The Fiver | Duking it out behind the closed doors of the Enormo-Dome that is Wembley | Football

CUP TRAGIC

With four teams who have won the past six FA Cup finals between them ready to duke it out behind the closed doors of the cavernous 90,000-seat Enormo-Dome that is Wembley Stadium in this year’s semi-finals, you could be forgiven for thinking the FA Cup has perhaps lost just a teensy-weensy bit more of its lustre. In previous years, the reluctance of assorted top-flight and Championship sides to take the competition seriously resulted in reduced crowds at Cup ties. With the elimination of Norwich, Sheffield United, Newcastle and Leicester at the weekend, the only thing faintly resembling magic left in this year’s FA Cup is the manner in which all the fans have disappeared.

When the main talking point to emerge from four quarter-finals is the wanton extravagance and callous disregard for the environment demonstrated by Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney, spending 10p on a plastic bag from Tesco in which to carry his Lynx Java shower gel, BO spray and aftershave, you know you’ve been sold several footballing pups. Of course what has gone largely unnoticed in the stampede to praise Tierney for his Sunday league man-of-the-people credentials, is that Tesco “wear” the same kit as Sheffield United’s hated rivals, Wednesday. Tierney was quite clearly engaged in a spot of top-class trolling when he rocked up at Bramall Lane. You mark the Fiver’s words, the next time Arsenal play at Villa Park he’ll be carrying his smellies in the old gold of Wolves and Sainsbury’s.

While the Fiver is prepared to die on the hill that an FA Cup final and semi-finals played behind closed doors are no FA Cup final and semi-finals at all, we’re somewhat perplexed that no apparent effort is being made to at least try to jazz them up … not least because they’ll be contested by the usual suspects, for whom playing at Wembley is not a particularly big deal. While there’s probably some contractual small print the Fiver hasn’t read forbidding such a move, the notion of inviting cash-strapped League One and Two clubs to volunteer to stage the semi-finals, then drawing two out of the FA tombola is not particularly “out there”.

The obvious argument that they would be unable to cater for the tournament’s VAR needs is rendered moot when you consider that plenty of FA Cup matches have already been contested in lower league grounds this season without technology and somehow we’ve coped. Add in the fact that the FA has just announced 124 positions will be made redundant on the back of £300m in Covid-19 related losses, and the needless extravagance of opening Wembley for the three remaining games looks even more ill-advised. The Fiver’s heart goes out to all of those at FA HQ – and indeed anywhere else – who have lost their jobs during this difficult time.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE

Join Rob Smyth for all the hot Monday night, live-on-Amazon-Prime action from Crystal Palace 0-0 Burnley. Plus: a bonus League Two play-off final! Daniel Harris will have all the latest from Exeter 2-2 Northampton (aet, 5-4 pens) at a deserted Wembley.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“If you can’t beat Sandhausen at home, then you don’t deserve to play in the promotion play-off. We can’t put our disappointment into words” – Hamburg’s official English language account pulls no punches after the team lost 5-1 at home to mid-table opposition, ending hopes of a Bundesliga return this season.

Oh, Hamburg!



Oh, Hamburg! Photograph: Focke Strangmann/Getty Images

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Max, Barry and co drop the latest instalment of Football Weekly, with a look back over the highs and, well, highs of Liverpool’s title-winning season. Have a listen over here.

Football Weekly

A deep dive into Liverpool’s title-winning season

FIVER LETTERS

“Without a doubt the highlight of the Preston v Cardiff match this weekend came early in the second half as City prepared to make the game’s first substitutions. It appeared that someone had forgotten to put the batteries in the fourth official’s board, but he decided to go through the usual routine anyway. So viewers were treated to the sight of a blank board being proudly displayed to an empty stadium. Who says the game is no fun any more?” – Steve Matthews.

“Last week, a group of fans in Bangladesh were fined for breaking lockdown … to celebrate Lionel Messi’s birthday by drinking coffee and eating cake. Irresponsible yet wholesome” – Lamia Iftekhar.

“For Fiver readers that like all the fun taken out of football, a bit like watching Newcastle park two buses on Sunday evening only to give the most needless penalty in the history of football and miss a chance to draw level even Ronny Rosenthal would have put away, how about reading a ‘football agnostic’ working for an investment bank ‘ponder the highs and frequent lows of football fandom through the lens of behavioural science and loss aversion’?” – Noble Francis.

“I really think you could have made a joke for the ages if you did the main Friday Fiver story about Burnley beating Watford. And I suppose I could have had a chance of making the Fiver Letters if I had thought to send this email Friday morning instead of Friday evening” – Phil Jones (not that one).

“Re: Friday’s Fiver. Who eats fish and chips off a plate? What else can one do with copies of Big Paper?” – James Armstrong.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … James Armstrong.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Jürgen Klopp has urged Liverpool fans to celebrate “in a safe way” after thousands ignored physical distancing rules to gather in the city centre on Friday night. A number of arrests were made and Merseyside police said £10,000 worth of damage was caused to the Liver Building after a firework landed on a balcony.

Barcelona have confirmed the departure of Brazilian midfielder Arthur to Juventus in a deal that will see Miralem Pjanic go the other way. In other Juve news, grizzled veterans Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini have signed on for another season. The one-year extensions to June 2021 mean that Buffon will keep playing beyond his 43rd birthday.

Brendan Rodgers has said Leicester City will adapt if the recent local coronavirus spike means future home games are moved to a neutral venue. “It is all hypothetical at the moment. We will just keep working until we are told otherwise,” breezed Rodgers.

Decent weekend for England winger Niamh Charles. Sunday: 21st birthday. Monday: joins WSL champions Chelsea after leaving Liverpool. “I can’t wait to get started,” she told the official website.

Niamh Charles: off to Chelsea.



Niamh Charles: off to Chelsea. Photograph: John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Robbie Fowler won’t be returning to his job as flamin’ coach of Brisbane Roar when the flamin’ A-League resumes. “It just seems I am not a priority [for the club],” he humphed earlier this month.

And Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t resist one last Tottenham signing photo op – this time tagging along as his son, Maurizio, signed a new Spurs contract.

STILL WANT MORE?

How much longer will Harry Kane tolerate a career without trophies? Barry Glendenning gazes into his crystal ball.

Completing the Bundesliga season safely was a bigger victory than Bayern’s title win, writes Andy Brassell.

Luis Alberto’s sorcery, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Serie A conspiracy theories all feature in Nicky Bandini’s Italian roundup.

And Swindon fan Liam Walsh shares a deeply personal account of a season devastated by family tragedy, empty seats and rituals forever changed.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!




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