Null and Voided

On 26th March, 2020, the FA issued a letter to all Step 3 and below Leagues stating that due to the Covid-19 virus their competitions for the 2019-20 season were to be declared null and void, and that no relegation or promotion would take place.

Naturally, this decision has had a mixed reception, especially by those who have been impacted negatively or positively versus how their campaign had been progressing.

There is consensus that a decision in these exceptional times had to be taken, but there is a vast difference of opinion as to whether it was the right decision, or even if it has been made at the right time.

It feels extremely heartless to be concerned about non-league football when many, many people are going to experience severe personal loss over the coming months, and thousands more will be seriously impacted financially for months and potentially years to come.

But this is not really a concern about non-league football per se. It is actually a concern about what life will be like beyond this coronavirus outbreak, positioned in the context of the world of non-league football. A world that brings pleasure, distraction, income and passion to hundreds and thousands of people up and down the country every week.

After these unprecedented times of self-isolation and social distancing, what people are likely to want after the coronavirus crisis is over is a semblance of normality and fairness, especially with regards to their lives and livelihoods.

In non-league football that normality and fairness means clubs playing meaningful games against other clubs that they deserve to be playing against.

I personally believe the FA has acted too hastily in making any kind of decision at all for Step 3 to Step 6 leagues. At this time there is no clarity as to when the 2020-21 season will start, and coupled with all the unknown factors about this new virus, there is every chance next season could be disrupted in a similar way.

The FA should have waited until there was more clarity on when football might re-start at all levels, and applied the same decision throughout.

Given how advanced the season has progressed the FA’s priority really ought to be to see the 2019-20 season come to a conclusion in whatever way possible, and worry about how next season will work instead.

Even if completing this season means it continues into the autumn or even carries on into the next calendar year!

What definitely cannot happen is that the Leagues above Step 3 are allowed to continue to a conclusion in direct contrast to what has been decided for these lower level leagues.

Finishing this season completely, instead of null and voiding it, would mean promotion and relegation places could be fairly determined, and clubs who had already mathematically achieved next season’s league status would not have that taken away from them.

I recognise there are player contracts, sponsorship deals, ground agreements etc. etc. that would ordinarily be renewed or completed by May this year, but special short-term rules could be put in place to manage all that.

I also recognise that the FA had planned to install the final stages of its non-league pyramid re-structure in time for the start of the 2020-21 season (I’m sure that played a part in the timing of their decision), but they have also stated that those changes will be delayed until the 2021-22 season.

So yes, extending the season could mean that the 2019-20 season may not even be over until 2021, but what it would also do is provide time for the FA and Leagues to work out how best to manage an abridged 2020-21 season in a fair way.

A 2020-21 season with clubs in the Leagues where they rightfully ought to be.

For He’s A Jolly Bad Fellowes

My review of ‘The English Game’, the Netflix series written by Julian Fellowes.

Imagine a dramatisation of the 1998-99 English football season where the treble was won by a generic team called Manchester and Shaun Goater was depicted as the person who made it all happen?

Well, that’s the approach of The English Game, but set in the 19th Century where a generic team called Blackburn lift the FA Cup thanks to a player who in real life played for a different Blackburn team than the one that really defeated Old Etonians in the Final.

The premise of ‘The English Game’ is the struggle between the southern gentlemen amateur founding fathers of modern day football (wanting to maintain control and ownership of their game), and the emerging northern mill town, working class, populist version of the game, based on pass and move and professionalism.

It is purportedly a ‘based on fact’ story focusing on two real life key protagonists, Old Etonian Lord Arthur Kinnaird and Scottish working class footballer Fergus Suter. Their relationship is intertwined with the development of football in England as it transformed from the dribble and rush amateur game through to the pass and move professional game, focusing on their clashes in and around the FA Cup.

I’m not a TV critic, but the six episodes were an entertaining watch from a Goggle-box-like participant point of view. I enjoyed it.

Yes, the characters were clichéd but they were also well rounded, and even the non-football storylines were interesting and well woven into the development of the characters and the plot.

