Tag Archives: FA Cup

empty seats

Empty seats and the Americanization of the FA

By Tim Todd, Tout-in-Chief

Watching the FA Cup semi-final on television this weekend I was struck by a camera shot just after kickoff. It was a scene from the half way line which showed a huge swath of empty seats. These were the best seats in the house; lower tier, center line, directly behind the player’s entrance tunnel and yet there were a ton of empty seats. It only took me a moment to remember that, at Wembley where this match was being played, the Football Association takes control of over 40% of the ticket allocations and gives them away to their corporate sponsors and partners. It was those seats which were empty.

Many of those seats remained empty throughout the match. And in the match the next day between Liverpool and Villa the exact same scene played out: empty seats in the FA allocation. This wasn’t a case of a few corporate sponsors lingering over a cocktail after half-time, many of these ticket holders simply didn’t sit in the stands or didn’t even attend the match. And so, there on international television was a glaring example of corporate cronyism, greed, and a pure indifference to the sport.

Clearly unperturbed that their semi-final allocations weren’t used, the FA announced ticket allocations for the final; Arsenal will get 25,000 tickets, Villa will get 25,000 tickets, the FA will give away 20,000 to their “football family”, and the FA will allocate 17,000 to Club Wembley members.

The FA did something similar last year and their actions prompted Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis to write a letter pleading with them to get the balance right. And that’s, unfortunately, what we are really talking about here, getting the balance right. Changing the numbers just a little bit in favor of the fans.

No one expects the FA to take tickets away from the Club Wembley partners. Those are the super-rich, the corporations, the lard which greases the pig that is modern football. Without them at the match, the FA officials wouldn’t have rich folks to rub elbows with. They need those tickets to give away to the mega-rich so that FA officials can bask in the glow of their power.

And the FA need corporate sponsors because they need money to pay the salaries of guys like Martin Glenn. Martin Glenn, former chief of United Biscuits, is apparently a marketing genius or at least that is how the FA sold his appointment, calling him “a veteran of industry”. That is exactly what the football association needed in order to improve the quality of their international football program, a great new marketing campaign. That way the fans can sing, “We are lions hear us roar!” as England crashes out of group stages of the World Cup, again.

The other 20,000 tickets will be given away to the FA’s football family. This means, practically, that clubs who hate Arsenal and Aston Villa will get an allocation. And it’s all done on a very fair basis as well: last year, volunteers distributed the 20,000 tickets. Arsenal and Villa are going to use complicated arithmetic to figure out who get their paltry allocations, meanwhile the Football Association are using “volunteers.”

And there you have it, 55% of the tickets for the FA Cup final go to the real fans and 45% go to everyone else. That 55% will be divided by lottery and will hopefully be going to the fans who travel week in and week out to see their team play across the country.

It’s a shame that the allocation couldn’t be 90% of the tickets for the clubs and 10% for the corporations and associations. It would be nice for once to be able to give every season ticket holder a seat at the final and make the corporate sponsors and friends of the FA have to enter into a lottery.

But this… this is modern sports. They renovated Wembley in order to build more corporate box seats. And it’s not like the FA are doing anything unusual, they are simply becoming more American in the way they allocate tickets.

The NFL’s signature game, the Superbowl, is divided in a similar way that the FA did their ticket allocation. The NFL give each team 17.5% of the total seats and a further 5% goes to the host team. After that, 35% are divided equally among all the other teams in the NFL and the organization takes the remaining 25% for themselves. In terms of percentages, the FA actually give a much bigger chunk to the two clubs in the finals, doling out nearly 28% of the tickets to each team.

The result of the NFL allocations is that an infinitely small number of real fans go to the Superbowl. With online ticket resell sites run rampant in the United States, combined with the rarity of obtaining a ticket, the average fan can pay for his season tickets many times over with the profits from the sale of a single Super Bowl seat. How many “real” fans attend the Superbowl is unknown but I’ve only ever known one.

This last bit could be misconstrued as me saying “hey it could be worse, you should quit complaining” but it’s actually just the opposite: “hey, it could be worse, you don’t want it to be worse, COMPLAIN LOUDER!”

Those empty seats in semi-finals were just a symbol. They are a symbol of how English Football is changing, is becoming more Americanized. And if that continues, the average fans might not even be able to go to the games.

