Who Will An FA Cup Overhaul Really Benefit?

11 By Ian  |   The Ball  |   February 14, 2010  |     11

Earlier on this afternoon, Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur played out a reasonably entertaining match in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup which ended in a 1-1 draw, meaning that the two sides will replay at White Hart Lane a week on Wednesday. The match was played out against a backdrop of empty seats, and this is part of the reason why The Times reports today that the FA’s Chief Executive, Ian Watmore, has come up with a set of proposals that he seems to think will reinvigorate the competition. It’s a list gives us great cause for concern – a series of sops to the biggest clubs (whose opinion of the FA Cup isn’t, to put it bluntly, going to change any time soon). Let’s have a look at the proposals listed, why they are being suggested and what effect they are likely to have.

1. Scrapping replays. It has been mentioned before, has scrapping replays. The appeal of this is obvious, at a superficial level. Less fixtures means that it is less likely that the big clubs will be less likely to field under-strength sides. However, the possibility of a replay can mean a fortune to a smaller club which has worked itself into the ground against a bigger club. In any case, the FA already have rules about clubs having to field full strength teams in the competition, but these have been broken and haven’t been enforced for years. Unless the FA are effectively going cap in hand and trying to cut a deal with the Premier League, there is no guarantee that clubs will field full strength teams unless there is an incentive for them to do so. The problem is that there are too many Premier League matches and too many Champions League matches, but that isn’t going to change any time soon.

2. Midweek Fixtures. Moving fixtures to midweek has really worked for the League Cup down the years, hasn’t it? Still, the prevailing opinion still seems to be that the FA needs to be more “flexible” in accomodating fixtures around the Premier League and the Champions League. There is something lopsided about this logic. The FA wants to increase the profile and number of people going to FA Cup matches, so it puts them on a time that is more difficult for most people. There is, after all, a long history of smaller crowds for midweek matches in any competition when compared to Saturday matches. Even the Europa League, which clubs spend much of the season before struggling to get into, sees rows Again, this cannot be interpreted in any way other than being a sop to the biggest clubs.

3. Shaking Up The Prize Money. On the face of things, this looks like a sensible proposal. The winners of the FA Cup currently earn around £3.5m, and a season in the Premier League – according to a club’s final league position – is worth around ten times that amount. With a greater financial reason to stay in the Premier League than to win the cup, it will continue to be treated with less reverence by the bigger club. The problem with this, even if we take it at face value, is two-fold. Firstly, the FA Cup is simply not going to raise the sort of prize money that the Premier League or the Champions League does. Secondly, any reorganisation in increase the prize fund for the winners will take money away from the smaller clubs. Unless, the prize fund can be increased – and that seems unlikely in the current climate – another life-line would be taken away from them in order to keep the biggest clubs “on board”.

4. Using It To Showcase “Pioneering Innovations”. There is, according to The Times, “a school of thought within the FA that, as a pioneering competition, it could benefit from staging such experiments in [the] future”. Quite how this squares (and the same goes, obviously, for point one) with the tradition and heritage of the competition isn’t something that the FA are easily going to be able to answer. Turning it into a football circus so that millions will turn up to watch players playing an “experimental” version of the game would seem to be an admission that the competition is on its way out. Such a move would be likely to be a nail in the coffin of the integrity of the FA Cup.

5. Seeding The Competition. One of the key features of the FA Cup is that anyone can draw anyone. The logical thinking behind those that wish to seed the competition is that it would keep the biggest clubs apart until the latter stages of the competition. This, however, doesn’t address several important facts about the FA Cup. Firstly, is it already seeded. This is how Premier League clubs come to join a competition that starts in August at the start of January. Secondly, considering that one of the biggest criticisms of English football is how stultifying it has all become over the last fifteen years, with the same three or four teams winning almost everything, what, exactly is the benefit in making it even easier for them? The fact that Liverpool Manchester United and Arsenal were out of the competition before a ball in the Fifth Round had even been kicked has nothing to do with seeding and everything to do with all three of those teams being beaten by teams that outplayed them on the day.

There has, as yet, been no official word that any of these supposed “innovations” are to be seriously discussed. However, the very fact that they have come into the public domain from somewhere is cause for us to be concerned. The institutional problems that the FA Cup faces are nothing to do with anything that the above suggestions would alter. It is difficult to look them without thinking that anybody that would put forward such suggestions would seem to be more interested in making everything a bit easier for the biggest clubs at the expense of everyone else. Quite what backroom politics exactly are going on are anybody’s guess. Transparency is invisible within modern football.