And the enthusiasm and love for the FA Cup was fantastic. As an advert for the positive impact of the FA Cup it was perfectly presented and very welcome. One couldn’t help but love the competition by the end of the six episodes. The obvious problem with the series was the fact that the facts it contained were hokum.

I’ve no idea about whether the lives of the main characters were truly reflected, but the show played fast and loose with FA Cup facts.

Now I’m fully aware this was not an official history of the FA Cup and that it was first and foremost a drama, but I really could not understand why they decided to make-up games and events that they did.

The fabricated ‘Final’, with a generic Blackburn team and with Suter playing and scoring for the northern side (he didn’t it that final) and Kinnaird scoring for the Old Etonians (he only did that for The Wanderers), was created to complete the story arc. I guess I can forgive Fellowes for doing that, although to wipe the name Blackburn Olympic and their historic achievement from the FA Cup records is inexcusable.

However, other events were either unnecessarily wrong, or criminally underplayed.

Take the opening sequence regarding the Old Etonians versus Darwen FA Cup matches, recognised now as the turning point of the transition of the game. The coverage didn’t truly reflect its true impact on the people of Darwen because it missed out one of the three games, the critical second one that ended two apiece, the game that really raised the profile and interest in the town’s football team.

That two-two draw showed that the late comeback in the original encounter wasn’t just a one-off fluke. It showed that the northern club could go toe-to-toe with the establishment and that change was coming. And as all three games took place in Kennington Oval in London, the financial strain for the Darwen team to take part in all three games was immense.

It was that seemingly unfair need to travel down to London for the third time that generated financial support from the townsfolk of Darwen.

Other inaccuracies were also deliberately put in place to help the story move along as Fellowes wanted it to, but some other ones he put in seem weird and unnecessary.

For example, the First Round FA Cup match between Darwen and Brigg occurred two seasons after the Old Etonians versus Darwen trio of games and two seasons before the one that ended with Blackburn (Olympic) defeating Old Etonians in the Final.

The drama suggested the Brigg game and the Final both took place in the season after the Old Etonians versus Darwen games.

Bizarrely, the writer then created FA Cup matches that never even happened, and which seemed to have absolutely no bearing on the plot, which beggars the question as to why they were included. Old Etonians never played Darlington in the FA Cup, nor did Darwen ever play Derby St Luke’s. It’s unfathomable as to how and why these were written in.

But my real issue lays with the fact that the whole premise of the series was around the illegal payment of players and how that would cause a club to be expelled from the competition, whilst at the same time making a critical part of the story arc that Suter and another Darwen player switched to play for ‘Blackburn’ in the FA Cup in the same season that they played for Darwen.

It has always been a rule of the FA Cup that players can only represent one club in the FA Cup in the same season. If a club was found to have fielded an ineligible player the club would at best be requested to re-play their match, or at worst be expelled.

My worry is that many people will watch the show and accept it all as fact, especially as it closes with some facts (that also aren’t completely true), making the output of FA Cup statisticians such as me, more difficult to attain credibility.

How long, therefore, before the FA Cup entry in Wikipedia is updated with ‘The English Game’ cited as the source for the information?

2019-20 FA Cup 5th Rd Review

Stats of the Round

For just the fifth time in FA Cup history all eight Quarter Finalists are top-flight clubs.

Norwich City become the first club in FA Cup history to win their 5th Rd tie on penalties in the first match of the tie.

Manchester United have equalled the record number of Quarter Final appearances, joining Everton on 45, whilst Arsenal have reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals for the 44th time

Chelsea have reached the FA Cup Quarter Finals for the 13th time this Century.

The eight Quarter Finalists now have more Quarter Final appearances as a collective (231) than any other eight teams to make the round in any other season.

