For those who do not follow or like English football, I can tell you now – you won't want to read this. But as a long...long time fan of Premiership perennials Liverpool FC I need to get some stuff off my chest following their F.A. Cup final defeat Saturday to Chelsea at Wembley.
First I need to say that the start time of 5.15pm was – I think – the first time the kick off of a Cup Final has been moved from its traditional 3pm start. Sadly, and thoughts of the importance of tradition in football's main knockout cup competition have long been sidelined by the demands of television and their schedulers.
Whilst I do have some sympathy with the fact that TV companies do invest large sums in UK football, and are therefore entitled to a return on that investment, it needs to be pointed out that the fans are still a very large part of the pie when it comes to income for individual teams. No one is going to deny that consistently low crowds will lead to financial woes for any club, and conversely, a club like Manchester United which draws crowds of over 70,000 each home game, will point to that as a large financial contributor for them.
Against this background, the decision by the F.A. And the TV schedulers to move the kick-off to 5.15 had several consequences. On the one hand, they lost a lot of goodwill from those who cling to tradition in their sport. It just didn't seem like a Cup Final, kicking off as it did so late.
A second consequence was a much more serious one for the legions of Liverpool fans making the trip down to London. The last train from London to Liverpool on a Saturday is at 8pm, giving the fans not enough time to make that one. This meant that Liverpool fans were forced to travel by road, unless they could afford an overnight stay in London – not a realistic proposition to most. This in turn meant that the roads both to and from London were much more congested than normal, and I really don't think any further explanation of the consequences is necessary.
Quite why the F.A. TV companies and the train companies couldn't have gotten together and come up with a plan for extra trains is a mystery to me, but it probably involves money at some stage. Still, a large number of very disgruntled Liverpool fans who had already shelled out large sums of money for a similar trip to Wembley just 2 weeks earlier for the Cup semi final with Everton – an event which could quite easily have been staged in the north – was an inevitable result.
As to the game itself, well Liverpool have been riding their luck in cup competitions recently after a desperately underachieving league season, and their lack of ability finally came out on Saturday. In short, they simply weren't good enough, a fact that most discerning Liverpool fans are already well aware of.
I come from the camp that believes Premiership (league) form is more important than a Cup run. I know there are those who disagree with this – including some Liverpool players who would prefer a medal at the end of the season for their trophy cabinets (a rather selfish approach, if you ask me), but I am actually glad Liverpool didn't win the Cup because a season finishing with 2 trophy wins but, as is almost inevitable, a mid-table league slump, might have papered over the cracks in Liverpool's team setup right now. The 2 Cup wins could have easily been used as an excuse to not address the serious flaws in the Liverpool squad, and part of me is glad that this cannot now happen. The need for some serious work to be done over the close season is now clear and undeniable.
I feel that a top 3 (let's say) finish in the Premiership would always be preferable to a Cup win. The league is where it's at, and I know a lot of fans would agree with me.
At the time of writing, Liverpool have 2 Premiership games left in the season, one of them a Cup Final rematch with Chelsea tomorrow night. Although it might easily be argued that there is nothing to play for, I expect nothing less than 100% effort for these last 2 games. Part of me doubts that will be the case though.