There are solutions to the issues that people raise concerning the FA Cup, of course, but none of them are ever going to win the approval of the Premier League. Clubs could be told to include cup matches for people that buy season tickets (if you’re paying £600 per year for a season ticket, an extra £30 or so per match for the FA Cup starts to make the option of staying at home on a Sunday afternoon when the match is live on the television anyway starts to make sense). This won’t happen, though. It’s much more beneficial for clubs to have a two-thirds empty ground with a few thousand paying to get in than for them to lose that revenue. They could fine clubs for playing under-strength teams in the FA Cup, but it often seems as if the effects of this are overstated anyway. Is the biggest reason why there were empty seats for, say, the match between Stoke City and Arsenal in the last round really because Arsenal weren’t putting their strongest side out?

The biggest single thing that could boost the FA Cup would be to give the fourth Champions League place to the winners of the competition, but the Premier League will never do this unless forced to by UEFA and, while Michel Platini has been said to be keen on this, it seems highly unlikely that they would ever force it upon the Premier League, and the FA are largely powerless to intervene in this arrangement. However, until the fundamental financial imbalances within football are addressed, the Premier League (a competition that only four clubs can conceivably win) and the Champions League (which those same four clubs plus another four or five from the rest of the continent have dominated in recent years) will continue to be the only shows in town, and we will continue to be treated to the almost perverse spectacle of almost everybody – fans included – believing that finishing in fourth or fifteenth place in the league is more important than winning a cup.



    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.

    • February 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm


      Fantastic article, any suggestions of seeding or playing midweek would simply destroy the cup. Rather than increasing prize money in the latter stages they should increase the prize and television money in the early rounds.

    • February 14, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      Wyre Forest Red

      My view is that if the next sponsorship deal focussed on discounted ticket prices, rather than boosting prize money in the later stages, the FA Cup could become a family/ community tournament. If EON/ McDonalds etc… could subsidize ticket prices to make them a flat £10 adults/ £5 kids from the 3rd round, perhaps £6 (£3) for earlier rounds, with tickets given to schools, a new generation of fans could be encouraged. Rather than the stuffed suits being given FA Cup Final tickets for the “Footballing Family” as happens each year, each fixture played in each round could be given a pair to raffle or as prizes for events on match day. The “flat price” tickets would mean that an advertising campaign (sponsor led no doubt) could promote tickets to all fixtures in newspapers, TV commercials etc….

      There’s nothing wrong with the format of the Cup, other than the fact that fans don’t want to pay full whack for what has become, in the latter stages at least, something of a reserve team competition.

    • February 14, 2010 at 9:10 pm


      I hope they do this and then maybe more fans will realise what is happening and support an alternative FA cup, possibly run by fans and intended to bring the whole sorry nonsense back to being the wonderful sport it once was and still can be.

    • February 14, 2010 at 9:21 pm

      Alan J

      It’s simple…give the winners one of the two Champions League, which goes direct into the competition. If you give them the fourth space, you’ve still got to qualify for the main competition. It would mean the Premiership champs plus the FA Cup winners qualify automatically, with the next two runners-up places in the league take the other two spots.All the big sides will take it seriously then !!

    • February 14, 2010 at 9:42 pm


      They’re barking up the wrong tree. The FA Cup is the greatest competition in football, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m hugely resistant to change. Is it broken? Does it need fixing? Maybe, but one thing is does not need is tweaking.

      It doesn’t help that those within and outside the game have chipped away at the Cup down the years. Firstly the Police killed any possibility of second, third and fourth replays by insisting on at least seven days notice of replays – this brought in the notion of replays, and the dreaded penalty shootout.

      Secondly, the FA in pushing Manchester United into becoming trailblazers of the World Club Cup in 2000, pressured them into going to Brazil with the trade-off of not defending the FA Cup. That season, the FA also experimented with bringing the timing of the rounds forward, meaning the Third Round being played in December, rather than January. The thinking being that people often cannot afford the Third Round (now that it’s rarely included on season tickets) just after Christmas, instead hoping that people could afford it just before Christmas instead. It was such a success that the next season was back to normal.

      Finally, in order to help clubs with Champions League and UEFA Cup commitments, the replays were taken away from the semi-finals and finals. This is the one I hate the most, mainly because the FA didn’t really need to do anything as concrete. Rule 11 allows any of the ties to have extra time in the first game if both clubs and the FA agree, and there is usually at least one Preliminary Round game a season, where they have decided that it has to be resolved on the day, and the FA allowed it. All the FA needed to do was to state that if a club in the semi-finals or final was still in European Competition, then if it needed the burden of a replay removing, then any request would be granted. It takes away the situation we had in 2008 where a rule only designed to benefit a handful of clubs wasn’t needed because they’d all failed to make the semi finals anyway.

