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Normal service will resume later today here on Twohundredpercent, but in the meantime here is our final article from the site’s archive. With the FA Cup Third Round just around the corner, we’re going back to this time last year and an impassioned argument from Rob Freeman on the subject of a winter break for English football.
Earlier this week, Owen Gibson of the Guardian reported that the FA were considering making a change to the FA Cup (under a banner of revitalisation for the competition) in order to help create a mid-season break, in order to the England squad. The change is one that would seismic across English football, and that change would be scrapping FA Cup replays. Even in the article itself, the suggestion is that the scrapping of FA Cup replays would only free up one midweek date, and that midweek date would be filled by a set of fixtures allowing for a two week break, or in other words, one Saturday off. However, far from revitalising the competition, it may be the beginning of the end for the world’s oldest football competition.
In 1991, the FA scrapped the possibility of second replays, and that any tie unresolved after extra time of the second game would instead be decided by penalties. This change wasn’t one of the FA’s making – instead their hand was forced by a police decision whereby forces would now need at least seven days notice, in order to police a replay. It didn’t matter where the game was played, under which force’s auspices the game would come under, the size of the anticipated crowds, and whether the game would be contested by two professional sides or not, a blanket decision was made, and the FA were forced into line. In some respects, it may have been seen as a response to the Hillsborough disaster (where the police had four weeks to prepare) and their criticism in the Taylor Report, although the Taylor Report made no recommendation in terms of minimum time needed in order to prepare for matches.
Whatever the reasoning behind the decision, it was one that changed the FA Cup forever, and one that weakened the competition irrevocably in a lot of people’s eyes. Taking the step further to remove replays, and essentially giving the same rules as the League Cup would only serve to suggest that the two competitions are as important. The suggestion of a winter break is not a bad one in itself – in fact at the top flight level, it is important for those players (of all nationalities) involved in major international tournaments to have a break between August and July. With the money that clubs receive from the Premier League, there is no reason why top flight clubs cannot invest in one of the many techniques that enable them to keep their pitches playable during the winter months. In fact, as with last season, the only reason why clubs should be postponing games in the top flight is because of the approaches to the ground being treacherous – and considering how few games have been called off for that reason in the top flight over the last ten years, it will rarely become a logistical problem. Later, we’ll look at the ways in which a winter break can be achieved without interfering with the FA Cup, but first, a few reasons why replays should not be sacrificed in favour of a winter break:
All of those suggestions would create a better winter break, and would benefit the top flight, without making the rest of football have to suffer as a result. After all, the Football Association is supposed to look after the best interests of all of English football, isn’t it?
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
The idea of a winter break is overall nonsense anyway. When would you have it? Many clubs rely upon their Xmas holiday fixtures to boost revenue with many getting their biggest crowds of the season across this period. So how many club accountants would be willing to toss away their biggest earning fixtures? Then we get the issue that every winter we get a one or two week stretch where the weather takes out part of the calendar anyway – so why not just let nature take its course, and recognise there will be a break at some point anyway?
If you do have one then there is the issue of timing. Even without a winter break, my own club Yeovil Town have played one home game since October and no home games since mid-November. Imagine what that does to a club’s finances if the League then said to our Chairman “we fancy a winter break in the first two weeks in January” – and we end up sat on our behinds as we have blank weekends in +10C mild temperatures?
Exactly right about the FA Cup, the only effect of ending replays would be to reduce potential income for smaller clubs. However, if clubs are already putting reserve sides in the League cup, then why not let them carry on if they choose, just take away the automatic entry to the Europa league.
With regards to the introduction of a winter break, it is flawed idea in many ways. Firstly the unpredictability of the English winter would make setting the right date rather awkward, assuming it would be taken mid or late January, the time after that this season would have to also accommodate the games missed over the cold spell we have just endured. Undersoil heating has proved no guarantee against postponements. Also, assuming we gave the clubs a winter break, I think that it’s fair to assume they would immediately load the team on a plane for a couple of friendly games in the Middle or Far East. The break may have been created for the benefit of the National team(s), but the clubs aren’t going to give a shit about that when there is money to be made
I’ve always been reasonably relaxed about a winter break – mainly because it is only likely to apply to the Premier League. The Football League breaking for two or three weeks would be financially and logistically impossible for lower division clubs. Could you imagine say, Accrington, breaking for two or three relatively mild weeks and then having three weeks of postponements because an artic spell of weather sets in just as fixtures are about to resume. There is the obvious risk of clubs having a month or more with their income cut off.
As has been argued by others the Premier League taking a winter break would give The Football League the chance to showcase itself. But that is probably the reason why it is unlikely to happen. Would Sky really be keen to shell out increasing amounts money on a TV deal where there will be no Super Sundays, or Monday Night Football, for two or three weeks just when the season starts to get really interesting? Will two weeks of Doncaster v QPR, Huddersfield v Exeter and Shrewsbury v Wycombe satisfy the paying viewers or indeed the advertisers to pull them through their post Christmas blues. You get the impression that the broadcasters’ patience is pushed to the limited by an international weekend. As ever who pays the piper calls the tune.