 

First time in Quarter Finals in a while

28 years – Norwich City

14 years – Newcastle United

6 years – Sheffield United

 

Into Quarter Finals and a while since last KO before QF

6 years – Manchester United

 

Biggest Wins of the 5th Round

Derby County 0-3 Manchester United

Portsmouth 0-2 Arsenal

Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool

FA Cup 2019-20 5th Rd Preview

By rights this preview should have been produced in the week leading up to 15th February, 2020, but because the FA bent over backwards to the Premier League clubs’ demands for a winter break and the removal of 5th Round replays, it is being produced on a Sunday ahead of mid-week matches.

Mid-week matches for the FA Cup? It’s sacrilege! It’s not that long ago when League matches had to be cancelled to accommodate FA Cup games (this year’s 4th Round). How has the FA allowed its flagship competition to be so easily mal-treated?

Seven hundred and twenty clubs have already fallen by the wayside in this season’s competition, leaving a final 16 clubs to battle it out to be crowned FA Cup winners. Making up their numbers are 10 Premier League clubs, five Championship sides and Portsmouth from EFL Division One.

11 Rd 5 2019-20 Club Badges FACupFactfile Logo-page-001

Portsmouth are involved in the first match of the Round as they take on Arsenal at Fratton Park on Monday night. Portsmouth are yet to get the better of Arsenal in four previous encounters in the FA Cup and it is 10 years since Pompey last appeared in the 5th Round, whilst Arsenal have done so seven times in that period.

All the stats, and the two clubs current League status, suggest this should be a straightforward win for the Gunners. But Portsmouth have won 13 out of their last fifteen competitive fixtures, and with home advantage, maybe a Cupset is on the cards.

8 Portsmouth v Arsenal

Tuesday night sees three more FA Cup 5th Round ties. Championship side Reading host the surprise package of the Premier League, Sheffield United, at the Madejski Stadium. The last time the two sides met in the FA Cup seven years ago, the Royals romped to a 4-0 victory.

Only Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United have appeared in more FA Cup Quarter Finals over the last 10 years than Reading have done so suggesting this will be a very tricky tie for the Blades.

The only other time the two clubs met in the FA Cup was also a 5th Round tie at Bramall Lane, that Sheffield United won courtesy of a solitary Lee Sandford Goal in 1998. The Blades also have recent FA Cup pedigree being as they are the last third tier club to reach the FA Cup Semi-Finals just six years ago.

2 Reading v Sheffield United

Chelsea take on runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool in what is the joint most common FA Cup meeting of this 5th Round. The clubs have been drawn together 10 times before in the competition with Chelsea ahead by six wins to four and the two sides are yet to play out a draw in the competition.

Chelsea have the best FA Cup record of all clubs over the last 10 seasons, lifting the Trophy three times during that period including a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the 2012 Final. That season was one of only two that the Reds have progressed beyond the 5th Round in the last 10 years.

The FA Cup stats suggest Chelsea should be victorious but with 34 points between them and Liverpool in the League table, this current season performances suggests the Reds should win.

3 Chelsea v Liverpool

Championship leaders West Bromwich Albion take on Newcastle United currently struggling to score goals in the Premier League.

This is the fifth time the two clubs have been paired together in the FA Cup and every time so far the games have been played at The Hawthorns. Unsurprisingly, then, West Brom are three wins to one ahead in previous FA Cup meetings.

Take all that together, along with the fact that Newcastle have an awful recent FA Cup record with this being the club’s first 5th Round appearance in 14 years, and all signs point to a Baggies win. Would it even be regarded as a Cupset if they did?

However, under Steve Bruce, Newcastle seem to have a different view on how serious to take the FA Cup, and so this tie is far away from being a foregone conclusion.

4 West Bromwich Albion v Newcastle United

Wednesday night sees three more FA Cup 5th Round ties, including the only one to involve two teams where neither has yet lifted the famous Trophy.

Premier League side Leicester City host Birmingham City from the Championship in what looks on paper to be a home banker.

The Foxes’ manager, Brendan Rogers, has a terrific record in knock-out competitions in recent years, and in 10 previous FA Cup meetings between the two sides Birmingham City have only been victorious once …. and that was when the clubs were still respectively known as Leicester Fosse and Small Heath way back in the nineteenth century!

