REDS FANS FACING FINAL TRAVEL CHAOS
Liverpool fans heading to next month's FA Cup final face travel chaos as a result of severely-restricted rail services.
The Football Association have been criticised by a supporters' group for scheduling the May 5 tie against Chelsea for a 5.15pm kick-off but transport logistics are set to push anger levels higher.
Engineering work by Network Rail over the May Day bank holiday weekend means Virgin Trains have cancelled all but three of their Liverpool to London services on the day of the final.
And while fans are being advised to travel to the capital via Manchester, Chester, or Stoke there appears to be no means of making the return journey by rail as there are no trains going back to the north west after the game.
Further engineering work near Milton Keynes means return journey times of over five hours for those hoping to travel back the day after.
It is set to pile more difficulty on fans, some of whom had to get up at 3am to make it to Wembley for Saturday's 12.45pm kick-off in the semi-final against Everton.
"We always try and help football fans get to and from matches on our network, and did this very successfully for Everton and Liverpool supporters travelling to the semi-final," said a Virgin Trains spokesman.
"However, on this occasion, as we explained to the FA, the choice of both a 5.15pm kick-off and the staging of the FA Cup Final on a bank holiday weekend when Network Rail had already planned essential route improvement works means we cannot offer fans the level of train service they have come to expect."
A Network Rail spokesman added: "Improvement works on the railway are planned around 18 months in advance, ahead of any scheduling of sporting events and knowing which teams will compete in the final.
"Unfortunately on this occasion, with the FA Cup final earlier in the month than usual and with the FA choosing a later kick-off time, it has resulted in Liverpool fans unable to return by train."
The Football Association's decision to dispense with a traditional 3pm kick-off for the first time has been criticised by fans.
With a number of Premier League matches being played on May 5, and television companies to consider, the governing body opted for an early evening start.
"The FA running the game in this country is an absolute joke," a spokesman for the Merseyside branch of the Liverpool FC Official Supporters Club told Press Association Sport.
"Once again the FA Cup has been totally and utterly devalued. It should have kicked off at 3pm and the other league games moved to the Sunday.
"The final should kick-off at 3pm and everything else should work around that fixture.
"It is just another example of the FA devaluing their own competition.
"The last people who are thought of by the FA are the fans. Football fans don't matter to anyone.
"We are seen as a money-making machine who will do anything to follow their clubs.
"The fact you love your football club means you keep on going.
"And the fact Chelsea fans can spend all day drinking in London as they don't have any travel problems means there is then the potential for trouble."
The FA have defended the decision to push back the start time of the final.
"We stated on record at the end of last season's final that we were looking at a later kick-off time after an FA review of the competition with fans and broadcasters," said a spokesman.
"Research showed that 5.15pm was more appealing than 3pm.
"5.15pm obviously gives people a chance to attend or a play in a game earlier that day before watching the final on TV.
"The later time also maximises a bigger domestic and global TV audience for broadcasters."
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