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Up for the Cup – but no more replays

22 April 2024

Brentford v Chelsea in the FA Cup January 2013. Brentford managed a 2-2 draw, and with a replay at Stamford Bridge earned over £1 million which helped revive the club, now in the Premiership. Photo Gareth Williams via Flickr.

The Football Association is to rid the game of replays in FA Cup ties from next season. This decision may seem an irrelevance or trivial to many, but is yet another example of just how invasive capitalism and its overarching profit motive can be if left to its own devices.

The decision is another step on a road which began over thirty years ago. The top twenty professional clubs broke away from the remaining 82 to establish the Premier League. This may yet end with the creation of the European Super League (ESL), scuppered last year only by the mass opposition of football fans.

‘This road may yet end in a European Super League, scuppered last year by mass fan opposition.’

The FA Cup, the oldest continuously-played tournament in the world’s most popular sport, has always featured replays when games are drawn. There used to be an unlimited number of replays. The these were whittled down at various stages over the years to just one (with the tie decided on penalties if needed) – and then only up to the Fourth Round since the 2018-19 season.

Big deal

This change will be a big deal, whatever the FA and top clubs may say. The FA Cup, as well as being the oldest competition, is also arguably the most democratic, including hundreds of clubs across England and Wales.

And that’s the issue. For many of the smallest and poorest clubs, the prospect of a tie against a leading club makes the difference between breaking even and possibly going under. The prospect of a replay against one of those clubs is manna from heaven. It can set a club up for years – not only financially, but in stimulating support and sponsorship.

Less profitable

The owners of the big clubs complain of too many games. What they really mean is too many less-profitable games. Otherwise, why not rule out for good all the extra games that an ESL and ever expanding European cup competitions would bring?

No, what they want is to rule out the prospect of playing a replay at, say, Exeter City (who could even win) on a cold January evening. They prefer a game against, say, Real Madrid on pay-per-view, part of a multi-million pound deal.


And talking of Exeter City, they spent five years outside the Football League and are now owned by a supporters’ trust who pointed out that a televised tie with Manchester United was vital in the early days of supporter ownership. Their statement continued, “We condemn the decision, which should be suspended until consultation has taken place.”

Naturally the FA was not going to really consult anyone over this – lest they object. The FA said “all parties accepted the decision” – meaning in effect the Premier League, with other leagues realising this was a done deal. All of which has just added to the anger of smaller clubs and fans everywhere.


Supporters of capitalism often say that it leads to competition, and that competition is a good thing. In fact the reverse is true; capitalism leads to monopoly, ultimately reducing choice by eliminating diversity.

And the newly created Football Regulator is likely to be about ineffective as all the other regulators that abound. So again it will be up to the fans to do something. This decision is a more difficult target for fans to hit than was the iniquitous ESL, but the need for protest is all the more necessary. What will the next intrusion into the beautiful game be if we don’t?

The last word for now belongs to Notts County, who like Exeter City spent time out of the Football League after financial mismanagement, “As the world's oldest professional football club, and past winners of the FA Cup, we’re very sad to see that English football is set to lose a part of its soul.”