The Debate on Wembley Hosting FA Cup Semi-Finals

Aside from fan pressure, you would imagine that it would be the big clubs who hold the keys to moving the FA one way or another.

Despite exiting the competition in heart-breaking fashion, Coventry City fans clearly enjoyed their day out at Wembley for the FA Cup Semi-Final against Manchester United. The Sky Blues’ fans stuck around to the end to serenade their team after the penalty shootout, feeling all the more poignant as the victors’ fans shuffled out, almost embarrassed to win.

The match has, of course, been covered in detail. The 3-3 draw after extra-time was considered an FA Cup classic, particularly given the nature of Coventry’s comeback from 3-0 down. The excruciatingly narrow offside decision that went against Coventry in the final moments has caused a national debate on VAR. Moreover, the game itself acted as an advert for the world’s oldest cup competition; it was David and Goliath stuff.

But did it matter that it was at Wembley? The fact that FA Cup Semi-Finals are held in London has long been a topic of debate. Three of this year’s semi-finalists – Manchester City, United and Coventry – were from the North, and it was the same the previous season when Sheffield United and the two Manchester clubs were involved. The expense for those fans to journey to London can be considerable. And United and City fans will have to do it all again on the 25th of May.

City backed to win again

Of course, United and City fans will relish another battle at the national stadium. City are clear favourites in the online betting markets, yet United have shocked their local rivals a few times in recent years. The sense of occasion will undoubtedly play a factor, and it would be unwise to write off this United team.

And yet, the point still stands that fans of both sets of clubs will have made the trip to Wembley a combined nine times in the last 14 months. That’s two Semi-Finals each, this and last season’s Final, and the Community Shield for City in August. Nobody is arguing that the FA Cup Final shouldn’t be held at the Home of Football, but perhaps a compromise could come for the Semi-Finals?

A national stadium for the north?

The issue has almost become political. Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester, has called for a National Stadium of the North, which may double up as a renovated Old Trafford or a new home for Manchester United. Plans are only at an early stage, and it is by no means guaranteed that it will happen this decade. That said, a rotation of host venues – the Etihad, Villa Park, Old Trafford, St James’ Park, for example – has been successful in the past.

In a more unquantifiable sense, critics of the Wembley Semi-Final talk about the diluting of that sense of occasion. City and United fans are used to playing big games in iconic stadia around Europe, yet there is an argument that Wembley should remain special. A one-off trip at the end of the season to crown the winners of the FA Cup. The reverse argument is, naturally, that teams like Coventry might only get the chance to go to Wembley once in a generation, and taking the Semi-Final at Wembley away from them might rob fans of that chance.

A majority of fans back move away from Wembley

While money and logistics will drive the decision-makers, the fans’ voices should be heard in this. And we know what they think because we have polling numbers: 68% of fans believe the Semi-Finals should be moved away from Wembley. While that indicates a clear majority – older fans were particularly keen for the move – it also shows that it would not be possible to please everyone.

Aside from fan pressure, you would imagine that it would be the big clubs who hold the keys to moving the FA one way or another. The recent controversial decision to scrap FA Cup replays, which are seen as a source of income for lower league clubs, came after pressure from the Premier League. Until they decide to weigh on this emotive issue, this debate will continue to rage on.