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Over the last few years I’ve started to enjoy non-footballing weekends like the last one. Sure, the match-day sense of expectation with the accompanied stomach cramps of anxiety and dread are always welcome, but every now and then time off is a nice thing. A stress-free couple of days to end the week.
Thanks to the lads kindly donating our 4th Round tie to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool did not play at the weekend, yet there was still a game which interested the fans.
I don’t know if any of you have ever visited The Den, Millwall. It’s an odd place, situated in South East London not far from London Bridge station. I’ve been there both as a Liverpool fan and as a journalist and have witnessed both sides of the club. The 2004 League Cup victory there was not for the faint-hearted as the atmosphere was a thick and moody one but years later I was there to cover a few league games from the safety of the press box and press room and found the staff to be just about the friendliest you could wish to come across. No one likes them, they don’t care.
So when Leicester City were drawn there in the FA Cup my initial thought was ‘They won’t fancy that one little bit.’
This became relevant to LFC on Friday when it was announced that, in the events of a replay in that match, the Leicester – Liverpool game would revert back to the Saturday rather than the scheduled game on the following Monday. Thanks lads. A whole week’s notice. You spoil us.
It’s worth pointing out that the 4th round draw took place a couple of days following the Wolves game so you’d assume someone from the F.A would place the fixture, look at the surrounding games, work out the potential pitfalls of replays and plan ahead. You’d think that, wouldn’t you? And yet the day before the game an announcement is made about moving stuff around.
No big deal?
Well, yes, actually. Quite a big deal.
Example: My sister lives near Leicester so the game at the KP Stadium is one of my favourites. Ordinarily 10-15 of us travel to Leicester mid-afternoon, visit a pub (one we like so much that I’m not even going to reveal the name in case it becomes spoilt by popularity), settle in and walk to the ground. Obviously, it’s also easier for my sister and is a rare away game for her as she’s usually confined to Anfield appearances these days. She loves hosting us all so it’s a nice day.
When the fixtures came out I looked for Leicester, saw it was arranged for ‘Monday Night Football’ and sighed. Mondays are tricky for me so I’d have to let that go. Shame. I made plans for the Saturday and decided on a non-game weekend. Maybe I’d clear the attic or something.
But then the game was potentially on again. Or was it? Even had the Foxes took a draw it was a bit late in the day to make contingency plans.
Example 2: Last year Liverpool drew Exeter City in the FA Cup. The BBC decided not only to show the game on TV in the hope that they got a story (they nearly did), but they’d move it to the Friday night. Great eh? A fine start to a weekend of FA Cup football for the watching millions.
Well, if you’ve ever tried to watch a night game in Devon and attempted to return to Liverpool by public transport on the same day you’ll know that it’s impossible. If you didn’t drive and wanted to be at the match your only hope would be catching the 21.49 train as it was the last one to leave the Exeter that night. It then took 12 hours 22 minutes to reach Liverpool and incorporated two stops – one of which at Bristol, roughly eighty miles away and involved a seven hour stopover before the milk train took you to Birmingham and then home.
Oh, sorry. I should state that in order to do even that you’d have to miss the second half. That’s probably quite important.
Still, those at home got to watch it on the telly.
The greatest devotion you can show your club is by somehow getting a ticket and letting the lads hear your voice from the stands. For the millions of Reds who have never seen them live it remains the dream. The team appreciate it too. How often do we hear the players tell us that atmosphere and support gets them through games? It’s a symbiotic process. We support them loudly in the ground and they do the business on the turf.
The FA and Premier League are also aware of our importance of the fans. In any TV ad they’ll show swaying fans on the terraces or highlight the individual sacrifices made to get to the ground, so why is it that we’re always the last to be thought of when it comes to kick-off times.
The TV companies are always keen to point out that the FA Cup is not dying on its arse and ‘the romance of the Cup’ still lives on, but they’re more than happy to change the kick-off time of the FA Cup Final in order to please overseas audiences while the poor sods in the ground can’t get trains back home. When Wigan won the FA Cup the last train had long gone before they saw the trophy raised to the skies. The FA couldn’t have been less arsed.
Of course, Leicester helped us out by failing to beat a 10 man lower league side so it all turned out okay in the end. I still can’t go but it would be infuriating to have missed out on a game which I could have attended had I more notice.
But what about the poor souls for whom this was to be their first game? Children with birthdays whose parents had booked travel in advance to take them to, say, their first away game or even first game ever? What about foreign fans with booked flights for the Sunday or on the day itself? Would they be compensated by either body?
Of course not. Ultimately, they don’t matter.
But one day the public will say enough is enough. Maybe not for the elite games yet but the signs are there.
The recent FA Cup tie between Cardiff City and Fulham kicked off at 11.30am on a Sunday morning for the benefit of a television audience. The result? An attendance of 5,199. A couple of weeks earlier, the same stadium saw a crowd of over 21,000. Enough was enough and a completely unnecessary 11.30 kick off was taking the piss.
One day there’ll be TV games where you can hear the players’ voices over the crowd. Football is being taken away from us little by little, bit by bit and there’s only so much paying fans will take. Soon it will be a television sport only.
Sooner than you think.