The third round draw for the FA Cup is always a highlight of the footballing calendar.
The festive season has passed and the fortunate few non-league teams to have made it this far get the chance for a once-in-a-lifetime tie against a Manchester United or a Liverpool.
But should those teams be given a helping hand by seeding the FA Cup draw, guaranteeing a glamour tie? Or should the world's oldest cup competition be left untouched?
Our writers Liam Williams and Jaquob Crooke have argued both sides of the debate: should the FA Cup third round draw be seeded?
Let’s face it; the FA Cup has lost some of the magic that once made it special. Yes, we still get giant-killings; yes, we still get non-league v Premier League ties, but until the quarter-finals when Wembley is within touching distance, the FA Cup is beginning to feel a bit like a chore, and a big reason for that is the draws.
There’s excitement around any cup draw, especially the third round draw for the FA Cup and you’ll always get the odd marquee tie.
But that excitement is usually dampened when the big hitters face Championship opposition at home, and the lowest-ranked team get drawn to a League One side who’ll likely have far too much for them.
This would be rectified if you took the previous season’s league standings to create a seeding system for the FA Cup from the third round onwards.
The 20 Premier League clubs from the previous season would play clubs from League One and below from the previous season.
There’s the argument that this would favour the big clubs, but it would favour the small clubs more.
The lowest ranked teams in the FA Cup would be guaranteed the glamour ties against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Think of Manchester United against Burton or Exeter; Liverpool against Havant and Waterlooville, Tottenham against Marine, West Ham against Kidderminster – this is what the FA Cup’s about and these are the ties we want to see, so let’s make them happen.
Since the formation of the Premier League, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea have won 27 of the 31 FA Cups, with the rest being won by Everton (who beat Newcastle, Tottenham and Manchester United), Portsmouth (who beat Manchester United), Wigan (who beat Manchester City) and Leicester (who beat Manchester United and Chelsea).
Frankly, the FA Cup is already something of a closed shop, and at least this way we’d see more interesting ties.
A potential drawback is that most of the Championship clubs would face each other early on, but is that such a bad thing? Of the 64 teams in the third round draw, 24 of them are Championship clubs so some are already bound to face each other.
On top of that, all but seven of last season’s Championship clubs have had recent stints in the Premier League. Looking at the below table (compiled assuming the highest ranked teams win their respective replays), we see that Swansea would play Hull. Are they that desperate for another trip to Old Trafford or Anfield?
|1 – Man City
|17 – Everton
|33 – Norwich
|49 – Bristol Rovers
|2 – Arsenal
|18 – Leicester
|34 – Bristol City
|50 – Stevenage
|3 – Man Utd
|19 – Leeds
|35 – Hull
|51 – Oxford
|4 – Newcastle
|20 – Southampton
|36 – Stoke
|52 – Cambridge
|5 – Liverpool
|21 – Burnley
|37 – Birmingham
|53 – Morecambe
|6 – Brighton
|22 – Sheff Utd
|38 – Huddersfield
|54 – Stockport
|7 – Aston Villa
|23 – Luton
|39 – Rotherham
|55 – Barrow
|8 – Tottenham
|24 – Middlesbrough
|40 – QPR
|56 – Sutton
|9 – Brentford
|25 – Coventry
|41 – Cardiff
|57 – Newport
|10 – Fulham
|26 – Sunderland
|42 – Wigan
|58 – Walsall
|11 – Crystal Palace
|27 – Blackburn
|43 – Plymouth
|59 – Gillingham
|12 – Chelsea
|28 – Millwall
|44 – Ipswich
|60 – Wimbledon
|13 – Wolves
|29 – West Brom
|45 – Sheff Wed
|61 – Wrexham
|14 – West Ham
|30 – Swansea
|46 – Bolton
|62 – Chesterfield
|15 – Bournemouth
|31 – Watford
|47 – Peterborough
|63 – Eastleigh
|16 – Nottingham Forest
|32 – Preston
|48 – Shrewsbury
|64 – Maidstone
Occasionally we get two of the big hitters facing off in the third round which is exciting in itself, and Arsenal v Liverpool will attract plenty of attention, but wouldn’t we rather see them in the semis or the final?
