Eventually, all roads, well the major ones, lead to London. On Saturday it is a good job they do.
Manchester will empty this weekend as tens of thousands of Mancunians from both sides of the city descend on the capital for a first-ever derby FA Cup final between the old foes, flanked by supporters from all over the country, utilising various modes of transport, but almost all of the four-wheeled kind.
Industrial action by the RMT and Aslef means there are no trains out of Manchester on the day of the final or the day before, with other northern cities operating a skeleton and long sold-out service.
“The club made a big song and dance about subsidising coaches to take us down because of the strike, and then knocked £5 off. Yeah, cheers for that,” Jeff Gavin from Leigh, Greater Manchester tells i.
“So we organised our own minibus. I’m not paying £50 to sit on a coach for six hours after we get battered by City. At least the train would have only been two.”
Between both clubs, 160 official coaches will depart from various locations across Greater Manchester, with departure points separated after intervention from the police.
All transportation has been told which service stations to stop at and where to drop supporters off near Wembley to avoid a repeat of clashes between United and City fans prior to the 2011 FA Cup semi-final.
Supporters going down in the car have also been told where they can and cannot stop, such is the concern from both clubs.
“It has taken so much planning,” Joe Liddell from Cheadle, Greater Manchester, tells i.
“With Istanbul to pay for [for the Champions League final], I didn’t need having to pay for a hotel in London the night before the final. But we didn’t want to risk the roads in the morning of the match. It better be worth it.”
While the coaches will be slow and perhaps not the most comfortable, at least that is an option for Manchester-based supporters. Many fans from other parts of the country who are not part of a supporters’ club – something that is much less common nowadays – have been left with car travel as the only option.
“I am going down with Henry Winter,” Russ Kelly, from Lincoln tells i.
“It is a generous offer from him but I am sure he will get some entertainment out of it. The car is split between City and United fans. The strikes almost ruined it but we found a way.”
The Times’ chief football writer put out a tweet to offer places in his car for people local to him in Stamford, Lincolnshire on the morning of the match, due to the problems so many were having getting there, but he had to quickly turn off his replies as he filled the car in no time and was inundated with requests.
Difficult situations bring the most resourceful to life. Spotting a gap in the market, Will Line sprung into action and advertised the app he helped create, Staxy, that normally provides students at various universities with carpooling options to get from accommodation to campus, to supporters looking to club together for Saturday’s final.
“We asked United supporters at their match in Bournemouth a few weeks ago if they had sorted transport and so many hadn’t and were looking for options,” Lines tells i.
“We then contacted several social media fan accounts from both teams, saying we would offer our app to fans driving down and willing to offer places in their car or pay for a seat in a car, for free. We are football fans too and wanted to help.
“Soon we had 1,200 downloads of the app and fans started getting together to head down. This is something we will look to continue to do in the future. Trains aren’t always reliable even when there is no strike!”
The venue was never going to be changed. Changing the date would not have worked, as the strike would just have been moved to maintain levels of disruption.
Supporters have had no choice. Road travel it is. One way or another, however, those wanting to see their team in the first-ever Manchester derby in a FA Cup final will get there. By any means.