However, Leicester are hitting a poor run of form at exactly the wrong moment and Birmingham City could take advantage of this to cause a Cupset to reach the Quarter Finals for the first time in nine years.

5 Leicester City v Birmingham City

Championship side Sheffield Wednesday host Premier League club and current FA Cup holders Manchester City in the knowledge that in six previous FA Cup encounters the best The Owls have achieved is two draws.

Current form for Wednesday, coupled with Manchester City’s strength and desire to retain the Trophy, would suggest that this is a foregone conclusion. But Manchester City have been fallible in the past against lower league oppositions, although to be fair that has usually been against Wigan Athletic.

Manchester City are looking to become back-to-back FA Cup winners for the first time, but this is the first time the club has even gone as far as the 5th Round whilst defending their title.

1 Sheffield Wednesday v Manchester City

Tottenham Hotspur host fellow Premier League side Norwich City which, based on league positions, on paper looks like a straightforward home victory.

However, Spurs’ record against the Canaries in the FA Cup is not good, achieving just one win and losing three times in their previous six encounters. However, the respective clubs recent FA Cup records also point to a Spurs victory, with Norwich not having gone beyond the 5th Round since the 1991-92 season.

7 Tottenham Hotspur v Norwich City

The last scheduled FA Cup 5th Round tie pits Championship side Derby County against Premier League club Manchester United, the fourth time they have been paired together in the competition over the last 12 years.

Manchester United triumphed in those four meetings, as they did in the previous four. In fact Derby have only ever been victorious against the Red Devils in the competition back in the nineteenth century when their opponents were still going by the name of Newton Heath.

All FA Cup stats suggest this year’s encounter will be a similar outcome to the last eight meetings, as Manchester United have progressed beyond the 5th Round in each of the last five seasons, whilst the Rams have failed to do so this century.

6 Derby County v Manchester United

All 5th Round ties this season have to be decided on the night. With a bit of luck a repeat of last season will happen, where none of the eight ties required neither penalties nor even extra time to resolve them.

 

A Brief History of FA Cup Replays

Do you know what happened the first time two clubs played out a draw in the FA Cup?

Well, it was a long time before the concept of penalties to resolve a tie, and the idea of a replay hadn’t been considered.

When the original Hitchin FC and the original club called Crystal Palace drew a blank in their 1st Round tie on the inaugural day in FA Cup history on 11 November 1871, the decision makers at the FA concluded that both clubs should progress to the 2nd Round.

Yes, that’s right, a draw was as good as a victory for getting through to the next round!

However, in the 2nd Round, Barnes and Hampstead Heathens played out a one-one draw, but instead of both clubs progressing to the Quarter Finals, they underwent a replay which Hampstead Heathens won by scoring the only goal of the game.

It wasn’t FA policy then for a replay to take place, but it happened anyway.

In the Quarter Finals, Crystal Palace once again drew a blank, this time against The Wanderers and both clubs progressed to the Semi-Finals, where it got a little complicated for the FA.

Both semi-finals in the inaugural FA Cup competition ended in goal-less draws, and because all four teams naturally couldn’t progress to the Final the games were replayed.

However, all semi-finals had to take place at the Oval, and whilst Royal Engineers and Crystal Palace could easily manage and afford to replay their game, the same could not be said to be true for The Wanderers’ opponents Queen’s Park, who were based in Glasgow.

As a consequence, Queen’s Park withdrew from the competition, and The Wanderers effectively were awarded a bye to the Final, which they went on to win by one goal to nil against Royal Engineers.

However, the double draw dilemma in the Semi-Finals that the FA were faced with forced their hand to make a definitive rule about replays.

The decision was made that any game resulting in a draw would require a replay, and if that replay also ended in a draw then a third game would be played, and so on until there was a clear winner.

The justification for replays, aside from avoiding problematic FA Cup Finals involving four teams, was that they would provide an opportunity for the team who had the misfortune to be drawn away from home to take the tie back to their home ground. Initially any third game would be played at one of the two team’s ground, being decided by a toss of a coin.

