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FA Cup Semi-Finals Take the Shine off of Wembley Stadium

The FA Cup
Credit: The Emirates FA Cup via Facebook

As we head into the international break, the fixtures comprising this year's FA Cup semi-finals have now been confirmed. Premier League leaders Chelsea will take on second-placed Tottenham on Saturday, April 22, while Manchester City are set to face Arsenal a day later.

Both ties will be held at the home of English football, Wembley Stadium, in a weekend sure to captivate the attention of fans of the beautiful game across the world. Chelsea are still firmly on course for the double, with FA Cup betting sites including bet365 having the Blues at 15/8 favourites to claim the trophy, while Arsenal will hope to salvage something from the season that looks set to end with the departure of long-serving manager Arsene Wenger.

While the occasion has all the hallmarks of providing a pair of intense footballing classics, there is still the consistently contentious issue of whether or not the stadium that will hold the tournament's final in May should also host its lead-in ties.

Wembley has a long and rich tradition as the shining jewel in the crown of top British sporting venues, with the original stadium playing host to the final of the FA Cup each year from its construction in 1923 to its demolition in 2000. And while the new incarnation of the famous ground, first opened in 2007, doesn't quite hold the same level of prestige, it is still the stadium English football is synonymous with.

Wembley Stadium at night
Credit: The Emirates FA Cup via Facebook

Prior to the opening of the new Wembley, the Football Association took the decision to begin hosting the semi-finals of each FA Cup at the stadium from 2008, rather than using neutral grounds such as Villa Park and Old Trafford. The governing body admitted at the time that the move was designed to recoup some of the £798 million cost of building the stadium, and fans, for the most part, were receptive to the idea.

However, nine years have now elapsed since the new Wembley held the 2008 FA Cup semi-finals, which featured Portsmouth against West Brom and Cardiff versus Barnsley; is the continuation of the event now starting to take the sheen off of both the prestige of the FA Cup Final, and the stadium itself?

After all, prior to the new stadium opening, only seven of the semi-finals in the tournament's then 135-year history were held at Wembley. Getting to play at the home of English football was an incredible achievement in its own right, and represented the pinnacle of competition; something which felt out of reach to most clubs, but something that they all nevertheless aspired to attain.

There are those who argue that hosting the FA Cup semi-finals at the stadium provides fans of smaller clubs a chance they wouldn't otherwise have had for a 'grand day out', but surely maintaining the prestige of one of the world's oldest sporting competitions, and our national stadium, is more important to consider in the long term?

After all, with the EFL Trophy, FA Trophy, EFL Cup, playoff finals, FA Vase and a multitude of other fixtures now taking place at Wembley throughout the season, it is now easier than ever for players to set foot on the hallowed turf.

Written by Rob. First published on March 22nd, 2017.