Empty Stands, New Opportunities
As the FA Cup reaches the semi final stages, Wembley awaits for four of England’s best sides as they each try to bring home the famous cup. Obviously, as with all sporting events, there will be now crowd as a result of the global pandemic. While the return of football has been a welcome distraction from the worlds issues this year, it is hard to argue that football does not have the same feel without the fans in attendance. Our fear is that now the FA Cup final will now not have the pomp and pageantry that has become synonymous with the FA Cup final, the fact that there will be as many fans at the cup final as there was in this weeks clash between Southampton and Watford will only be detrimental to the “special occasion” feel
This got us thinking, why don’t they play the game somewhere other than Wembley? Stay with us here, we know that Wembley is the home of English football and the logistics and money involved means this will not happen but look across the pond to the USA. The NBA are preparing to play all their games at Walt Disney World in Orlando and Major League Baseball are planning to host a regular season game from a baseball field in a cornfield in the small state of Iowa which was the setting for the 1989 hit movie “Field of Dreams”. So what if the FA Cup followed suit and played its hallmark game at a different venue, somewhere culturally significant where the backdrop was something other than countless empty seats?
Again, I think it is important to reiterate that this will not happen. Things like goal-line technology and the ever popular VAR means that the game has to be hosted at a venue capable of facilitating these. Not to mention modern day footballers and managers are used to a certain standard of playing surface, dugout and changing facilities. But lets throw logic and reason out the window, if we could see anywhere in England host an FA Cup Final, where would we pick and why. We have narrowed our choices to three.
3.The Oval Cricket Ground
The site of the first ever FA Cup Final in 1872 between Wanderers and Royal Engineers (Wanderers won the game 1-0). The Oval is an important venue for the historical development of football, The Oval was not just the site of the first ever FA Cup Final but also the site of the first ever international game between England and Scotland in March 1870.
The build up to this game and aesthetics to a game which pays homage to the site of the first cup final would be appealing to football nerds from around the world. The opportunity here to celebrate the history of the game and in particular, the cup finals during the era of amateurism which laid the bedrock for the modern game is one that would not happen again.
2. BT Local Business Stadium - Sheffield
Where? This standard sounding name is the home ground of the worlds oldest football club Sheffield F.C. Founded in 1857, Sheffield F.C play in the Northern Premier League but started their playing days in matches against other club members in “Married v Singles” games and “Professionals v the Rest”.
Although the ground itself may not be steeped in history or noteworthy games it would represent better than any small team the famous “magic of the FA Cup”. For as long as any of us can remember the tournament is perhaps most noteworthy for its giant killings and Cinderella stories of local teams reaching later rounds. Hosting the final here would be a great way of paying tribute to the small teams that have defined the competition and the club who are so intwined with the history of the sport.
1. Hackney Marshes
The least likely but also the most we would love to see. Hackney Marshes in London spans 340 acres and houses 71 football pitches. It is widely regarded as the spiritual home of grassroots and Sunday League football in England. The site does not have a stadium and the pitches are exactly what you think of when you picture Sunday League in your mind, cut up pitches with uneven markings and rusty goalposts with nets held in by pegs.
Our reason for this venue is this, modern professional football has become so out of touch with the grassroots of the game they hardly even resemble the same sport. The money which has been poured into the professional game means that fixtures for the most part are played in grounds with modern amenities and pitches which look like carpets. To play a major professional game at the place which more than anywhere signifies the grassroots game in England would be able to link the sport back to its humble roots. The Cup Final itself being played by world class players on a bobbly and muddy pitch would undoubtably lead to unpredictability and excitement.
Who wouldn’t want to see Sergio Aguero on Ederson’s shoulders taking down the nets after the game?
All this is of course fantasy for now, however, as we have seen in the USA, it is possible to host games outside of conventional venues. In our opinion, now is a better time than any to bring football back to its roots.