As it turned out, there was no requirement for replays in the second running of the FA Cup, the only time the competition was run as had been originally proposed, as a challenge cup competition, whereby the winners of the previous season would be exempted until the Final, where they would be ‘challenged’ by the club winning through the knockout element.

The following season saw Sheffield FC and Shropshire Wanderers play out two goal-less draws in the 1st Round. Instead of going to a third game, the match was decided on the toss of a coin, the only time this occurred in FA Cup history, a toss which Sheffield FC won at a ceremony a few days after the replay.

That season also saw Barnes have to replay their 1st Round tie against 1st Surrey Rifles thereby becoming the first club to be involved in two replays.

In the 2nd Round that season Clapham Rovers and Cambridge University became the first two clubs to be involved in a second replay, played at Cambridge University, but won 4-1 by Clapham Rovers.

The following season, 1874-75, saw Shropshire Wanderers become the first team to progress through two replays in the same campaign, although Civil Service did actually scratch before their second game was played.

The feat was quickly matched by Royal Engineers who defeated Oxford University in a replay in the Semi-Finals before repeating the trick against Old Etonians in what was the first ever FA Cup Final replay. The two sides had drawn one apiece in the first game, which also witnessed the first instance of extra time played.

Old Etonians would make the Final again in the following season, only to be defeated once more in a replay, this time by The Wanderers, to become the first club to lose successive FA Cup Finals. There would only be a dozen more occasions when replays were used to settle FA Cup Finals.

One of the most famous matches that went to a second replay occurred in the 1878-79 Quarter Finals, and once again involved Old Etonians. It’s famous because it is cited as being the FA Cup tie that first highlighted there was a potential swing in power from the amateur old boys teams of the south to the working class men’s team of the north.

Their opponents were Darwen, and all seemed normal in the first match as Old Etonians led 5-1 with a quarter of an hour remaining, only for the Lancashire side to level the match before full time.

A second game ended two apiece after extra time, and only because all three matches had been played at the Oval, did Darwen finally succumb 6-2 in the third game. However, as a result of the Lancashire side having to fund and travel to London every time, the double replay caused a change in rule that regionalised the competition and only used the Oval for semi-finals and Finals.

Second replays were still typically being played at the ground of whichever side won the toss of a coin, but an exception came in the 1882-83 season which witnessed the first ever second replay played on a neutral ground.

The famous Welsh club, Druids, met Bolton Wanderers in the 3rd Round that season and played out a goal-less draw at their ground and drew one apiece in Bolton. The third game was held at the Racecourse ground, home of Wrexham FC, and resulted in a 1-0 win for the Welsh side.

The 1886 FA Cup Final between Blackburn Rovers and West Bromwich Albion became the third that required a replay, and in doing so became the first FA Cup Final match to be played outside of London. The game took place at the Racecourse Ground in Derby. Blackburn Rovers won the replay 2-0 to claim their third successive Cup Final win.

The first FA Cup tie to require four games to settle it came in the 3rd Round of the 1886-87 season and featured two West Midlands arch rivals. Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers drew two apiece in the first match, despite agreeing to play extra time in attempt to resolve the tie.

The replay in Wolverhampton ended one each after extra time, and the third game at the same ground finished three all after another two hours of play. The tie was finally settled in Aston Villa’s favour at Villa Park, winning by two goals to nil seven weeks after the first game had been played.

The Football League was formed in 1888 and the FA introduced qualifying rounds to the FA Cup as a way of weeding out the weaker teams before the more professional clubs took part, in a bid to try to minimise the number of high scoring mismatches, epitomised by Preston North End’s record 26-0 victory over Hyde in the previous season’s 1st Round.

It wasn’t as well defined as it is today as some League clubs still had to qualify, but the 1st Qualifying Round did produce its first multiple replay in the Lincolnshire derby between Lincoln City and Grimsby Town.

The other change to the competition introduced by the FA for the 1888-89 season was that second and subsequent replays would take place on neutral territory. Thus, the third match won by Grimsby Town was the first official second replay to occur on neutral territory. Alas, I have not yet identified the location.