But hey, if you’re really lucky you’ll get Katy Perry and Left Shark as your half-time entertainment for the Football Association Sponsored by Doritos Budweiser Cup Final presented in Sony Humorphic 3D.


It will almost be like being there.


Man at the match; Chary: Early season Gunners reappear as Alexis to the rescue

Two contrasting pieces of class finishing from Arsenal’s early season saviour Alexis allowed a slightly shaky performance from the Cup holders to overcome Reading and reach a record 19th FA Cup final.

A sunny, but bracing and windy, mid-April Saturday took me back to similar conditions at last years semi-final against Wigan, however pre game there was no thought of it being as problematic today as it was then.

After a few lagers at the Green Man pub to settle the matchday nerves it was a meandering walk to my seat.

Drinks at The Green Man

After ascending many flights of stairs I took my seat and registered that Reading had taken up their full allocation, quite a feat when their average crowds are 14,000 on average, less than half their allotted seats.

Where did the extra 17,500 come from ?

Team line up wise there was no surprise in the Arsenal end when Chesney was in goal however a little surprise at both Gibbs and Debuchy usurping the incumbent full backs.

Red Actions match day banner

A bright start from the Arsenal saw Welbeck almost run onto a through ball successfully and bear down on goal.

The gulf in class between the number 2 premier league side and one from the lower reaches of the Championship began to show as Arsenal applied steady pressure and the Royals back line began to creak.

Gunners turn the screw

While Santi appeared to be having one of his less effective games the Arsenal midfield was palpably of higher quality than their Berkshire opponents with Özzy pulling the strings nicely for Alexis to rampage upfield with the only worry in team play were a few clangers from Gibbs, who was understandably ring rusty.

That aside the first half hour saw Arsenal retain and dominate possession to the extent that the Reading goal’s charmed life finally ran out of luck when a blur of speed from Alexis in the penalty box, after an exquisite floated pass from Özzy resulted in Arsenal taking the lead.

Alexis scores

Thus Arsenal score first and therefore the Gooners at Wembley could relax over half time.

The second half started with as little lethargy from Arsenal and the worrying aspect of both fullbacks deciding to maraud forward at inopportune moments – one such lapse forced Chesney into a poor clearance from a scuffed back pass which led to a throw in. From this throw in down our right came a lofted cross to the other side of the goalkeepers box where Gibbs failed to track Reading’s McCleary who slid in to volley an equaliser.

This woke the blue and white hordes – who to the casual observer would think purchased their home shirts from the English equivalent of a slightly up market Walmart, namely Waitrose – from their first half slumbers.

It was at this point the notion of changing 3 components of your back 5 from the start (which became 4 when the BFG was subbed off for Gabriel) would affect your defensive stability hit home.

Arsenal regrouped and carried on pushing forward and once Olly Giroud was brought on the Reading goal was under more and more threat. Olly’s first intervention was to win a clearance and get a free kick, although Welbeck worked hard he is still not at the polished level of our number 12 just yet.

Frustratingly a combination of the post/crossbar and some great saves by Federeci consigned the semi final to extra time which seemed to suit Arsenal more as our more potent attack would surely penetrate the opposition goal.

As the first half of extra time drew to a close wave after wave of shots and attacks were fruitless when, quite unexpectedly, yet another surging run from Alexis caught the Wembley crowd out.

From where I sat it seemed Alexis had run into a dead end with his back to me as he charged forward yet he turned around and wheeled in celebration. I looked to my fellow Gooners on either side of me, all of us unsure as to whether he had scored or not.

A pause and seconds later, it seemed Alexis had scored so we could celebrate going ahead, at a morale sapping (for the opposition) point – the last moments of the first half of extra time.

Now the Alexis’ chant, a choice which won’t please all I suspect, went up:

Alexis, Alexis babbbyyy

Alexis, Alexis , wooo-ow-oh-oh !

(to the tune of the chorus of “Don’t you want me” by Human League)

The second half of extra time had the supporters cursing our cavalier defending and Reading had quite a few big chances to score, which only a combination of their lack of quality forwards and luck prevented a second equaliser.

The openness of the game meant Arsenal should really have scored a third, with Theo Walcott providing late attacking impetus, however the long suffering Gooner nation were spared another FA Cup semi-final penalty shoot out as the whistle blew and we could look forward to returning to Wembley for the final.

