Merseyside police and transport organisations are preparing their biggest sport management operation for many years to put into effect on 14 April. They are drawing up plans to help 70,000 make their way to Aintree for the Grand National, whilst a further 60,000 are heading South to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Everton.
Whilst the lunchtime kick off in the football might ease congestion in the morning, there is every possibility of city centre mayhem in the early evening as returning football fans reach home just as racegoers are leaving Aintree.
Some people might wonder why the Cup game could not take place on the Sunday, with the London derby between Chelsea and Tottenham staged on Saturday. But this was not a possibility, as 15 April sees the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, and Liverpool are never scheduled to play on that date.
So could the match be staged later? An FA spokesman commented: “The Merseyside derby is on a Saturday lunchtime because we weren't able to deliver a safe journey to and from Liverpool with anything other than a 12.30pm kick-off due to railway engineering works. A route back on the Saturday was even more important given the Hillsborough memorial on Sunday which The FA and broadcasters recognised.
Julian Thick, managing director at Aintree does not foresee any problems for the Grand National. He said, “Grand National day sold out a week ago and we’re expecting to welcome 70,300 people through the gates as we did last year. The semi-final doesn’t really impact on us. Merseyrail and Network Rail do a fantastic job on these difficult days and I’m sure they’ll put in place all the necessary procedures to make sure it all goes smoothly. We’ll see how it (the semi-final) fits into the race timetable and make efforts to ensure that people here can see the game.”
Asked about rivalry between football supporters Thick was optimistic that problems would not arise. “It’s not a problem we’ve ever encountered before and I would think it’s a most unlikely scenario. People come here for the race, it’s a family day out and a once in a lifetime experience.”
All true, no doubt, and I hope he is right. But there hasn’t been an Everton v Liverpool game on the same day as the National before.