Explained: No More Replays in the FA Cup

Paul Gerald · Profile
Explained: No More Replays in the FA Cup

Now that the Football Association has done away with replays in the FA Cup, many are wondering why and what it means. We’ll try to explain it here.

The bottom line, as usual, is that it’s all about money and power, both of which go together and flow from television. UEFA and the big clubs in England have more of both than the FA or the smaller clubs in England, and since the Champions League is adding games starting with the 2024-25 season, something in the schedule has to give to make way. And that something is FA Cup replays.

Let’s get into it a bit more.

What Are FA Cup Replays?

For basically the whole history of the FA Cup (explained here), if two teams played to a draw, they would settle the matter by playing another game at the other ground. This meant that a smaller team playing away to a bigger one could, by getting a draw, make the big club come back to their ground — a fun day for them. In fact, they used to have replays up to and including the Final!

And since the money from ticket sales is split between the clubs, FA Cup replays also meant that a smaller club could get a draw at home, then go to the bigger club and — even after usually getting trounced — collect a big paycheck from that game. And that check can do a world of good for smaller clubs.

This is one reason why many people are upset that FA Cup replays are being done away with.

FA Cup before Finals in Wembley

The FA Cup pictured inside Wembley Stadium. (Image: Carlos yo, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Why Are FA Cup Replays Going Away?

The above system was designed many years ago, specifically before the European Cup — now called the Champions League — came into existence. For that matter, it was also before the League (or Carabao) Cup existed, or the Europa League or the Europa Conference League. With all of these new competitions, the number of games has been slowly expanding. At some point, something has to give.

So what gives? Whatever is less important to television. That’s where the money and, therefore, power come from. So the League Cup did away with replays some time ago. And now, with the new Champions League format adding even more games to the 2024-25 schedule, the big clubs who play in Europe were looking for some relief.

Since they care more about TV money than anything else, and since Europe and the Premier League generate all the TV money, it’s the FA Cup that has to give ground. Hence no more FA Cup replays.

Note that this is only for the “proper”rounds of the FA Cup, starting with the First Round, generally played in early November. Before that, in the qualification rounds, FA Cup replays will still be played.

Other Changes to the FA Cup Schedule

In additional to dropping replays, the FA’s statement said that FA Cup games will all be on weekends — lately the Fifth Round has been midweek — and also that FA Cup games (other than the semifinals) won’t compete with Premier League games on television.

The FA Cup Fourth Round — when the Premier League takes the week off anyway — will now be played from Friday through Wednesday “to allow fans to watch multiple games.” But that means weeknight games, which are harder for actual supporters to attend. It’s a change designed, again, to prioritize television.

Also, the Fifth and Sixth (quarterfinal) Rounds won’t compete with Premier League games on television. But if you look into the details here, what they are saying is that for those two rounds, the Cup ties will be played on Saturday — you know, because of “tradition” — but that means fewer FA Cup games on television, and therefore less money for the teams involved.

West Brom fans during an FA Cup game

No More FA Cup Replays: Responses

Football supporters are generally opposed to change, so the reaction to the end of FA Cup replays has been extremely negative. The death of tradition, greed, ignoring supporters, prioritizing bigger clubs: All the usual (and correct, to us) accusations are flying around.

Aside from the tradition of replays, the biggest response has been about the money. A smaller club benefits greatly by earning, via a draw, either a sellout at home or a part of the gate at a big club. Now, at most, they will get one of those.

In response, the Premier League clubs are giving an additional £33 million — for a total of £133 million — to grassroots football. It may sound like a lot, but Chelsea spends that on one or two players each summer.

There is also the hypocrisy of it all. The FA and big clubs say they care about player welfare, but they are also doing away with the Premier League’s winter break — again to make room for more European games — and they are all too happy to fly their players around the world for cash-spinning friendlies in the US or Asia.

The Bottom Line: TV Money Runs Football

What television wants, television gets — because it supplies the money. And television wants more of the big clubs. So those two forces run football as they see fit. And if something like tradition, the finances of smaller clubs, the needs of traveling supporters, or anything else gets in the way, it must yield.

There has been talk for years about doing away with the League Cup entirely, and now there are no more FA Cup replays. Another example in the US is that many MLS clubs are now skipping the Open Cup entirely, or entering reserve teams.

One wonders how much longer these big clubs will bother to even participate in the cups.

 

Written By Paul Gerald
Paul Gerald, Owner and Founder of Groundhopper Soccer Guides · Profile
Paul is a traveler, writer, publisher and soccer freak. He started Groundhopper Soccer Guides as EnglishSoccerGuide.com in 2014. When he's not kicking around England working on this site and his book, you can find him at Providence Park in Portland, cheering on the Portland Timbers.

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