This week saw two announcements from the FA regarding next season’s FA Cup resulting in the good, the bad and the ugly.
The second of these two announcements causes both the good and the bad. The news is that the Extra Preliminary Round will begin on the weekend of the 6th August, a week earlier than last year and a week earlier than normal. I’d like to think that this is a deliberate decision by the FA based upon them listening to those clubs who participate in the Preliminary round of the competition, and for that they should be congratulated.
Traditionally this second group of knock-out matches has taken place on August Bank Holiday weekend. Clubs have complained vociferously year after year that this causes problems should the tie require a replay because it prevents them from hosting a potentially financially lucrative Bank Holiday Monday derby. So this year there will be no FA Cup ties on the Bank Holiday weekend, so that has got to be good.
On the flip side, beginning the FA Cup as early as the 6th August means that for many clubs participating in the Extra Preliminary Round of the competition it will be their first competitive match of the season. For these Step 5 and Step 6 clubs, even the prize money from just one FA Cup win can be a financial boon, and I’m sure they would be more comfortable knowing that they’d had a couple of League games under their belt before participating in such a crucial game. So, starting your season with an FA Cup match might be considered by many to be a bad decision.
And now to the ugly, the first announcement of the two made a day before the second, whereby the FA announced that replays will be dispensed with for Quarter Final ties. The CEO of the FA says that this move will add excitement to the FA Cup whilst respecting the traditions of the competition itself. What he fails to realise is that replays are the tradition of the FA Cup.
Furthermore, it will mean that for every round where a team has ‘away disadvantage’ there will be one round set apart from all the others where the away club will not be able to earn home advantage. This flies in the face of the fabric of the competition. One rule for the majority of rounds and another rule for just one round. That’s not the tradition of the FA Cup.
Let’s face it, we all know why this decision has been made and it has nothing to do with making the competition more exciting. (It’s exciting enough already, thank you very much). It has everything to do with the pressure of the Premier League and the Champions League … and the pressure of ‘money first football nowhere’ thinking.
It’s not as if there has been a lot of Quarter Final replays over the past 10 years, just eleven in that time, so it can’t be do with fixture congestion. It’s actually to do with two things (over above money), that being the freeing up of the need to keep a mid-week night available for a potential replay, and the bizarre contract that the Champions League insists upon that there being no domestic matches aired on TV on a Champions League round of matches evening. The more you analyse the decision, the more ugly it gets.
It’s about time the FA began to defend the FA Cup. It is their jewel in the crown, but they allow it to be treated like dirt by Premier League Chairmen. The FA Cup is a competition worth winning in its own right. It doesn’t need an increase in prize money for the later stages, it doesn’t need entry into the Champions League for the winner, and it definitely doesn’t need to kowtow to the wishes of those that have their own self-interests at heart.
Winning the FA Cup still means something. There’s a prestige and an honour attached. Players would much rather have an FA Cup winner’s medal than experience of the knock-out stages of the Champions League. And the same is true for the fans.
So FA, get a backbone and say ‘no’ to the demands of money-focused clubs when they demand further changes to this illustrious competition before it’s too late. The 150th anniversary of the first ever FA Cup is due in five years. Now is the time for the FA to act to make sure it’s still around to celebrate it.