Sorry, northern football fans... Wembley FA Cup semis are here to stay! The cash-strapped FA can't afford to move them after the £757m stadium rebuild - and hospitality packages are already being sold until 2027

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The FA will continue to 'squeeze the pips out of fans' and force supporters of northern clubs to head south to Wembley for FA Cup semi finals because they are desperately in need of the cash, say analysts.

The travel chaos that threatens to disrupt the FA Cup semi final between Manchester City and Liverpool next month, has reignited the debate about where these matches should be played.

With the cost of living – and transport - rocketing fans of northern teams have renewed calls to abandon Wembley for semi-finals.

Fans will return to the FA Cup semi finals this season, but northern clubs would like somewhere closer to home

Fans will return to the FA Cup semi finals this season, but northern clubs would like somewhere closer to home

Fans will return to the FA Cup semi finals this season, but northern clubs would like somewhere closer to home

But financial analysts suggest there is little prospect of the FA changing tack, given the matches form a vital chunk of Wembley's revenues and the national stadium is posting a loss each year.

In addition, the FA Cup semis have already been sold to the 'prawn sandwich brigade', as part of expensive Club Wembley packages, which run until 2027.

'The FA lost a fortune in Euro 2020 because matches were not generating money in a normal way,' an expert in football finances at  the University of Liverpool.

'Everyone is trying to recoup money. There is no consideration for fans as far as these organisations are concerned,'

Man City and Liverpool fans have demanded their semi is moved due to travel problems

Man City and Liverpool fans have demanded their semi is moved due to travel problems

The national stadium suffered significant losses during the panedemic as events were cancelled and matches were played behind closed doors. 

And yet families are struggling too. A return train trip to London from Manchester for a family of four costs £294.30, if the youngsters are under 16, dramatically adding to the costs of a trip to London.

'It is squeezing the pips out of fans,' added Maguire, who also hosts the Price of Football podcast.

'It is a pure cash issue. The FA own Wembley and if they play matches there, they do not have to hire Villa Park, or Anfield or Old Trafford. They will ultimately sell more tickets and make more money off the back of it. And the FA have got a lot of debt.'

The need to host semi finals at Wembley runs deep and can be traced back to the £757M rebuild of the stadium from 2003.

To guarantee the financing of the new stadium, the FA made a 30-year pledge to commit to a number of annual fixtures - including the FA Cup semi-finals - to take place at Wembley from the reopening of the stadium in 2006.

The move brought to an end the status of grounds such as Villa Park, Hillsborough and Old Trafford as neutral semi-final venues.

Liverpool supporters want the game to be played at Man United's Old Trafford

Liverpool supporters want the game to be played at Man United's Old Trafford

And in theory it locks English football into semis at Wembley until 2036.

National stadiums come at a huge cost and at the time it was argued that this was one worth paying.

Nick Barron, the FA's Wembley spokesman, admitted in 2003 that there would be opposition to the plan.

'There will be traditionalists upset by the idea of the semi-finals being at Wembley,' he said. 'So will some fans of clubs who would have to travel a long way to London and we appreciate that it's not necessarily an ideal situation.'

Barron was right, on both counts: Fans, particularly from teams based in the north, don't like it.

'Many fans are entirely unconvinced the semis need to be at Wembley anyway,' said Kevin Miles, chief executive of the Football Supporters' Association. 'There is a strong feeling that having semi-finals played at Wembley detracts from the unique nature of the final

Leicester City won last year's competition - and fans want to keep Wembley for th efinal

Leicester City won last year's competition - and fans want to keep Wembley for th efinal

And both Liverpool and City fans made the point that a semi final between two north west clubs need not be in London.

'For the other semi-final between Chelsea and Crystal Palace, Wembley makes sense. For Liverpool and City, it makes no sense,' Spirit of Shankly, and the 1894 Group, the Liverpool and City fans' groups said.

The problem is the numbers just don't add up when it comes to moving the games.

Wembley is owned by the FA, and it is already losing money.

Pre covid, in the financial year 2018-19, Wembley achieved sales of around £100M but made an operating loss of £2.5M.

In addition, Wembley had net liabilities of £124M and it relies on the FA to enable it to meet its obligations to creditors.

The FA agreed they would play semi finals at Wembley for 30 years from 2006

The FA agreed they would play semi finals at Wembley for 30 years from 2006

The fact is that Wembley's operating profit was never huge, but it has been making a loss since 2017-18, when income from Club Wembley collapsed.

And this highlights another major problem for the FA. The 10-year hospitality packages, which range from £2,400 to £37,000 for a private box, are just not as popular as they were.

When they came up for renewal in 2017, annual income from the posh seats fell from £58M to £34M..

However, those 10-year packages have been sold on the basis of fixed games, including the semi finals of the FA Cup.

'These packages have been negotiated on a 10-year deal,' said Dr Dan Plumley at Sheffield Hallam University.

The supporters travelling to the FA Cup game are facing severely disrupted journeys

The supporters travelling to the FA Cup game are facing severely disrupted journeys 

'You cannot go back to those rights holders and say you cannot have those games now. In the short to medium term, I cannot see any change in that.'

Dr Plumley points out that running a national stadium 'comes at a high cost', which prompted the FA to entertain a bid for £600M from U.S. billionaire Shahid Khan, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, in 2018.

In the end, the deal unravelled amid arguments over the wisdom of selling off the national stadium, the price and whether a capital sale was the right way to secure funding for the grass roots game.

Liverpool and Man City fans have called on the FA to change the venue of their semi against City this season, which is expected to be played on Saturday April 16.

Transport links from the North West to the capital have been decimated by engineering works on the weekend of April 16-17, making it almost impossible to travel there and back by rail in a day.

The FA are seeking solutions to the problem, but the governing body has been heavily criticised. 

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