that it also hosts the semi-finals does the stadium and the competition a great dishonour.
A semi-final should create a feeling of tension, and also a sense of anticipation, amongst both players and fans. The victor will be able to fulfil their dreams and either play in or watch their team in a final at Wembley. They should not already have the experience of playing or supporting at Wembley en route to the final day.
Admittedly, hosting the matches at Wembley will enable better security for the fans because it has been purpose-built to allow for a large number of fans travelling to and from the stadium. However, stadiums such as Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates are already used to high volumes of fans, and therefore it is not solely Wembley that is capable of dealing with them.
Of course, a semi-final of this stature should still be played at a neutral ground. This quite rightly removes any home advantage and allows both sets of fans to have an even allocation of tickets. Both semi-finals do not have to be played at the same venue and there are certainly many other stadiums which I have already that are fit to host such an occasion. If two Northern teams were to meet at this stage of the competition then it makes very little sense to host their match several hundreds of miles away in London. Furthermore, with one of them getting to the final, it becomes inconvenient, tiresome and expensive to travel all the way to London twice in a fairly short space of time.
Therefore I feel that it is wrong to allow Wembley to host the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Some point out that if a lower league team were to reach the semis but not the final then playing the semi-final at Wembley would have given their fans a good day out. I despair at the thought that this is what Wembley and the FA Cup has become. The competition already plays second fiddle to the Champions League for many of the Premier League elite, with them often fielding weakened teams. I feel that this further diminishes the magic of England’s greatest domestic cup competition to the fans.
The FA are obviously keen to host it at Wembley because it helps to raise more revenue for the organisation and pay off the cost of building Wembley. 25% of the total gate receipts of the semi-finals are received by the association. With a total capacity of 90,000, the FA are going to raise more money than they would should it be held at previous venues, such as Villa Park. Sadly, this is yet another clear indication that money holds a greater influence than past tradition in the modern game.
Although it is extremely unlikely to happen, removing Wembley as the venue for the semi-finals will restore some prestige to this marvellous tournament.