      As an aside, maybe the reason that Bolton fans stayed away in their droves is a testament to how previous managers such as Sam Allardyce and Gary Megson have regularly put out reserve sides, because Premier League survival is secondary.

      About the only good tweak that has happened in recent years was the removal of Premier League games on FA Cup Fifth and Sixth round weekends, so that sides on a Cup run don’t get a fixture pileup.

      As for the “new” ideas.

      1. Scrapping replays. Let’s be honest, they tried this in the League Cup, as a response to Alex Ferguson fielding a youth side against Port Vale in 1994 and York City in 1995, and the League Cup hasn’t really recovered since.

      2. Midweek Fixtures. “Moving fixtures to midweek has really worked for the League Cup down the years, hasn’t it?” It didn’t exactly work when the FA tried this with the quarter finals in 2006, to allegedly aid England’s World Cup performance. Charlton got a rare home game that wasn’t sold out (what with Middlesbrough having to travel down on a Thursday night), Man City got 8,000 fewer spectators for the visit of West Ham, and the only people who got any benefit, were those Birmingham fans who couldn’t make their 7-0 home drubbing by Liverpool because it was a midweek game.

      3. Shaking Up The Prize Money. Probably the only Premier League club that cares about the prize money at this point is Portsmouth, although Steve Coppell’s suggestion on ITV earlier that the High Court should see that Pompey making the quarter finals somehow proves that they’ll be able to raise the £11.5m owed is pushing it a bit.

      4. Using It To Showcase “Pioneering Innovations”. Christ no. They tried this in whatever the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was called down the years. And the crowds go down because the innovations are usually half-brained.

      5. Seeding The Competition. Isn’t really in anyone’s interest, because if anything it’ll add to the number of games the bigger sides playing. Besides, the League Cup is seeded in the earlier rounds, and that hasn’t helped it’s credibility over the years.

      No, I’ve a better idea. Leave the FA Cup alone. At the end of January each season, there’s a full program of Premier League midweek fixtures. There’s another one in early to mid-February. Move them to the end of September and October, where the League Cup Third and Fourth Round games are scheduled. And change the Football League cup, so that only Football League clubs enter, and yes, take the Europa League spot away from it. That way, Premier League clubs have fewer games, and only one cup to play for. And if they still don’t play their strongest sides – use the rulebook, and start fining them, and threaten them with points deductions in the League.

    • February 14, 2010 at 9:51 pm


      Wyre Forest Red: The “Footballing Family” being stuffed suits is a bit of a myth to be honest. It goes to people who to the tireless work behind the scenes. People who work at County FAs and running amateur leagues for little or no money, referees who get abuse week after week at semi-pro and Pub league level without which those leagues couldn’t run, people who volunteer at non-league clubs at steps 6 and 7, and lower, much much lower – these are the people in the “Footballing Family”, who get the chance to apply for tickets (And it’s a lottery for the chance to buy the ticket, because the number of people who help football run at all levels in this country, whether it be County FAs, Leagues or Clubs would more than fill Wembley Stadium on it’s own). This is their “thank you” from the FA fr all the hard work that gets put in.

    • February 15, 2010 at 3:15 am


      Sounds to me like Watmore just wants to kill it off.

      Winners get the fourth CL spot.
      Games included in season tickets ,like they used to be.
      40,000+ tickets to each team in the final.
      Make the League Cup voluntary.

    • February 15, 2010 at 7:05 am

      Wyre Forest Red


      If I thought that the hard working grass roots volunteers actually kept the tickets I’d agree. In my experience, when as a season ticket holder at MUFC I really struggled to get tickets, there were always people who could get them via contacts at various clubs. Get to the Final and there never seemed to be too many neutrals.

    • February 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm


      Clubs are also allowed to apply – and if successful, they’re more likely to use it to raise funds through raffles and the like.

      That said, I know people who’ve received tickets through the football family, and the last thing they’ve wanted to do is sell them off.

    • February 22, 2010 at 6:24 am

      Micky F

      As usual the Premier League clubs are only thinking of themselves and don’t give a stuff that smaller Football League & Non-League clubs often rely on a successful FA Cup run to keep their heads above water. You’d think with all the debt the Premier League clubs have run up they’d be interested in a bit of extra income, whatever happens I think they need to show a bit more respect to a competition which has been running since 1871. Of course I won’t hold my breath waiting for those running the game to grow some Cojones and stand up to the Premier League over this (or any other) issue.

    • February 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      ANOTHER.66 » Blog Archive » Who Will An FA Cup Overhaul Really Benefit?

      […] reactions to the proposals tabled last week. Scroll down these two articles from the Times and Two Hundred Percent for some thoughtful (/furious) comments. It would be interesting to see if there’s a way of […]

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