The FA was given more than two years notice of the closure of West Coast main line, which is now threatening the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City, according to the chairman of Network Rail.
The two north west teams meet in the semi, scheduled to take place at Wembley, on the weekend of April 16-17.
However, major engineering works on rail lines into Euston Station make rail journeys to and from the match at Wembley impossible for fans coming from Liverpool or Manchester.
Manchester City and Liverpool will meet in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley
Both sets of supporters – and the mayors of each city – have rounded on the FA for failing to anticipate the problem, making contingency plans to deal with it or agreeing to move the match once the severity of the situation emerged.
It was believed the FA was given notice of the works in the autumn, but now Sir Peter Hendy, Network Rail chairman, has told MPs the governing body was first told about the maintenance plans in 2019.
At a session of the Transport Select Committee, Sir Peter said: ‘We, Network Rail, had told the FA in 2019 that we were closing the West Coast main line.
‘Yet they seem to have arranged a football match between Manchester [City] and Liverpool at Wembley on a day that we’ve effectively given the world two years’ notice of the closure.’
The match is due to be played on the weekend of April 16-17, but fans from north west cannot travel by direct train
An industry source told The Times that Network Rail’s forward planner had notified the FA of the proposed works in 2019 and reminded the governing body again six months ago.
Sir Peter’s comments heap more pressure on the FA, which has so far refused to consider moving the fixture to the north of England.
The situation is threatening to turn into open season on game’s administrators with politicians viewing it as another failure of football governance.
‘The FA are refusing to move the semi-final between Liverpool and Manchester City from Wembley,’ MP Graham Stringer told Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, this afternoon.
The supporters travelling to the FA Cup game are facing severely disrupted journeys
‘There are no trains from the north west that day, which means 50 to 60,000 people will have to go by road
‘Unfortunately, this is typical of the insensitivity of the FA, who think that fit and proper people to run our football clubs are Russian kleptocrats and people who are wanted from human rights abuses,’ added the former leader of Manchester City Council, who now represents the constituency of Blackley and Broughton in the city.
Mr Johnson replied: ‘I am not going to comment on the travel arrangements for the particular match… although the FA will have heard the message that he has given.’
And Mr Johnson agreed it was time for an independent regulator of football.
Yesterday, a leading member of the Digital Culture Media and Sport committee, Labour MP Clive Efford, told Sportsmail it was ‘ridiculous’ for the FA to refuse to move the game to the north west.
The prospect for Liverpool’s fanbase bleak, with Saturday’s last available train home out of King’s Cross currently scheduled at 19:35 – minutes after full-time of a 17:30 kick off
And Steve Rotheram, the mayor of Liverpool, and his Manchester counterpart, Andy Burnham, wrote to the FA chairwoman, Debbie Hewitt, demanding to know why fans had been let down.
‘We understand that the engineering works on the West Coast Mainline have been scheduled since 2019 and that the FA was explicitly made aware of them last autumn,’ the letter read.
‘Given that, and the high likelihood that a Liverpool or Manchester team would make this stage of competition, we can only conclude that the FA has again failed to give due thought and consideration to the interests of supporters.’
A return trip from Manchester, that includes changes and bus replacements, is almost impossible on the day — and subject to further disruption.
The prospect for Liverpool fans is bleaker, with Saturday’s last available train home out of King’s Cross scheduled for 7.35pm — minutes after full-time of a 5.30pm kick-off — and involving a tight five-minute change in Leicester. City are understood to be looking into the availability of extra coaches for fans.
The FA has said it is in discussion with the clubs, Network Rail and National Express to find a solution.
London Euston (above) will have no running service due to pre-planned railway works
The need to host semi finals at Wembley runs deep and can be traced back to the £757M rebuild of the stadium from 2003.
To guarantee the financing of the new stadium, the FA made a 30-year pledge to commit to a number of annual fixtures – including the FA Cup semi-finals – to take place at Wembley from the reopening of the stadium in 2006.
The move brought to an end the status of grounds such as Villa Park, Hillsborough and Old Trafford as neutral semi-final venues.