Football

FA Cup Replays Scrapped – The Key Questions Answered

The format change will see all FA Cup fifth-round ties, which have been played in midweek for the last five seasons, revert to weekends while ties in the fourth round, fifth round and quarter-finals will be played exclusively of Premier League ties

Nottingham Forest, FA Cup, Joe Giddens/PA
Nottingham Forest’s penalty shoot-out victory over Bristol City in a fourth-round replay on February 7 was the final replay to be completed in this season’s FA Cup. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA
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FA Cup replays have been abolished as part of a new agreement between the Football Association and the Premier League on the competition’s format and funding. (More Football News)

Here, we look at the issue in closer detail.

What has happened?

The FA has agreed to scrap all replays from the first round proper onwards. Replays had already been phased out from the fifth-round stage but will now be ditched completely. The format change will see all fifth-round ties, which have been played in midweek for the last five seasons, revert to weekends while ties in the fourth round, fifth round and quarter-finals will be played exclusively of Premier League ties.

The FA Cup final will be played on the penultimate weekend of Premier League games, but no top-flight matches will be played on the Saturday of that weekend.

The Premier League will provide up to an extra £33million per season to support the pyramid as a result of the agreement, the FA said.

Why has this happened?

The primary driver has been the pressure placed on the domestic calendar by the expansion of UEFA’s club competitions from next season. The new format for the Champions League, for example, features an extra 64 matches next season compared to the current campaign, and spills into January for the first time, a month which had previously been the reserve of domestic football.

But why scrap replays in the first and second rounds, where Premier League teams aren’t involved?

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FA sources say that decision has been taken for the sake of consistency in the competition, and to help EFL clubs and those lower down the pyramid resolve their own congestion issues. It is understood the EFL Trophy is another candidate for expansion as Premier League clubs look for further playing opportunities for their young stars, although with talks on a new financial settlement between the Premier League and the EFL having stalled, it is not clear when – or even if – that change will come to pass.

FA sources have also challenged the idea that replays are major revenue earners for lower-league clubs. Of the 19 third and fourth-round replays in the last 10 years where an EFL side was away, 12 had an attendance of over 25,000. Only a very small percentage of first and second-round replays over the same period achieved attendances of over 7,000.

What else has happened?

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The mid-season break has been scrapped to allow a mid-August start date for the new Premier League season, which should enable top-flight clubs to ensure all players can get a consecutive three-week break in the summer. The new schedule also allows for the late May Bank Holiday weekend to be ringfenced for the EFL play-offs.

What has the reaction been?

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The Football Supporters’ Association has not yet issued any comment on the move, but its survey from last year showed continued strong support for replays, with 69.5 per cent of respondents believing they are an important part of the FA Cup.

Nicola Palios, the vice-chair of League Two side Tranmere, said the FA and the Premier League had reached an agreement “to suit themselves at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid”, and said the new independent regulator would need the power to stop the Premier League “strangling” the lower leagues.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said the changes would strengthen the FA Cup while his Premier League counterpart Richard Masters said the changes had been agreed “without compromising the excitement of knockout football”.

The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Maheta Molango said the move showed how decisions taken at FIFA and UEFA level had “a knock-on impact which affects clubs, and players, throughout the pyramid”.

“What football needs is a collective approach to a properly thought-out global fixture calendar – not a fight for available dates,” Molango said.

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