Soccer-EFL denies it agreed to scrap Cup replays, call for FA rethink


FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - FA Cup - Third Round - Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain - January 7, 2024 The FA Cup trophy is displayed inside the stadium before the match Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith/File Photo

(Reuters) -England's football powers locked horns on Friday as a row erupted over the scrapping of FA Cup replays with the lower leagues saying they had been cut out of the decision process after an angry reaction from clubs who fear losing revenue.

The FA announced the move on Thursday to scrap replays in England's biggest cup competition from next season, prompting criticism and calls to re-evaluate from several lower league clubs with both the British government and opposition Labour party commenting on the decision.

English soccer's governing body issued a statement on Friday saying representatives from the English Football League (EFL), made up of the three divisions directly below the top flight Premier League, agreed in meetings to ditch replays.

The EFL, however, said the final decision was made by the FA and Premier League alone.

"We have been discussing the calendar for the 2024-25 season with the Premier League and EFL for well over a year," the FA said.

"Removing Emirates FA Cup replays was discussed in the early meetings and all parties accepted that they could not continue."

The EFL, however, said they did discuss the matter with the FA in September but there was no agreement in place before the change was announced.

"The agreement which now sees the abolition of replays from the competition format was agreed solely between the Premier League and FA," the EFL said in a statement.

"Ahead of the deal being announced there was no agreement with the EFL nor was there any formal consultation with EFL Clubs as members of the FA and participants in the competition."

The FA said the new calendar was approved by the Professional Game Board, which has representatives from both the Premier League and the EFL, then by the FA Board where the National League and grassroots game was represented as well.

Multiple lower-league clubs criticised the move, which was made to slim down the football calendar but denies smaller clubs drawn at home to top-tier opposition the chance to earn revenue through money-spinning replays away.

"It does kick everyone in the teeth below (the top flight). There’s nothing we can do about it, apart from voice our concerns," Mark Robins, manager of Championship side Coventry City, said ahead of Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United.

Leyton Orient CEO Mark Devlin called the move "potentially very damaging", adding their FA Cup replay at Arsenal in 2011 had accounted for 30 percent of the club's annual turnover.

Several lower league clubs including AFC Wimbledon, Wigan Athletic, Notts County and Cambridge United issued statements expressing their disappointment, while Bristol Rovers called for the FA to suspend their decision.

'BIG BLOW'

While there was sympathy from some Premier League managers, there was also concern about the workload of top players.

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag called the change "very sad for the British football culture," before adding that it was inevitable.

"It's due to the overload in the schedule and that's dictated by FIFA and UEFA," he said.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta both joined Ten Hag in flagging concerns about the calendar.

Guardiola said it was a "big blow" to lower league clubs but a balance needed to be found while Arteta said it was necessary to reduce the calendar because "what they (his players) are going have to play in the next two years that's not healthy."

The scrapping of replays also attracted political attention with the UK Prime Minister's deputy spokesperson saying the FA and the Premier League should explain their decision and "why it is in the interest of fans."

British opposition Labour party leader Keir Starmer said replays were part of the tradition of the FA Cup and "a real revenue raiser" for smaller clubs.

"Small clubs are really struggling financially, they need that revenue, they deserve that revenue," he was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The FA said it understood the concerns that had been expressed since the decision was announced.

"We will be sharing more details with clubs very shortly to explain the additional revenue opportunities in the early rounds," the FA added.

(Reporting by Chiranjit Ojha in BengaluruEditing by Toby Davis)

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