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The Debate
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The Debate: Should FA Cup replays be scrapped?

The FA Cup reaches the fifth round, where all ties will be settled on the night with replays no longer in place.

Over the course of its history, the FA Cup has got rid of replays for multiple stages with finals and semi-finals the first to go in 2000.

For a younger generation of fans, the idea of going to Wembley for an FA Cup final, only for the game to be a draw and to have to traipse back down to London five days later for a replay on a Thursday evening seems inconceivable.

Replays for the sixth round went for the 2016/17 season, with the fifth round going in 2019/20.

It seems a matter of time before replays go for the earlier rounds, too. But would it be a good idea?

Liam Williams and Darren Durber of bet365's News team argue both sides of the coin.


Replays are a hindrance to most clubs nowadays, and actually harm the FA Cup's reputation

For a replay to be worthwhile, you need one of the really small clubs left in the third round of the FA Cup to be drawn against one of the big hitters, and even then they need to get a result in order to secure that replay.

The argument is always that getting rid of replays denies the small clubs the chance to financially benefit from the bumper payday, but those replays are exceedingly rare. Indeed, the last time a team from the fourth tier of English football earned a replay against Premier League opposition was back in 2017, when Plymouth held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield, before a bumper crowd of 17,048 turned up to Home Park to see Liverpool’s second string run out 1-0 winners.

This year, only eight League One clubs even made it to the third round, only three of them faced Premier League clubs and just one earned a replay (Blackpool, when a reduced crowd of 8,045 - their lowest of the season - saw their side lose 3-2 to Nottingham Forest).

The rest of this season’s third round replays weren’t exactly the most inspiring bunch, either:

Wolves v Brentford
Everton v Crystal Palace
Bristol Rovers v Norwich
Eastleigh v Newport
Birmingham v Hull
Bolton v Luton
Bristol City v West Ham

Abolishing replays would likely mean that the big teams would take those fixtures more seriously and field better sides, reducing the chance of an upset, but is that such a bad thing? If you’re a fan of one of those smaller clubs, isn’t the glamour getting to see a Mohamed Salah or Kevin De Bruyne playing against your club as opposed to Liverpool or Manchester City’s academy kids?

If you got rid of replays, you could potentially get rid of extra-time, too, and go straight to penalties after 90 minutes, which increases the chances of upsets. In 2021, after Manchester City had won the EFL Cup for four straight years, they were held 0-0 after 90 minutes by West Ham and were dumped out on penalties; had there been another 30 minutes played, City would’ve been favourites to progress.

Think back to 2022, when West Ham went to Kidderminster and needed a 91st-minute equaliser from Declan Rice just to stay in the competition. Although it took until the last minute of extra time for the Hammers to find a winner, few people at Aggborough would’ve expected the hosts to progress when that equaliser went in.

Putting the Premier League clubs aside for a moment – absolutely none of whom needed a replay this year – were the other clubs involved jumping for joy when securing a draw? Bristol City and Blackpool got to host Premier League opposition, but neither were exactly glamour ties.

One of the FA Cup’s biggest issues is that it seems to have lost some of its magic, and is almost seen as something as a hindrance to many clubs, and not just the big clubs. The vast majority of ties saw reduced attendances with the exception of select glamour ties including Sunderland v Newcastle and Wigan v Manchester United. 19,530 people saw Birmingham’s 2-0 defeat to Hull at St Andrews in October, compared to just 7,133 for their replay against the same team in January.

People always push against change, but now that replays are gone in the latter stages, could you imagine if someone suggested reintroducing them for finals? Similarly, there are no calls for replays for semi-finals, and if all replays were abolished, there’d be no calls to reintroduce them in a few years’ time.

There are extremely rare cases in which replays would be worthwhile, but it’s beginning to feel like tradition is the only reason to persist with them, especially considering the fact they’ve already been abolished from the fifth round onwards.

It all goes to breed disillusionment in the world’s oldest football competition, a competition that deserves better.

Replays for lower league clubs are invaluable – they can’t afford to lose them

FA Cup replays might be an unwanted additional game for bigger clubs with busy schedules, but that’s ultimately part and parcel of the competition.

In recent years we’ve seen replays condensed to third and fourth round matches of the FA Cup, however, it’s anticipated that replays may well be scrapped altogether, with the FA wanting to prioritise a winter break in the midst of an extended Champions League schedule.

That doesn’t sit well if you’re associated to a club that’s lower down the football pyramid. Manchester City’s fixture build up is of little to no consequence for the likes of Forest Green Rovers.

The financial benefits of a replay to a lower league club are beyond enormous; they can be utterly pivotal to the future of a club that has over a century of history behind them.

It could be considered arrogance to suggest the fitness of a Premier League squad is more important than the financial security of a club possibly over one hundred years older than the Premier League itself.

Jurgen Klopp famously decided to not attend his side's replay at home to Shrewsbury Town in 2020, after his side squandered a two-goal lead over their League One opponents.

Incensed at the FA’s match scheduling, (but certainly not his team’s inability to see out a match against a club two divisions below them), the Liverpool manager named a team full of youngsters and handed the reigns to his under-23s manager in the replay.

8,000 Shrewsbury fans made the 70-mile trip for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of Anfield away in the FA Cup; Klopp decided against attending.

In the eyes of the Reds hierarchy and perhaps fans of other top-tier clubs, the German was making a stand against fixture congestion; in the eyes of the majority of other football fans across the country the move smacked of arrogance and elitism.

Liverpool’s decision reportedly cost Shrewsbury £350,000 - £400,000 in admissions due to the star names giving the match a miss. A life-changing amount of money for a third-tier club, money that was lost due to the Salop having the nerve to infringe on Liverpool’s busy Premier League and Champions League schedule.

A tie at a Premier League ground is a huge money-spinner. Winners of third round ties in 2024 received a handsome £105,000 in prize money, which for most League Two clubs covers a month’s wage for the entire playing squad.

Add in gate receipts and TV revenue, which guarantees £85,000 in cash for every live game broadcast on the BBC and ITV at that stage, it’s a lucrative fixture should a lower league club make it that far, a life saver, a fortune decider. Chuck a replay into the mix and the cash injection could set a club up for years.

At the time of writing, Rochdale & Torquay United are clubs under huge financial pressure, with a combined history of 242 years between them both clubs are steeped in history and important pillars of their local community.

One money-spinning FA Cup replay could potentially secure the future of both clubs; it would be an average Saturday for the likes of Liverpool and co.

But it is not only the financial aspect of a cup replay that is special for fans of lower league clubs, an away day at a Premier League ground is something the majority of fans can only dream of.

Writing as a fan of a club that drew Manchester United away in a FA Cup replay, the atmosphere was special, fever-pitch, it seemed like everyone in the town attended and it was talked about amongst the fans for years afterwards, a truly memorable day.

Yes, replays against minnows may not be enticing for those who enjoy the absurd riches of the Premier League and Champions League. Fans of the ‘Big Six’ might not fancy hosting Barrow at home when PSG are visiting the week after, but unfortunately for those clubs the English football pyramid extends beyond the 20 top-tier sides and their priorities.

If the top sides are so desperate to avoid a two-legged tie against teams they consider below them, then perhaps they should be beating the minnows in the first leg and earning the break, just as the minnows earn the replays themselves.

FA Cup replays are historic, pivotal and far-reaching. If the top sides can’t find the space to accommodate them, maybe they should cancel their Dubai warm weather training camps or give the Club World Cup a miss.

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