The first ‘Proper’ Round second replay to happen on neutral territory came in the 2nd Round tie between Chatham and Nottingham Forest that same season, with the third match taking place at the Oval won 3-2 by the Kent side.

Nottingham Forest were also involved in the first FA Cup Semi-Final to require three games to resolve the tie when they faced West Bromwich Albion in the 1891-92 season. The first two matches were played at Molyneux and both ended one apiece, but the third tie happened at the Racecourse ground in Derby, and the Baggies stormed to a 6-2 victory.

The first FA Cup tie to require five matches to determine the winner was a 3rd qualifying round tie between Arsenal and Gillingham in the 1899-1900 season, although both clubs were still playing under former names at the time, Woolwich Arsenal and New Brompton.

All five games were played in the space of 17 days, and after the first game ended one apiece, followed by a goal-less draw, a four goal thriller and another one-one draw, New Brompton finally won through by a solitary goal.

Arsenal were also involved in a more famous five game FA Cup marathon almost 80 years later, when as a top flight club they took five attempts to see off Sheffield Wednesday who were playing in the third tier at the time.

Over a period of seventeen days, nine hours of football was played at three different venues, in front of a combined gate of almost 144,000, with 16 goals being scored. An original one-one draw at Hillsborough, was followed by the same scoreline at Highbury three days later.

The first of three games at Leicester City’s Filbert Street ended in a two-two draw, but amazingly in the fourth match the two teams shared six goals, before Steve Gatting and Frank Stapleton netted without reply in the fifth game finally winning the tie for the higher league side.

The five match marathon didn’t do Arsenal any harm as they went on to lift the Trophy that season.

Just over seven years before this ding-dong battle between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday, two non-league sides required six matches just for the prize of reaching the FA Cup 1st Round ‘Proper’, in what is a record number of games for one tie in the competition.

Midland Combination League Division One side Alvechurch were drawn at home against Oxford City of the higher Isthmian League in the 4th qualifying round of the 1971-72 FA Cup.

The first game played at Alvechurch on the 6th November, 1971, ended in a two-two draw, and the replay three days later finished one apiece.

The third game was played at Birmingham City’s St Andrews ground six days later and ended one apiece again after extra time. Two days later at Oxford United’s Manor Ground, the two sides played out a goal-less draw over two hours, a feat repeated at the same venue three days further on.

The sixth and final game took place at Villa Park on 22nd November and was won by a solitary goal for Alvechurch, 11 hours of football after the first kick off. Both sides celebrated the end of the marathon with champagne provided by Doug Ellis.

Unfortunately for Alvechurch, the combination of six games in 17 days (plus a League game after the first replay) and having to undertake full time jobs, proved too much for their players, who gallantly went down 4-2 at Aldershot just two days after the sixth game.

Returning to Arsenal, the Gunners were also involved in the most high profile multiple replayed tie, when they required four games to see off Liverpool in the FA Cup Semi Final of the 1979-80 season.

The clubs played out a goal-less draw at Hillsborough on the 12th April, and then played out two one-one draws at Villa Park, before a Brian Talbot effort proved the difference between the two teams at Coventry City’s Highfield Road on the 1st May, just nine days before the scheduled Final.

This time Arsenal did not recover, and lost 1-0 to West Ham United, the last time to date a club from outside the top flight has lifted the famous Trophy.

It was as a consequence of another high profile multiple replay FA Cup tie involving Arsenal that eventually led to the end of the concept and to the introduction of penalties to determine the winner.

Arsenal and Leeds United required four matches in the 1990-91 FA Cup 4th Round before the London club progressed, and in the next round Everton and Liverpool met three times before the Toffees eventually won through.

And so penalties were introduced for the 1991-92 season. The first two clubs to benefit from this new rule were Exeter City and Rotherham United who defeated Colchester United (4-2 on pens) and Scunthorpe United (7-6) in their respective 1st Round replays.

