Dismantling the Pyramid – FA Cup Replays

FA Cup replays have been scrapped for the upcoming 2020/21 season.

The Football Association say this is ‘to assist in easing pressure on the football schedule’. The rrule change also includes the reduction of League Cup semi-finals to single legged affairs.

The new season has been compressed due to the halting of play in 2019/20, at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is understandable to certain extent that having fewer fixtures is a practical and sensible move from the FA, with less time to finish the season. However, it seems unlikely replays for FA Cup games will be reinstated when the football calendar returns to normality.

FA Cup replays faced a great deal of criticism last season, particularly from Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp. The complaints surrounding them usually related to fixture congestion and the fatigue suffered by the Premier League’s world-class professional athletes.

FA Cup replays are, and always have been a huge part of what makes the competition the best domestic tournament in the world.

The FA Cup is special and the disrespect it is increasingly being shown by the clubs at the top of the game undermines the fantastically unique footballing pyramid we have always had in this country.

It is an elitist attitude that is, sadly, becoming more and more commonplace in our game.

Showing the oldest domestic club competition in the world contempt by openly admitting you as a manager do not care about a fourth round replay away at Shrewsbury, as Klopp did last season, is not good for the game of football.

No amount of bad press will be enough to fight this, either.

Regardless of the selfish attitude shown by the big clubs, Klopp and co. have got their wish. All they wanted was to be free to concentrate on the more lucrative competitions, for themselves and their business partners, at the expense of the integrity of the FA Cup. A competition that does wonders to preserve the English football pyramid’s delicate ecosystem.

Five out of the twelve fourth round ties in the 2019/20 season went to replays. Four of which involved teams earning themselves a second profitable match against higher league opposition.

The Premier League clubs have already won their battle for a winter break, due to fixture congestion and player fatigue. Now, they have won the battle to scrap replays.

Relatively speaking, smaller clubs making a bit of extra money from gate receipts and television coverage in order to survive and prosper in increasingly uncertain financial times, is surely more important than the highest paid players suffering a bit of tiredness for their European cup games.

As well as a lifeline, or a driving force for a future promotion, the FA Cup can be the source of unforgettable memories. Its importance to non-league and lower league clubs (and their fans) is immeasurable.

Scrapping replays amputates a large portion of its potential impact to these clubs, and therefore football in general.

Take Lincoln City for example, their FA Cup run in 2016/17 as a non-league club set the ball rolling for them to, just three years later, become a stable League One side. During their run from Guiseley in the fourth qualifying round to the Emirates and Arsenal in the quarter-final, the Imps faced two replayed games, firstly against Guiseley, and then against Ipswich Town in the third round. Had either of these games been decided on the night via extra time or penalties, we might not have got to experience such a magnificent cup run. One that funded Lincoln’s return to the football league that same season, and their eventual promotion to League One, where they remain going into 2020/21.

Even despite the financial benefits, the FA Cup, including replays, is a phenomenal spectacle, and its integrity should not be questioned.

Fifth round replays were already done away with from last season. Replays have been subject to a phasing out for some time now, with semi-final replays abandoned in 1999. While replays in the deeper rounds in the tournament do not necessarily benefit anyone, those in the attainable rounds for lower ranked teams are part of the make up of the FA Cup and should remain in order to keep what remains of the ‘magic’ of the cup.

Another argument the top clubs have been using as ammunition against cup replays, is that no domestic cup competitions in Europe have replays.

This misses the point completely, however, as the football league systems in place in other countries are in no way comparable to the pyramid in England so their cup competitions cannot possibly reflect our own.

The FA Cup has been competed for since 1871, and with over 700 teams participating every year now, it is world’s ahead of Europe’s domestic cups as the greatest competition in the world, and it should be preserved at all costs.

To mess with the DNA of the FA Cup by taking away replays is a crime against English football and its long and proud history.

 

About the author

I am a Tranmere Rovers season ticket holder, and lover of all things lower league. My favourite thing about football is visiting other clubs grounds for the first time.

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