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'We can sleep in the summer!' - Liverpool fans ready for travel chaos for Wembley showdown with Man City

15:00 BST 15/04/2022
Liverpool supporters Wembley Carabao Cup final 2022
The controversial decision to stage the FA Cup semi-final in London means there's a long day ahead for supporters, given the lack of direct trains

The exodus will start at around 5am on Saturday. From Anfield and Aintree, Southport and Speke, Bootle and Birkenhead and everywhere in between.

All roads lead to Wembley, for Liverpool supporters. Pep Guardiola and Manchester City await in the semi-final of the FA Cup. Another big game in this biggest of seasons.

“It’s going to be an early start,” Reds fan Roy Bentham tells GOAL. “Well, it might be a late night for some people…”

Bentham is in charge of travel for Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters’ union, and it is fair to say his phone has been hot of late.

As Jurgen Klopp’s team pursues an unprecedented ‘quadruple’, demand for coach spaces, never mind match tickets, is as high as it has ever been.

That is certainly the case for this game, with no direct trains running between Liverpool (or Manchester) and London all weekend, due to engineering work which the FA knew about more than two years ago.

It means pretty much all of the 35,000 supporters heading down from Merseyside, and roughly the same amount from Manchester, will do so by car on a Bank Holiday weekend, meaning heavy heads, congested motorways and packed service stations.

“It’s just a shame,” says Joe Blott, the chair of Spirit of Shankly. “This is supposed to be a joyous occasion, one for fans to savour.

"But it’s been turned into something else; a chore, an inconvenience and a long, stressful day.”

For Wembley, Spirit of Shankly have organised two 50-seater buses, which will depart from The Twelfth Man pub, a couple of hundred yards from Anfield, at 5am.

“Normally, we’d have an extra hour in bed,” Bentham says, “but with everybody taking the same route, we’ve had to err on the side of caution.”

At the same time, 10 coaches will depart the Baltic Hotel in the city centre.

Organised by Matt, a Reds fan who runs the @travel_limited Twitter page, they will cost £60 ($78) per person, with thousands of fans left disappointed having missed out on a precious spot.

“It’s been an absolute nightmare,” he says. “We’ve had less capacity than for the Carabao Cup final [in February] but with far greater demand.

“I’d say we’ve only been able to satisfy maybe 10-15 percent of the demand, which is a shame.

"And the other issue is that, mainly due to fuel prices, the cost of hiring a coach now is probably 30 per cent more than it was even at the start of the season.”

For away-day regulars, of course, an early start and a bleary-eyed journey up and down the country is nothing new.

However, the lack of train options and the fact that, for the first time since 1910, the FA Cup semi-finals have been scheduled for Easter weekend, present new challenges.

Delays are inevitable, and stress levels are likely to be high.

“At least it’s like real life again!” laughs season-ticket holder Dan Kay. “We’d have taken this a year ago, wouldn’t we?

"And hey, two years ago we were wondering when we’d ever get back in a ground to watch our team.

“So yeah, it’s inconvenient and the FA have not handled it well at all, but it is what it is. We can sleep in the summer!”

John Gibbons, of the award-winning podcast The Anfield Wrap, agrees.

“It is silly, having two north west teams trekking down to Wembley on a Bank Holiday weekend when the trains are off,” he says. “It does feel a bit mad.

“But I think back 12-18 months when all of this was taken away from us. I remember watching games in my living room, watching us lose and then having to put a headset on and record shows with three other people who were just as depressed as I am.

“I think that helps appreciate what we have now, and puts things in perspective a little bit.”

Gibbons and The Anfield Wrap crew will travel together in a minibus, as they did for the 2018 and 2019 Champions League finals, as well as the Carabao Cup final earlier this year.

“We’re setting off at 8am, because for the League Cup final we found it was hard to get a drink in the pubs around the stadium,” he says.

“We’d have done the minibus anyway, to be honest. It suits us in terms of content, being self-contained and having everyone together.

"We’ll record a show on the way down and we’ll have our updates throughout the day. And then we can leave our gear on the bus instead of stuffing it into a locker at Euston or wherever.

"And then if we win, we can have a decent party on the way back!”

Bentham, meanwhile, laughs as he relays his own coach story from the Carabao Cup final.

“When we got back to the meeting point, our coach was the only one that didn’t have its lights on,” he says. “The driver said the fan belt had packed in, and the lad who owned the coach was driving down with a new one.

“This was about 8.30pm, and he got there at 11.30! Fortunately, we were able to stick most of our lads on other coaches, and even more fortunately, the coach park was next to a pub, so the 15 of us who stayed behind to wait were able to dive in there.

"We got back at about 4.30am, and my missus still hasn’t let it go!”

Hopefully, no such drama awaits this weekend, although most are heading south with trepidation, and with little good to say about the FA and their planning.

“It’s funny,” says Blott. “Because they’ve made a gesture by putting on 100 free coaches for fans [50 for Liverpool, 50 for Manchester City], but they wouldn’t have done that had supporters not complained.

“And what they’ve done is they’ve come up with a solution to a problem they knew existed years ago, one they either didn’t plan for or which they just ignored.”

Blott also points out, not unreasonably, another element to it all – the environment.

“How does this fit with their sustainability policy, I wonder?” he says. “Earlier this season we had a ‘net-zero’ game [between Tottenham and Chelsea], and now the FA are putting hundreds of vehicles on the road just so they can play a big game at Wembley when nobody wants to.

"I’m not sure what their carbon footprint is for this one!”

Despite the protests, of course, Liverpool’s allocation sold out quickly once the fixture was confirmed, and you can guarantee that Reds fans will be loud, passionate and colourful come 3.30pm Saturday.

“It’s what we do,” says Kay. “And that’s what the FA and other governing bodies are able to rely on.

"They can manipulate and monetise fans’ loyalty, because they know that we will find a way to be there.”

Blott agrees.

“It’s just another challenge, but we rise to those every time,” he says. “There’ll be some stories from this weekend, and the next few weeks, for sure.

“For all the inconvenience, we’d still rather be playing at Wembley on Saturday than not!”