Giles Smith’s Thursday Thoughts
column Thu 8 Mar 2018
Manchester and Wembley, so much to answer for, reckons Chelsea fan Giles Smith as he plots potential future routes in this week’s column…
On the bright side: no more Manchester. This past week’s rare special offer (two back-to-back narrow defeats in the North-West for the price of… well, two back-to-back narrow defeats in the North-West) concludes our club’s contractual obligations regarding travel to that part of the world for the current season. And, given the slightly frustrating way in which it all panned out over the last two weekends, I don’t suppose anybody round these parts will be too disappointed to realise it.
Unless, of course, having carefully disposed of Barcelona in the Nou Camp next week, we end up being matched with City or United in the quarter-finals of the Champions League - or beyond that, even, in the semi-finals… In which case, rainy Manchester heaves onto the horizon yet again.
But surely the gods of knockout draws wouldn’t be so unkind, would they? They would appreciate, wouldn’t they, that the reason clubs like ours want to be in Europe is to play teams from Europe – that our prime motivation for signing up for this whole Champions League thing, and going to all the trouble of beating Barcelona on their own ground, is specifically in order to travel and meet people.
Going to Manchester, on the other hand, and meeting people there… well, that’s going to happen to us anyway. Sometimes as frequently as twice in eight days. And without having to beat Barcelona first.
I’m not forgetting in these future, Manchester-free calculations, by the way, that United are still alongside us in the FA Cup. But assuming that either of us qualify from the upcoming Sixth Round, the next round of that will be a semi-final, and therefore at Wembley, which, even if we (having beaten Leicester) get paired with United, won’t involve us using the M6 in any way at all. Unless, that is, your plan for beating the North Circular traffic on a match day is much more elaborate than mine.
Incidentally, on the topic of FA Cup semi-finals, there have already been mutterings about the possibility of Spurs reaching that stage of the competition this year (they face Swansea, away, in the Sixth Round) and finding that the neutral ground at which they are supposed to be playing is, in fact, their current home.
People have been pointing out that, as well as being manifestly unfair, this potential gift of an outcome would put a half-brick through the window of history and threaten to ride roughshod over a tradition which, in so far as I can determine, dates right back to the very first year of the competition, in 1871.
Plenty of solutions suggest themselves, of course. Too late for Highbury, obviously. And too late, probably, for the Kennington Oval, which, the history books relate, was used for semi-finals throughout the FA Cup’s first decade, but which is probably slightly better set up for cricket these days, all things considered, than for football.
But time, perhaps, to restore Villa Park to its former glory as a semi-final venue. I’d be happy to see that, whether it was Spurs’ situation which forced the issue or whatever it was. Who doesn’t have fond memories of the days when the ‘road to Wembley’ went via Birmingham? Whereas these days the road to Wembley goes via Wembley, which has never made much sense, from a journey-planning point of view, nor from any other.
We’ve said it before in this space, and no doubt we’ll have cause to say it again: Wembley - which is the £789 million home of the national game, after all, and still one of sport’s most storied locations - should be reserved for the properly big occasions, like the FA Cup final and Take That concerts.
Of course, if Spurs then get to the final this year, the FA really have got problems. It’s one thing in a semi, but can a side really be allowed to have home advantage in an FA Cup final? That, surely, would be the moment to take the show back to Cardiff, for which, as we well know, there is ample precedent. Alternatively, Spurs could simply withdraw from the competition now, handing Swansea a bye, on the grounds that their position has become untenable for geographical reasons. Something for the FA to discuss with them, maybe.
Meanwhile we’ve got a game to watch which, for once, isn’t in Manchester, nor anywhere near it. I’ve double-checked: it’s at home to Crystal Palace (Saturday, 5.30pm). Can’t say I’m disappointed. Here’s hoping the change of scenery provides a handy spark.