With the dates and kick-off times of the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals now confirmed, Andy Ambler, The FA’s director of professional game relations, has explained the process behind all the key decisions that are made for the big games.
Andy, what has been your favourite moment of this season’s Emirates FA Cup?
There have been many memorable moments from this year’s Emirates FA Cup but what I have really loved is going all around the country and really getting a sense of how much this competition means to the smaller clubs.
I’ve been to a lot of Cup ties this season, from the extra preliminary round onwards, and with each tie you realise how unique the Emirates FA Cup is. Around 10,000 players have played in the Cup this season and how special it is that someone who scored in the extra preliminary round can say they have scored in the Emirates FA Cup?
It has been a privilege to visit so many grounds and make that journey from a game in front of 180 spectators to a full house at Wembley Stadium.
How excited are you ahead of the semi-finals?
I’m always excited by the Emirates FA Cup, but even more so for these semi-finals. We’ve got two big games and four Premier League clubs, and I think that further proves that this competition is alive and well. Three of the top six Premier League teams are still in it, as was the case last year. And they are joined by Southampton, winners of course in 1976.
It didn’t really matter what the draw threw up from my point of view because they are four big clubs and we’re really looking forward to it.
Why are the semi-finals being staged at Wembley Stadium?
The first thing I’d say is that we’ve got a fantastic national stadium available, so why not use it? Secondly, we want to give as many fans as possible the opportunity to come to Wembley Stadium and enjoy one of the highlights of the football calendar.
We want to give an opportunity for over 33,000 fans from each club to have a day out at Wembley. Some people say having the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium takes away from the Final, but we believe it gives added impetus to the quarter finals. We saw last weekend that clubs were playing for a place at Wembley Stadium – and that’s still important.
Overall, it’s important to recognise that this is a fantastic stadium and an Emirates FA Cup semi-final is a fantastic day out for the fans.
Some people will say that Tottenham Hotspur have home advantage this year, having played all their home games at Wembley Stadium this season. What are your thought on this?
It is important to remember that Wembley Stadium is not the permanent home of Tottenham Hotspur, it is just their temporary home for the 2017-18 season. In accordance with the FA Cup Competition Rules, it’s up to The FA to determine which stadium will be used for the both semi-finals and the Final. Before a ball was kicked in this year’s Emirates FA Cup it was decided that Wembley Stadium would host the semi-finals and, obviously, the Final.
I do, however, want to be clear that Tottenham will have no ‘home team’ privileges at Wembley Stadium for the semi-final or Final, should they progress. Tottenham have been allocated a different dressing room to the one they use for their previous ‘home’ games this season. The stadium ends are determined by the travel requirements of fans and locality to Wembley train stations, so Manchester United fans will be in the West end of the stadium.
How is it decided which semi-final is on BBC and which one is on BT Sport?
BBC and BT Sport are our two main broadcast partners for the Emirates FA Cup and there is an agreement between the three of us at the start of the season as to which channel gets first pick in each round. BBC had the first pick for the semi-finals this year and they went with Tottenham v Manchester United on Saturday 21 April (5.15pm). BT Sport will show Chelsea v Southampton on Sunday 22 April (3pm).
How are the kick-off times decided?
There are a few factors that go in to deciding kick-off times. The first thing we have to consider is the ‘closed window’ between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday, when no live football can be broadcast in the UK – that is in line with UEFA’s Article 48 to protect league attendances up and down the country. Also, importantly, we want to avoid the semi-finals clashing with any live Premier League matches.
With all live TV ties from the first round onwards, we need to look at fans’ travel plans, what the broadcaster wants, when the fixtures can be played, safety, security and policing. It’s quite a complex process we have to go through to get a number of matches live every round.
Do The FA advise fans on how to get to Wembley?
Absolutely. We’ll be advising clubs and fans almost from the outset. There is advice on the Wembley website about how to get to and from the stadium but we will advise each club as well for their own channels.
We always advise fans to plan their day in advance, get here early and soak up the atmosphere.
What about travel disruptions for fans? Are you aware that there are road closures near Southampton that weekend?
We are aware of some road closures in the Southampton area over the semi-final weekend and encourage traveling fans to take this into consideration when planning their journey to Wembley Stadium. We will also work with Southampton to provide travel advice to fans.
What about Manchester United fans trying to get a train home on a Saturday night?
We understand the challenges of a 5.15pm Saturday kick-off for some fans. It currently means that it could be difficult to get the last train back from London to Manchester, should the game go to extra-time and/or penalties. We have people employed at The FA specifically to liaise with the transport companies and they are working with the travel providers and the club to see if we can help find further solutions for those travelling to Manchester after the match. We also have coach-parking facilities at Wembley Stadium to accommodate those traveling fans.
How many tickets will each club receive?
Each club will receive around 33,500 each, depending on where the segregation line is inside the stadium. We have increased the number of tickets available to fans from last year by nearly 1,500.
Fans will know by now that Club Wembley tickets are sold in advance as part of a multiyear membership package. Other tickets will be made available to the ‘football family’, including the County FAs, but what you tend to find is that the vast majority go to supporters of the two clubs.
Why have the prices for Emirates FA Cup semi-final and Final tickets gone up?
- Category A: £80
- Category B: £65
- Category C: £45
- Category D: £30
This season we made the decision to increase the price of some tickets in the stadium. This is the first time that we have raised the price of tickets for Emirates FA Cup semi-final and Final ties in three years.
The Emirates FA Cup semi-final and Final are some of the most prestigious events in the sporting calendar and these new prices are in line with many of these events.
- Category A: £145
- Category B: £115
- Category C: £70
- Category D: £45
If you’re buying a ticket for the semi-final or the Final you are directly investing in the future of the game in this country.
How do The FA ensure tickets don’t get into the wrong hands or sold by ticket touts?
We have strong and rigorous procedures in play to stop touts from selling tickets in the vicinity of Wembley Stadium. We work with the police and try to crack down on touting as much as we possibly can.
First and foremost, we make sure the vast majority of tickets go directly to the clubs in the first instance. There are regulations with every ticket purchased that it is for personal use and not to be re-sold.
We are better placed than we’ve ever been to stop ticket touts but we will keep working with the authorities and do everything we can to stop tickets falling into the wrong hands.
How do you decide which end of the stadium each set of fans are in?
It’s all to do with transport and the safety and security of getting fans in and out of the stadium. For example, if it had been a Chelsea vs Spurs semi-final, it would have been the toss of a coin as to which club got which end.
Because Manchester United and Southampton fans will predominantly be travelling from outside of London they will be given the West side of the stadium.
It’s all about making sure there is as little cross-over of fan numbers as possible. It’s dictated by the fanbase of each club.
How will VAR affect the semi-finals?
It has been interesting to see the results of the VAR trials so far this season. We’ve only had around a dozen Emirates FA Cup ties with a VAR so it’s still very new to us.
While the referees have done a good job we have to remember that this is a learning process and it will improve greatly as everyone gets more familiar with using VAR. There are certainly areas that can be improved, including how decisions are communicated with fans, but this will no doubt be addressed in the future. Using the large screens in the stadium will hopefully allow the VAR officials to better communicate decisions to the fans inside the stadium, and to the fans watching on television.
We also need to make sure the fans know exactly what VAR is used for. All game-changing decisions are automatically checked by VAR and I’m not sure how many fans know that.
We’ve always said we want to use the Emirates FA Cup to innovate and help move football forward, so we’ve got things like the introduction of a fourth substitute in extra-time, which is still in place.
If VAR means that a deciding goal is correctly ruled in or out in one of these semi-finals then I think it can only be a good thing.