AFC Bournemouth became the first away side to win an FA Cup tie on penalties, doing so in the 3rd round in the same season 4-3 against Newcastle United. And in that season’s semi-final, Liverpool became the first club to progress to the FA Cup Final on the back on a penalty shoot-out, winning 3-1 against Portsmouth at Villa Park.

However, multiple replays remained the method to determine the winners in qualifying rounds for another seven seasons, not introducing penalties at that level until the 1997-98 season. The last club to win a tie in a second replay was Morecambe, winning 4-2 in their 4th qualifying round tie against Lancaster City in the previous year, the last season multiple replays were used.

The first non-league clubs to progress to the next round of the FA Cup by winning a penalty shoot-out were Whitley Bay, Burnham and the now defunct Dorking, in the Preliminary Round in 1997-98.

Multiple replays had been removed in the ‘Proper’ Rounds in 1991-92, but within a couple of seasons, the option of Cup Final replays were removed.

The last FA Cup Final to require a replay happened in 1993, and by a twist of fate involved Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday (who had also met in that season’s League Cup Final). The first match ended one apiece with Ian Wright and David Hirst goals cancelling each other out.

The replay five days later also ended one-all after 90 minutes with Ian Wright once again on the scoresheet, but matched by a goal from Chris Waddle. Andy Linighan settled the Final in Arsenal’s favour with a last minute of extra time header.

FA Cup Finals were to have no more replays, and FA Cup Semi-Finals soon followed suit. And it will come as no surprise to anyone that Arsenal were involved in the last Semi-Final to go to a replay.

Their 1998-99 Semi-Final replay against Manchester United is now famous for the solo winning goal scored by Ryan Giggs in extra time at Villa Park, facilitating the opportunity for the club to go on to win the treble that year. Replays for semi-finals were scrapped the following season.

And replays in Quarter Finals were dispensed with in the 2016-17 season with Manchester United also involved in the last Quarter Final replay the season before. A one-one draw at Old Trafford against West Ham United was followed up exactly a month later by a 2-1 win at the Boleyn Ground.

And Fifth Round replays were scrapped in the 2018-19 season with Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur a day later, being the final beneficiaries of winning through a Fifth Round replay.

And there is a clamour to do away with replays as a whole, well from the 3rd Round onward, allowing all matches to be resolved at the first time of asking, a la the League Cup.

So far, just two FA Cup Finals have required penalties to determine who lifts the Trophy. Liverpool did so in 2006, winning 3-1 on penalties, following their dramatic 3-3 draw with West Ham United.

And the other occasion happened two season’s earlier when Arsenal beat Manchester United 5-4 on penalties. What was significant about that Cup Final is that it ended goal-less after two hours of football, meaning Arsenal became the first club to win the FA Cup without scoring a goal in the Final.

And with plans to scrap replays from the 3rd Round onward how long before we see an FA Cup winner not only not winning a single game over any 120 minute period, but also potentially lifting the famous trophy without actually having scored a goal en route to doing so?

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.

FA Cup 2019-20 4th Rd Review

Stats of the Round

Chelsea have now beaten Hull city in all eight occasions the two sides have been drawn together in the FA Cup – a competition record in the ‘Proper’ Rounds.

There were only two home wins in the first ties, a record low for this stage of the competition, with away clubs scoring 50% more goals as the home sides (24 to 16).

 

First time in 5th Round in a while

14 years – Newcastle United

10 years – Portsmouth

8 years – Birmingham City, Norwich City

5 years – Liverpool

4 years – Reading

3 years – Arsenal

 

Into 5th Round and a while since last KO before Round 5

6 years – Manchester United

5 years – Chelsea, Manchester City

 

Consecutive 4th Round Exits

3 – West Ham United

2 – Burnley, Shrewsbury Town

 

Avenged Previous FA Cup Defeat(s)

Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley

 

Biggest Wins of the 4th Round

Tranmere Rovers 0-6 Manchester United

Manchester City 4-0 Fulham

Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley

Replay

Derby County 4-2 Northampton Town

 

Cupsets

Portsmouth (3) 4-2 Barnsley (2)

West Ham United (1) 0-1 West Bromwich Albion (2)