Saturday May 21st sees one of the biggest days in England’s sporting calendar – the FA Cup Final.
The tournament is the oldest of its kind in the world, with the first ever final having been held in 1872 when the Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 in front of 2000 people. This year’s FA Cup winners will be one of the semi-finalists Everton, Manchester United, Crystal Palace or Watford. All have appeared in finals before - with Man United being the most successful with a total of 11 wins, the most recent back in 2004.
The teams also have previous experience of meeting each other in finals. In 1984, Watford were beaten 2-0 by Everton and six years later Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 1-0 in a replay after a thrilling 3-3 draw. That’s not to mention the 1995 final which saw Everton squeak past United with a 1-0 win.
One of the reasons that the competition captures the imagination is the early rounds when all Football League teams are eligible to enter, and this often gives rise to remarkable ‘giant killing’ results. In 2003, Everton were themselves beaten by Shrewsbury Town – a team ranked 80 places lower than them in the league standings – although the latter couldn’t repeat the feat when they met Manchester United earlier in this year’s competition and lost 3-0.
Not surprisingly, there’s always a huge demand for tickets and even though Wembley Stadium has a capacity of around 90,000, the FA Cup Final is always a sell-out. So if you’re intending to head to London for the match it may be worth making alternative plans - either to watch the match somewhere you can be sure of seeing it or to have some different sporting activity to enjoy.
The ticket allocation for the match itself is usually divided between the teams competing in the final. The clubs then give preference to their own season ticket holders. Thousands of other tickets are snapped up for corporate hospitality – as one of the highest profile matches and the traditional end to the football season it’s an understandably popular event. The remainder then go through a number of ticket agencies where they are made available to the general public.
The good news is that, if you are lucky enough to get your hands on a ticket, Wembley is easy to reach by car, and the official parking provision is also pretty good. For example if you hire a car in London simply head for the North Circular Road – also known as the A406 – and follow the signs for Wembley Stadium which lies to the north-west of the centre. The Wembley Stadium website has an excellent route finder service.
There’s a chance that you won’t be able to get hold of a ticket or, if you do, you might also want to turn your trip to London into a whole weekend of sport.
If so, there are three other great ways to indulge your love of competition.
Firstly, May 21-22 is also the weekend that Spin London takes place at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, East London. It’s a celebration of all things two-wheeled with bikes and accessories on display and for sale, expert speakers, demonstrations and much more.
If you’re a fan of rugby then it’s definitely worth putting some time aside to head out to Twickenham in West London where you’ll find the World Rugby Museum. Located in the East Stand at the home of rugby union, there are over 25,000 items on display drawn from the whole history of the game, and you’ll also have the opportunity of a stadium tour.
For a trip just outside of the capital, head down the M4 to the River and Rowing Museum in the picturesque town of Henley–on-Thames. There are three galleries dedicated to the sport – and there’s even a Wind in the Willows exhibition that’s bound to appeal to all ages.
Of course, there are also going to be lots of places showing the FA Cup Final all over the capital. So even if you can’t be there yourself you’ll be able to enjoy all of the excitement at London venues. Three which promise a great atmosphere are Riley’s Sports Bar in central London’s Haymarket, Belushi’s in Shepherd’s Bush Green and The Sporting Page in Chelsea. The first two are out-and-out sports bars while the latter is more of a traditional pub which shows a lot of sport.
Wherever you watch and whoever is playing, one thing is for sure – being in London and closer to the action is going to make your FA Cup experience all the more exciting.