Relieved Arsenal at full time

Final thoughts – we need to play better than we did today at the final if we want to retain the trophy but we every chance to regain our defensive shape until the final but I suspect the choice of goalkeeper may not be an easy one to make as Chesney didn’t inspire confidence today.

Still we are in the final and more silverware beckons while the season is still rising to a decent climax.


By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

fa cup

Reading v. Arsenal: Negative Creep

By Tim Todd, tl;drer

Here it is, your tl;dr match preview.

  1. Arsenal play Reading in the FA Cup Semi-Final
  2. The match takes place at Wembley
  3. All pressure is on Arsenal to win because Reading are deep underdogs
  4. Winning back to back FA Cups will do absolutely nothing to change the minds of people like Stewart Robson who despise Arsene Wenger and everything he represents.
  5. Are we having fun yet?

Wembley, for me, still holds harrowing memories of the 2011 League Cup final.

Obafemi Martins winning goal went off like a bomb inside the stadium. The Birmingham end of the stadium erupted in screams of joy and our end of the stadium was blown down like the trees in the Tunguska blast.

And as we trudged out of the stadium the scene was post apocalyptic; rain falling in huge wet globs like nuclear fallout, and everyone pushed slowly toward the trains by the sheer will of the crowd. The dead carrying the dead.

Three years later in the same stadium, Arsenal overcame a 2-0 deficit to Hull City winning with a dramatic late goal by Aaron Ramsey to lift the FA Cup. It was Arsenal’s first trophy in 9 years. And the memory of that win should still carry us but oddly, the loss to Birmingham is fresher for me than the win over Hull.

My theory is that this is the case with all sports fans. The losses hurt more than the wins can soothe.

I suspect it’s part of the survival instinct. Pain can kill us and so we have to learn to avoid it at all costs. Thus, pain stays fresher in the mind. Pleasure, on the other hand, is something to be sought but it’s more like a life-bonus. It’s not going to kill us not to have pleasure so its memory fades faster.

Arsenal’s run last year hasn’t faded completely. I still remember the giddy excitement of singing “she wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon!” And “Wembley, Wembley, we are the mighty Arsenal and we’re going to Wembley” over and over again in the build-up to nearly every match and sometimes just randomly in the middle of a match as I watched in my living room. And I remember sitting in the Emirates with Adrian as Arsenal overcame Everton to secure a place in the semi-final: the crowd only confident enough to sing about Wembley once the Arsenal had restored their lead.

I haven’t heard much singing about Wembley this year, last year those songs were ubiquitous, and the lack of singing makes me wonder if Arsenal fans have the same sense of excitement that they did last year? Please, those of you who are there, tell me that the songs are sung just as exuberantly I want to believe that we Arsenal fans aren’t taking this match and the cup final for granted.

But I fear that we are and worse, I fear that the team might take Reading for granted. Reading are 18th in the Championship and Arsenal are in 2nd in the Premiership. And just like the gap between their places in each division, there is a massive gap in terms of talent on these two teams. Arsenal have at their disposal Özil and Sanchez, players Arsenal bought from giant clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid for £30-40m each, Reading do business with… well, they did get a few players on loan from League leaders Chelsea, but the only player they purchased this season was Oliver Norwood from Huddersfield for £1m. In terms of talent, spend, and pedigree Arsenal have the huge advantage.

So, it doesn’t much matter who Arsenal start in which positions. If Arsene rotates some of the forwards, for example bringing in Welbeck for Giroud, he still has Giroud on the bench. The same for nearly every other position on the squad. For that reason I won’t be surprised to see Walcott in the starting lineup or even Jack Wilshere — both players need games and they are fit. And if Wenger keeps true to the squad he has used so far in the FA Cup, Szczesny should get a start over Ospina at keeper.

The one player who might not rotate out is Coquelin. His best replacement, Arteta, had a setback in his recovery plan and can’t play. Arsène could bring in Flamini for Coquelin but only if Coquelin really needs the rest.

Who Arsenal rotate in or out is irrelevant, however, because all of the pressure is on Arsenal to win this match. Reading are such underdogs that they are like a little Chihuahua cowering underneath a Pug, and the Pug is the actual underdog.

So, in a weird way nothing Arsenal do in this match matters. If Arsenal win, the haters keep hating and the lovers will be filled with a temporary joy but Arsenal advance in a competition they are supposed to advance in. If Arsenal do the unthinkable and lose…

I just hope everyone has fun tomorrow.