Solving the Fixture Crisis: Our Solution

Courtesy of Graham Burrell

The emotive subject of bigger clubs devaluing the FA Cup has reared its head recently, with both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola weighing in with their opinions on FA Cup replays.

I’ve decided to take a step back on this for a while; it would be easy for a fan-led media outlet to immediately shoot down the two managers for the disrespect they are apparently showing the competition. Pep seemed to suggest we should scrap FA Cup replays and Klopp has already said Liverpool will field a youth team for their game against Shrewsbury and he won’t even be there himself.

I understand why fans of smaller clubs have thrown their hands in the air at this. Firstly, I think Klopp is both justified and out of order at the same time. Yes, the replay is scheduled in the middle of a break and I fully understand why he won’t send his first team players. I think he is wrong in not attending himself though; the break is aimed at player’s fitness, not him sunning himself in the middle of winter. I feel that managers have a responsibility to the lower leagues to a degree and it really wouldn’t hurt Klopp to turn up, even if it is the kids he’s putting out. If he’d made this statement when his team were not scheduled to be on a break, I’d be more miffed, but fair is fair; we can’t give the top clubs a break and then snatch it away from them because of a cup replay.

That doesn’t mean we should scrap replays. I’ve seen Pep’s chat and to be fair to him, he suggests cutting down on the number of games, not directly scrapping FA Cup replays. I can see a need for that; hell I complained plenty back in August when we had fixtures every couple of days. Back then it wasn’t fair on us and right now it’s not fair on them. Funny, the media only really bother when it is a big manager, but at least the fixture congestion is coming into the public view.

Is it 20 or 27 players Karl? – Courtesy Graham Burrell

As for Karl Robinson asking for them to be scrapped; what is he on? He’s like a turkey calling for Christmas. I’ve never liked that man, he lacks class and for a League One manager to look to get replays scrapped is madness. He’s complaining about having a squad of 20 players and having to play nine fixtures in February, but we played nine fixtures from August 3rd to September 3rd and you didn’t see us calling for replays to be scrapped.

The reason I can’t get behind replays being scrapped is obvious; it’s all part of the magic of the cup. The FA Cup is far more than Manchester City and Liverpool; it’s far more than us or Oxford as well. It’s about clubs like Boston getting their replay against Rochdale, or Bromley hosting Bristol Rovers after their First Round draw. They may not sound like big games to Jurgen Klopp, but they are potential lifesavers for some clubs. Scrapping replays would have prevented York Street hosting one last FA Cup tie, with the possibility of a win and a tie against Newcastle in front of them.

Obviously, for us it would have robbed us of the chance to play Ipswich back at the Bank in 2017. It’s a move which would seriously devalue the FA Cup, to a point where it would be ‘just another’ competition. There is still magic around the FA Cup, even if in the later rounds some big clubs treat it with utter contempt. I appreciate that in Spain or Germany, the domestic cup is not as cherished as over here. That’s maybe why two high-profile foreign managers are wanting to make changes to it. As for Karl Robinson, I can only imagine it’s because he is adversely affected by it that he’s having a moan. I guess his chairman doesn’t feel the same, nor would any club struggling for a few bob.

By the way, Robinson claims to have a squad of 20 first team players, but according to their website, his first team squad is 27 players strong…..

What is the solution? I’m not denying that there are too many fixtures for some clubs, the Liverpools of this world are expected to play a lot in Europe and could do without a domestic competition. However, taking replays out of the FA Cup does cause financial hardship to clubs up and down the country every year. As outlined on my recent ‘Morning Dog Walk‘ show (can I call it a show?) I think I have a solution and, to make it clearer to envisage, I’m going to outline it on the next page.


  1. PL Football club manager/coaches have one of the most stressful jobs in International sport Gary. To suggest that they don’t need a break, sunning themselves on the beach, is a bit unworthy of a guy who writes a thoughtful blog. The content of your article helps your readers to understand that there are no easy answers. In fact I’d go further, the easy answers are mostly the ones that don’t work because they endanger the health and careers of our best players.

