Bates blast

Sunday 17 March 2002

Ken Bates has hit out at the Football Association over their decision to stage the FA Cup semi-final between Chelsea and Fulham at Villa Park.

The Chelsea chairman believes the tie should have been played at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium, rather than make two sets of London fans travel to the midlands.

Bates also criticised the decision to give the April 14 match a kick-off time of 7pm as that means the thousands of supporters may not arrive back home until the early hours.

Despite Bates comments it's believed that Fulham Manager Jean Tigana wanted the tie to be played in the Midlands which has been a happy hunting ground for his team this season.

Speaking in his programme notes ahead of the Blues' Premiership clash at home to Sunderland, Bates said: "Although I am chairman of the FA Challenge Cup Committee, the committee took no part in this decision. Although I am a member of the FA board, we took no part in this decision.

"Ultimately I heard by fax of the decision which I understand was determined by three members of staff. You have to ask who is running the FA, the people elected throughout the country or the paid employees who in theory are there to implement their employers' instruction.

"The explanation given was that the overriding decision was in the interest of football, to ensure that each competing club enjoyed parity in ticket allocations. Yet Fulham's average gate is 19,702 whereas Chelsea's is 38,428.

"It could be argued that both clubs' supporters could be reasonably accommodated at Highbury. However, we are going to Villa Park with all the nightmare scenarios that accompany that decision.

"Anybody who has used the M6-M1 on Sunday knows that in the afternoon and evening it becomes a car park. Can you imagine the consequence of imposing another 10-15,000 extra cars on an already collapsing transport system?

"This means that most of the fans from both clubs will be lucky if they get home before 1am-2am on the Monday."

Bates blasted the FA for not being "supporter friendly," warned that the pitch at Villa Park would be worse than at Highbury, and also accused the FA of putting their own corporate hospitality packages for the semi-final above the interests of the teams involved.

He added: "The FA claim to be supporter friendly but it is significant that Villa Park can offer better corporate hospitality facilities than Highbury; furthermore the Highbury pitch is in first class condition which is conducive to the quality football played by both clubs.

"Contrast this with the state of the Villa Park pitch where Aston Villa have a home game against Leeds the previous day.

"The pitch could be dreadful, the logistical problems for the sets of fans could be appalling but that doesn't matter.

"The BBC can have their 7pm kick-off, the FA marketing department can have all their corporate hospitality packages (the benefit of which is not paid to the semi-finalists). So much for putting the fans first."