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After COVID: What next for FA Cup replays?

Despite an exciting FA Cup fourth round weekend, with upsets and near-upsets, we saw a flaw with the cup’s format this year: no replays.

The pandemic has presented football schedulers with a huge challenge to fit so many games into too small of a season – particularly with the first ever winter World Cup on the horizon.

One of the victims of this squeeze has been the world’s oldest cup competition, with replays in the FA Cup being scrapped to accommodate a condensed footballing calendar.

That change meant that Kidderminster Harriers missed out on a potential lucrative replay at the London Stadium, after they lost out to West Ham United in extra-time on Saturday – the National League North side having held the Hammers to 1-1 after 90 minutes.

Similarly, League One’s Plymouth Argyle would have taken European champions Chelsea back to Home Park for a memorable replay had replays still been in place.

Replays: What do fans think?

Following the weekend’s FA Cup action we asked our followers on Twitter where they stood on replays and the responses were mixed, though broadly in favour of retaining replays.

We’ve regularly canvassed opinion on the state of the FA Cup and its format over the years and the response has been consistent – change its format at your peril.

In 2016, then EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey proposed a radical shakeup of English football to ease fixture congestion and floated the idea of a winter break in English football.

One way of doing so, in Harvey’s “Whole Game Solution” was to sacrifice FA Cup weekends, moving the fourth and fifth rounds to midweek slots, and scrapping replays. We surveyed fans and found that only 30% would welcome the fourth and fifth rounds being midweek exclusively.

Additionally, a large majority of supporters do not want to see the FA’s flagship competition stripped back and want to see traditional replays remain in place (one in five fans wanted a return to the final being replayed, in the event of a draw).

These findings were replicated in our 2017 National Supporters Survey. Only one in four of those surveyed (25.7%) wanted to see the abolition of replays between Premier League sides in the cup; while 56.7% were in favour of retaining them.

FSA stance

The FSA and its predecessors have long sought to protect the heritage and integrity of the FA Cup, which remains the most famous domestic cup competition in the world.

Back in 2004, the membership of the then Football Supporters’ Federation vowed to protect the format of the competition, specifically “any abolition of replays be opposed”.

In a post-pandemic world, we’d want to see the FA Cup restored to its pre-COVID form.

FSA chair Malcolm Clarke said: “There is more to English football than the Premier League – whose clubs increasingly see the FA Cup as an inconvenience – so the FA must resist further pressure to cut back its flagship competition.

“Let’s not forget that FA Cup replays often bring in much-needed revenue to lower-league clubs and many of the competition’s most iconic moments have come from replays.

“We have the world’s most prestigious domestic cup tournament and one of the reasons is its replay structure, unique to Europe’s top cup competitions.”

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