Football Future in Jeopardy

This week could well be looked back upon as the week that changed football in this country forever.

The implications of a decision taken by one club to field their U23 side in the FA Cup and the inaction of the football administrators to do anything about it could be cataclysmic for football in England.

Dangerous precedents have been set that will have a serious knock-on effect to the way competitions are treated by clubs in the future and to the way the game is administered.

Actually, the issue with the team selection by Liverpool for their FA Cup 4th Round replay was not that they chose to play their under 23s, but because they chose not to field any of their regular first team players.

By the football administrators allowing one club to field a side that excluded all of those players that regularly appear in the first team in one competition, gives that club an advantage over their opponents in other competitions.

It is not the job of the FA, or any football administrator, to allow one club to forego the rules of their competitions for the benefit of that club at the potential detriment to others.

The FA Cup rule 15 (a) clearly states that ‘Each team participating in a (FA Cup) match shall represent the full available strength of each competing Club’.

The fact that the Premier League had sanctioned a winter break did not mean that the regular first team players were unavailable. Any club not playing them was breaking the rules.

The argument put forward against this is that the FA jointly sanctioned the winter break, which they did. However, it was also agreed by all Premier League clubs at the time of agreeing the winter break that the FA Cup 4th Round replays would occur on a date that coincided with it.

All clubs bought into that.

Under normal circumstances the FA would discipline a club that fielded ineligible players or deliberately fielded an understrength team, and the outcome of that discipline would normally result in the offending club being disqualified from the FA Cup. This seems unlikely to happen to Liverpool.

The extremely serious question to ask is why have the FA not taken that course of action this time?

The answer to the question is straightforward, although the implications and consequences of the answer are vast and game-changing.

The reason the FA have not brought sanctions against Liverpool is the fear of the repercussions and ramifications for not only the future of the FA Cup, but for the administrative future of football in this country.

Let’s follow the possible chain of events of the FA expelling Liverpool from the FA Cup and re-instating Shrewsbury Town.

First, there would be a fierce battle as to the legality of the decision. The Premier League and its member clubs have far more power than the FA, and a bitter, acrimonious affair would likely lead them to threaten a breakaway organisation if the FA did not retract their decision.

The FA would fight it, claiming that legally clubs cannot play football matches if not sanctioned by them, but the might of the Premier League and their moneymen could potentially change that situation, and it would eventually lead to either the FA backing down on their decision or to the dismantling of football administration in this country as we know it.

And so the FA would back down, and a Premier League club would be allowed to break the rules without fear of punishment, setting a precedent that would undermine the FA forever more, ultimately destroying them and the competitions that they run, including the FA Cup.

If the FA do not take action then the FA Cup is forever tainted anyway. Top clubs will see it as an opportunity to blood their youngsters whilst the lower level clubs will continue to make it out to be a significant competition worthy of trying to do well in.

But the consequences of top clubs treating the FA Cup with contempt by playing B Teams will eventually lead to reductions in financial investments from sponsors and TV companies for it, and consequently affecting financial rewards for participating clubs, which would hit the lower level clubs the hardest.

Not only would it mean that the FA Cup’s days were numbered, a competition that connects football past to today and the only competition which links the top clubs with grassroots teams, it would also mean that many hundreds of clubs up and down the country would likely disappear.

Clubs with long, cherished histories that represent the communities in which they are located, that provide an alternative to the money chasing elite version of the game, would be no more, as a significant proportion of their potential earnings is diminished.

And all because one club decided that taking a two week break was far more important than playing first team players on an agreed FA Cup replay date and then taking a ten day break.

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The FA Cup Factfile is THE most comprehensive resource for FA Cup facts & stats. Spanning almost 150 years of FA Cup history, covering over 3,200 clubs playing more than 71,500 FA Cup matches, the FA Cup Factfile contains facts and stats for Arlesey Town to Arsenal, from Liversedge to Liverpool, and from Mangotsfield United to Manchester United. Visit my website for more details on how you can access my vast FA Cup database

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