Manchester City and Wigan Athletic supporters have hit back at the Football Association's claim that "a small percentage" of fans will be getting the train to London for the FA Cup final, as the row over the 5.15pm kick-off time intensifies.
The evening kick-off has caused outrage among a large number of travelling fans as the last returning trains to the north-west on Saturday 11 May could cause some to miss the end of the game. The last train to Manchester from Euston is at 9pm and the final train to Wigan from the same station departs at 8.31pm.
On Wednesday night the FA released a statement declaring that 5.15pm is "a regular kick-off time in the football calendar" and insisted that the majority of fans would use official coaches, run by the competition sponsor National Express, to attend the match. However, supporters say the claim that a small proportion will be travelling by train to London is "absolute rubbish" and that the FA's attitude leaves a "sour taste".
Kevin Parker, secretary of the Manchester City Supporters Club, said: "Not only does it show that they don't care but it shows that they don't know. From where they're coming from in their offices in Soho or their hotels, a 5.15pm kick-off is no problem. But the reality is that a number of fans will be travelling by train and wanted to catch a train home at a sensible time.
"What's going to happen now is that people have booked tickets for a 9pm train, the last that City fans can catch, and some of them might not get to see the end of the game – God forbid if it goes to extra time. I don't see any reason at all why this game couldn't have kicked off earlier.
"The coaches are going to be in demand because they are all coming from the north west of England. It's unbelievably bad planning. Fans will work round it because that's what they do, but it's not going to be easy, it's going to be financially more difficult. It leaves a sour taste, you always look for the opportunity for the FA to get something right these days and they don't."
Asked if the FA's claim that a small percentage of fans will be travelling by train was correct, Parker added: "That's absolute rubbish. Most people I know wouldn't dream of driving to London and almost all are catching the train."
Wigan and City met in the Premier League on Wednesday night, hours after the FA released a statement that has compounded an already controversial situation.
"The FA would like to highlight that 5.15pm is a regular kick-off time in the football calendar," it said. "This time was agreed with major stakeholders and broadcasters and has been used across the game for a number of years for televised matches. In terms of transportation, a small percentage of Cup final fans use the method of train travel."
Jason Taylor, spokesman for the Wigan Athletic Supporters Club, said: "The FA don't think about stuff like young children of four or six years old potentially not getting home till 2am if they are travelling by coach. These people aren't going to be getting home till very, very late.
"We're in the FA Cup final and we'll do whatever we can do get down there – the FA know that they've got us cornered. There's not many people coming down on the train, because we can't."