Instead, we had five all-Premier League ties and beyond Manchester City v Chelsea (which finished 4-0), none were exactly attention-grabbing. We’re inundated with Premier League football on our TVs these days; one more fixture added early in January in the third round of the FA Cup isn’t what the competition is about.
To keep some drama, a draw could still be done in each round to decide who the home team was for the tie. Imagine the scenes live from Maidstone, already safe in the knowledge they’d be playing Manchester City, left to find out whether it’d be at the Etihad or the Gallagher Stadium. As it happens, their reward for beating League Two Barrow is a home tie with Stevenage.
Going into this season we’d already know that Manchester City couldn’t face Arsenal or Manchester United until the final; we’d know that, should all the teams win their respective ties, Liverpool would face a quarter-final with Newcastle, a semi-final with Manchester City, and a final with either Arsenal or Manchester United.
Imagine Maidstone, Eastleigh and Chesterfield against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Who says no?
Coventry City in 1987. Wimbledon in 1988. Portsmouth in 2008.
They’re just some of the fairytale winners that the FA Cup has produced in its 152-year history.
The foundations of this illustrious competition are set on these magical stories and with the introduction of seeding, you run the risk of tarnishing the FA Cup’s proud history.
There is no denying the embarrassment of riches among the Premier League’s elite and the monetary lure of Champions League football have had a consequential impact on the FA Cup’s glamour.
It may not hold the same prestige as it did many decades ago and yet for many football supporters, it remains valued.
Seeding would further diminish the competition’s sparkle. The big clubs competing at the top end of the Premier League already have a stranglehold over English football and such a process would only prove beneficial to them.
Would we be able to witness the first Tyne-Wear derby in seven years during the FA Cup third round with seeding? The answer is no.
Glance at the draw and there’s four all-Premier League ties. Arsenal taking on Liverpool is a clash that entices any neutral but the fixtures mean there are at least four Premier League clubs that will exit the competition in the third round, increasing the possibility of a lower league outfit enjoying a marvellous cup run.
There’s no denying that we all want to see a non-league side take on one of the Premier League’s elite.
Maidstone United, of the National League South, would potentially host Manchester City instead of Stevenage with seeding. That’s a tie that we’d all want to tune-in for and yet, while it ensures a non-league team will have their moment in the spotlight if they’re to reach the third round, the likelihood is that they’d be trounced.
And eventually we will get bored of it. Every year we will the same Premier League sides encountering a National League minnow, the same pattern of result will follow and whatever magic we have left in the FA Cup will evaporate.
Before you know it, Premier League clubs will be receiving a bye from the third round.
On the rare occasion we may witness a giant-killing but we witness a giant-killing every year with the current format. If you’re associated with a non-league club - whether it be player, fan, management or owner - the benefits of a cup run far outweigh that of a guaranteed encounter with a Premier League team.
Lincoln City supporters will always cherish their 2016/17 FA Cup run. Defeating Ipswich Town and Brighton, who were of the Championship at the time, the Imps then produced the miraculous by beating Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor in the fifth round. Danny and Nick Cowley’s men were then drawn a dream FA Cup quarter-final against Arsenal, a reward they merited for an incredible journey.
It’s a run that is etched into Lincoln’s history and we’ve witnessed plenty more in recent years. Boreham Wood reaching the fifth round in 2021/22 and Sutton United achieving the same feat five years prior whilst in the National League. You have the Crawley Town side of 2010/11, who defeated Derby County and Torquay United before earning a fifth round tie at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Every one of those adventures has benefited their respective local communities and changed people’s lives.
These stories would never materialise with seeding.
Yes, the FA Cup draw can be something of a damp squib for some clubs but the unpredictability is why it’s revered worldwide. The luck of the draw is part and parcel of the competition.
If you’re a fan of a club that’s finished in the bottom-half of the Championship for the last seven seasons like myself, then the last thing you want is to be facing another Championship regular in the third round every single year.
The FA Cup has stood the test of time because it remains such a romantic and intriguing competition. Don’t degrade it further by making such a drastic change that will only strengthen the hold of the Premier League’s elite.