The FA Cup is the oldest domestic football competition in the world, having first been played in 1871.
It is steeped in history and charm, with 736 teams all competing for a chance to pick off clubs from higher up the pyramid. Whether you’re Mickleover Sports hoping to get to the first round, or Watford pushing on to the final, it creates stories remembered across the world.
It is also under severe threat from big clubs who have recently seemingly deemed it to be below them in its current format. The highest-profile manager to lash out at the cup has been Jürgen Klopp, who has argued his side should not (and will not) play a replay against Shrewsbury Town during their supposed off-season break.
He’ll send the Under-23 team to contest the replay, a move which throws the legitimacy of the competition in doubt. He’s not the first high-profile manager to call for replays to be scrapped either. Pep Guardiola has also cited replays as a cause of fixture congestion for the higher leagues.
Whilst the argument also gains traction from respected figures such as Gary Lineker, lower-league fans are adamant that the cup should be left alone.
The revenue a run can generate is huge: Lincoln City were a National League side when they won in their third-round replay with Ipswich Town in 2017, sparking a historic cup run. Three years later the income they generated has elevated them to the same division as the Tractor Boys.
Another option for the bigger clubs, rather than abolishing FA Cup replays, would be to scrap the League Cup, a competition with two-legged semi-finals and a further drain on the likes of Manchester City.
They’re reigning holders and have advanced to the final stages of the current season’s competition. bwin News outlines how they are on course to lift the League Cup for a third time this season but it’s a wholly inconsequential tournament until the final and it won’t matter at all to the reigning Premier League champions.
Pep Guardiola certainly won’t put any stock in winning it and, in recent years, even the so-called smaller clubs of the Premier League haven’t bothered greatly either.
It’s not the first time England’s domestic competitions have been brought into focus. FourFourTwo explains how Manchester United opted not to take part at the turn of the century in order to pursue an interest in the World Club Cup. Liverpool were in the same tournament this season, sending their Under-23 team to their League Cup clash in order to compete, and lose, against Aston Villa in December.
There is no easy answer to the bigger clubs’ concerns. Liverpool’s decision is partly a response to being asked to play during their mid-season break, which is a valid response, but it still demeans the trophy, nonetheless.
The situation isn’t about the top 20 clubs playing too many fixtures in January either; the competition runs much deeper than a handful of big names. The FA website shows it starts as the main season kicks off and it is as important to the non-league teams as it is anyone.
Especially for sides like Lincoln City, who not only changed their history financially but created the sort of memories the cup is famous for. Abolishing replays would simply erode the English football tradition upon which everything else has been built, since 1871.