    Football is tribal, those fans who have a few brain cells understand that, we tend to see through tinted specs, in my case light blue specs, I’ve been a Manchester City season card holder for six decades. I’ve experienced the lows and even lowers of the game for most of the first five of those decades and these days the games come much more regularly with attendant cost. The football authorities are killing the players with ever longer seasons and ever more games. For top teams that’s almost 10 months playing every 3 to 4 days on average and for fans who have limited financial resources and family responsibilities are having their loyalty severely tested. .

    This season I decided against attending League Cup games. I live 75 miles from the Etihad and an additional 150 mile round trip is tiring for an old fellow and it’s expensive. Next season I may have to drop the FA Cup and Champions League (if UEFA don’t drop City first) mainly through affordability and over-exposure. I will then be one of those season card holders who are criticised for not attending those extra games in cup competitions that cost over and above the PL season cards. I recognise that I am fortunate to support a club that gives 50% reduction to the over 65’s, so I only pay a relatively modest £285 for the 19 PL home games but, for my wife and I, with the travel costs, that’s a lot of money from limited retirement income. For supporters with modest earnings, families, rent or mortgages it’s a matter of priorities – the golden egg is being scrambled big time!

    The FA and EFL could simplify competition rules to cut out extra time in games, and replays, both are unnecessary. Move straight to penalties at the end of games drawn at full time and consider putting seeded PL teams who enter the competition later in the process into the away team side of the pre-quarter final draws in the EFL and FA Cup comps. This would give bumper games to lower division clubs and would help players in the elite clubs whilst still generating cash and status for the lower division sides.

    • “PL Football club manager/coaches have one of the most stressful jobs in International sport Gary” They also do a job I would almost literally give my left arm to do. And get paid millions for it. And they do it by choice.

  2. Some thought about reducing the number of matches played per season.
    1. Reduce the Premier League to 18 clubs. That’s the number UEFA asked leagues to play many years ago.
    2. Keep replays in the FA Cup but
    3. Scrap the League Cup altogether or
    4 Keep the League Cup but exclude teams playing in Champions or Europa Leagues.
    Just some thoughts.

  3. Scrapping replays is an absolute non starter for me, I’d rather see the league cup abandoned. I feel theirs an inevitability about this though, what’s more important to bigger clubs? A potential lifeline for small clubs (replays) or an easy way to ease congestion without scrapping the second biggest cup competition in the land?
    I think I know which is more likely, bye bye replays & RIP the small clubs they might have saved.

  4. Great idea for the restructure. I’d agree that everyone gets a better deal than they currently do. Certainly in the earlier rounds of the League Cup, which the big boys only take seriously if they happen to stumble their way to the Semi-Final.

    Suppose the only drawback would be sorting out European qualification. Especially, as the winners of the League Cup will be the only English representative in the new third tier European competition launching in 2021. In this scenario, either what is effectively an academy side (in all but name) will be responsible for whether a club is potentially participating in European competition for the following season, which may cause some integrity issues, or we allow the winner of the L1/2 final to participate in Europe. That would be fun, but probably not particularly viable. Or, I guess you could just give the space to the 7th best team in the Premier League, who won’t want to be there anyway.

    Either way, a restructure to both competitions is a fantastic idea, and, if done well, could suit all parties.

  5. Just get rid of the League Cup altogether. Trophy still gives lower sides that chance of Wembley and only leaves the FA Cup (with replays) for the big boys to worry about.

  6. What annoys me is that it is a narrative driven by around 6 clubs. The ones who play regular European football. Was Klopp moaning about the world club cup in December? No, he was moaning about the league cup. The one of lower financial value.

    Most teams are happy as we are. The bigger teams have to acknowledge that the price of success if more games, it is just how it works.

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