First it was Exeter City. Getting a replay at Anfield is ‘worth’ more than winning the tie. Then it was Wycombe Wanderer’s turn. A replay at bottom of the Premiership Aston Villa is a fantastic reward for the club. Even Eastleigh, after all the dust has settled, will be relishing the financial benefit of a replay at struggling Championship side Bolton Wanderers, despite the fact they were minutes away from FA Cup glory and a place in the Fourth Round. At least Oxford United appeared to want to put progressing in the competition ahead of immediate financial reward.
So is this what we have come to? Where the financial reward of getting a replay at a top flight club is ‘worth’ more than the glory of an amazing FA Cup victory over a top quality side (or their reserves at least). If that truly is the case then why bother playing those ties which pit lower league sides at home to Premier League clubs? Why not just switch the fixture so that it is played at the Premier League ground and have done with it? The lower league club will still get the money without having to go through the pretence of trying to win the tie.
I’ll tell you why not, and why winning the FA Cup tie is worth more. Money comes and money goes, but FA Cup glory is eternal. Yes, maybe Exeter City were saved from oblivion thanks to their Cup tie at Manchester United back in 2005 (not a replay I know but the principle is the same), but who outside of Exeter will remember that in the future. Many clubs in the same position have survived without the injection of thousands of pounds, admittedly in some cases in a slightly different guise. However, if Dean Moxey had put away that late first half chance to win the match at Old Trafford he and Exeter would be remembered forever, not just in Exeter but worldwide, as the media would play the goal over and over again every time Man United (or Exeter) were involved in an FA Cup match (a la Jermaine Beckford) or whenever a giant killing might be on the cards (a la the ubiquitous Ronnie Radford).
Ask any player outside the top flight or any fan of a lower league club (and many fans of teams in the Premier League itself) whether they would rather win the FA Cup or play in the Champions League group stages and it’s not hard to guess what the majority would prefer. It’s definitely my experience when asking exactly that question throughout the years I’ve been attending football matches, that the FA Cup trumps all other competitions almost every time. The FA Cup makes long term memories, even if for most clubs it doesn’t make them a lot of money.
But it’s the clubs that benefit from the financial rewards of replays at top flight clubs or qualification to the Champions League, and it’s their board members that make the decision about what ‘success’ looks like, often riding slipshod over the desires of players and fans alike in the pursuit of maximising revenues. Ironically it’s exactly the sort of thing like a third round win over a top flight team that raises the profile of the club, putting them into the Fourth Round of the competition where there is a bigger reward, where there is an increased likelihood of being drawn at a top flight club, where there is an opportunity to be the scheduled TV match, and where there is a massive amount of income generating publicity opportunities. All of which collectively has the potential of generating more revenues than a one-off jackpot tie, and leaves a much sweeter taste in the mouth to boot.