Premier League shows arrogance and power again with selfish FA Cup replay sop

Steven Chicken
The FA Cup logo on a shirt sleeve
TOGETHER (when it suits the Premier League)

I am not a romantic about the FA Cup. Even when I was a child, the golden age of the competition was effectively over; I was born slightly too late to remember Wimbledon or Coventry in the 1980s, and the tournament has largely been a bland procession of the big Premier League teams playing their kids to get to the final since the turn of the millennium.

But the nature of the decision to scrap replays from next season still rankles as just the latest exhibition of kowtowing to the whims of the Premier League over all other considerations. 

FA Cup replays are minor inconvenience to Premier League but huge for those lower down

The implication has been that the EFL were not properly consulted over the changes and that they are now considering seeking compensation for the revenue lost from the abolition of replays.

This year alone, Horsham benefited from a replay against Barnsley, the implausibly-named Cray Valley Paper Mills took Charlton to a second game, Aldershot got two hits at Stockport, Alfreton Town played home and away against Walsall. Bristol City forced extra paydays out of two Premier League clubs, West Ham and Nottingham Forest. Had replays been in effect for the fifth round, Blackburn would have got a return trip to Newcastle; instead, the game was settled by a penalty shootout at Ewood Park.

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That additional gate receipt and TV money may be a drop in the ocean for Premier League clubs, but they can represent a significant windfall for those further down the pyramid.

The fag-packet figure of an extra half a million represents a 0.2% revenue increase for West Ham; for Bristol City, a Championship club, it would be more like 3%. For even as large a League Two club as Bradford City, it would be a 6% increase in annual turnover. And that’s to say nothing of any extra TV money they might receive. Multiply that by a few clubs a year, and the hit is not insignificant to clubs at that level.

Those numbers make clear just how insouciant the Premier League could afford to be about the whole thing. It is effectively meaningless to them beyond the inconvenient possibility of having to fit another game into their schedule. A game in which, chances are, they would have just played the kids anyway.

The long-suggested idea that the games should be hosted at the home of the lower-ranking club would not particularly solve the issue: gate receipts are currently split more or less evenly between the two clubs regardless which venue it is played at (there is a bit more nuance about costs being deducted, but that’s the basic principle). That means that in pure fiscal terms, (to once again pluck a team at random) Cheltenham Town would earn more from playing Manchester United at a half-full Old Trafford than they would from playing at Whaddon Road.

Read more: Premier League must stop using FFP excuse to ignore more important issues bubbling below

We say “purely fiscal”, because there’s a more sentimental point at play here. I went to see Huddersfield Town play champions of Europe Manchester City in January, and it was grand day out for everyone despite the Terriers getting predictably pumped 5-0 – certainly an improvement on playing Preston in both cups last season.

If it’s a novelty for a Championship club who were a Premier League club themselves as recently as five years ago, you can only imagine what it would mean to a Burton Albion or a Doncaster Rovers.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Has the Premier League tarnished the romance of the cup? Join the debate.

Handling of FA Cup replay change leaves sour taste

The end of replays was probably inevitable. Premier League clubs got a taste for it during the covid years, and were always likely to push for it to become a permanent fixture.

But just like their ongoing shrug in the face of the EFL repeatedly pleading for a new revenue distribution from the top flight, the way this has come about shows the Premier League clubs’ egregious lack of care or consideration for anybody but themselves.

If they had addressed that issue months ago, as they were supposed to, a more palatable compromise could have been reached, with time afforded for the decision to be offset to the satisfaction of those who breathe less rarefied, climate-controlled air.

But no. Far more important to concentrate on the pressing issue of giving Oscar Bobb and Michael Keane an extra couple of days between games. Pathetic.