Once upon a time I was a soccer writer and, mercifully, have now reached the age where I’ve forgotten some of the most dreary matches that ever disgraced a football pitch. At least I got paid to see yawners so abysmal at times that the groundsmen replacing dislodged clumps of turf at half-time was the highlight of the game.
Of course, I’ll be watching today’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool, albeit with the mild interest of a neutral aficionado – I’m a Manc, by the way, which should explain my lack of passion – and I honestly don’t care whether the winners wear Chelsea Blue or Liverpool Red, as long as it’s an entertaining joust.
But what I do care about fervently is the disgraceful timing of the kick-off – 5.15 p.m. – ostensibly to avoid a clash with other matches starting at three. Apart from the Arsenal-Norwich Premiership encounter (starting at 12.45), all the others are League One and Two fixtures and the away fans have as much chance of scurrying home from Oldham to Carlisle or to Bury from Stevenage in time for the start of the Final as my late, lamented goldfish, Nobby (after my childhood hero, Nobby Stiles, which is probably a telling clue as to which side of the great Manchester soccer divide I sit on).Indeed all today’s fixtures could have been deferred, so the annual spectacle of the Cup Final could have been enjoyed by all.
But, as Man United boss Sir Alex Ferguson angrily pointed out, a traditional, three p.m kick-off wouldn’t have foistered extra cost on the 25,000 travelling Liverpool fans, who will be further inconvenienced by Network Rail thoughtlessly scheduling major engineering works on the Liverpool Lime Street-Euston line. Didn’t someone there rumble the fact a big game was on and a Merseyside team in it, or are they all as dozy as the sleepers they lay?
But, according to the FA script, ‘We held a review and in the research people said 5.15pm was better, because they are often playing a game at 3pm themselves. When it is held later they can get home to watch the match after their own game.’
What utter, fork-tongued tosh or, as Ferguson understandably ranted ‘Absolutely ridiculous! Stupid!’
The real reason is the money-grubbing FA bowed to pressure to move to a later start at the insistence of broadcasters, ITV and ESPN. They are the real paymasters, not the humble, over-bled fans. So all that really matters is the telly channels boosting their audience figures (and ad revenue) by 60 per cent – not to say generating trans-Atlantic pay-per-view dollars from fans who’ll enjoy a lunchtime match on the US East coast and breakfast action on the West, all thanks to the new kick-off.
Meanwhile, if any real fans wonder what the FA thinks of them, I can supply the answer: Sweet FA.