English football in civil war after EFL excluded from talks over FA Cup changes

Jack Grealish poses for a photograph with the FA Cup Trophy after the team's victory with Kalvin Phillips in the Manchester City changing room after the Emirates FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium
Manchester City are defending champions in this year's FA Cup - Getty Images/Tom Flathers

Civil war has broken out within English football over the scrapping of FA Cup replays from next season.

The Football Association and Premier League are at loggerheads with the English Football League following an announcement that has also seen the FA Cup final lose its traditional place in the calendar.

EFL clubs are in open revolt and have called for a “protest” against the sale by a “hapless” FA of some of what remains of the Cup’s heritage in exchange for £33 million a year – and other concessions – from the world’s richest league.

Even Premier League managers and supporters’ groups have spoken out against a move driven by “the big boys” amid the relentless expansion of the likes of the Champions League and Club World Cup that has seen the game lose “another part of its soul”.

But it was the EFL itself which broke ranks over changes to the calendar that has seen the top flight’s winter break abolished as well to allow a mid-August start date for the competition.

Suggesting its approval for such changes had been conditional on the delivery of the Premier League’s elusive new £900 million football support system, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: “The EFL notes today’s joint announcement from the FA and Premier League regarding the removal of FA Cup replays and wider calendar changes. Whilst the league had previously been involved in discussions over the future of the calendar, these were predicated on the agreement of a new financial deal with the Premier League for EFL clubs which has not progressed.

“This is frustrating and disappointing given the calendar is a shared asset across football and as we have consistently said a whole game approach is required to find solutions to complex fixture scheduling challenges.

“Our domestic calendar has been put under extreme pressure by the expansion of Uefa competitions and ultimately this represents another lost traditional revenue stream for EFL clubs at a time when the financial gap between the biggest clubs and those further down the pyramid is growing bigger than ever. We will now be discussing the implications for EFL clubs and seeking appropriate compensation arrangements.”

Abolishing FA Cup replays from the first round removes a potentially-lucrative form of broadcast and match-day income for clubs outside the Premier League, although this will be offset somewhat by the £33 million-a-year payment to the rest of the English game from 2025-26.

Andy Holt, chairman of League Two Accrington Stanley, said the announcement had come “out of the blue”, writing on X: “Why would the hapless @FA scrap early round replays that can be lucrative to minnows? A chance to change their financial fortunes? Against @EFL clubs?

“When deals are done under a cloak of secrecy they are generally wrong.”

Nicola Palios, the vice-chair of Tranmere Rovers and wife of chairman Mark Palios – the former FA chief executive – posted: “The FA and the @premierleague have reached an agreement to suit themselves further at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid.

“Bring on the regulator and make sure it has some teeth before the @premierleague strangle the pyramid.

“729 teams compete in the @TheFACup. Why is its format being dictated by the @premierleague who represent c.3% of them? Why were @EFL clubs not given a say? Why is the EPL even dictating whether replays are allowed in rounds they don’t participate in? Protest is needed! #FACup.”

Chris Wilder, of Sheffield United, became the first Premier League manager to voice his opposition, saying: “As always, the game is dictated and dominated by the big boys and the big boys don’t want FA Cup replays, do they? So there’ll be an argument that they’re bringing all the money into the game.

“Being a traditionalist, what does that do to non-league clubs that get into the fairy-tale world of round three and get a draw at home and the financial implications that gives them by getting a draw at a big club?”

The Arsenal Supporters Trust also posted on X: “Football loses another part of its soul. Sold out again.”

The FA Cup final has also been moved to the penultimate Saturday of the season, arguably further diminishing its prestige.

In exchange, the FA has extracted a commitment that no Premier League matches will take place on cup final day or the day before.

The fourth and fifth rounds and the quarter-finals will also be exclusive of top-flight fixtures for the first time, and the fourth round will have an extended window from Friday to Wednesday.

In addition, the fifth round will revert to being played at the weekend, having been staged in midweek for the last five seasons.

The £33 million-a-year cash injection from the Premier League is on top of the £100 million the latter currently gives to good causes each season.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “The Emirates FA Cup is our biggest asset and generates over 60 per cent of our revenue to invest into the game, so it is critical to secure a strong format for the future.

“This new agreement between the FA and the Premier League strengthens the Emirates FA Cup and gives this very special tournament exclusive weekends in an increasingly busy calendar.

“The new schedule ensures the magic of the Cup is protected and enhanced, while working for the whole of the English game. The longer summer period also allows a much-needed player break before the start of the next season.

“We have also agreed new funding for the grass-roots game, disability football and the women’s and girls’ game. All football begins at the grass roots, and this is recognised by the Premier League with very welcome additional financial support.”

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters added: “The Premier League is proud of the investment it provides to all levels of the game and this new agreement with the FA will see us enhance our support into grass-roots football. This will improve facilities for communities and lower league clubs across the country, through the Football Foundation and Premier League Stadium Fund.

“Throughout our discussions, both parties have been committed to enhancing the scheduling of the Emirates FA Cup, a hugely important domestic competition with a storied history.

“The FA and the Premier League have worked in partnership to deliver more exclusive weekends without compromising the excitement of knockout football and this has been achieved at the same time as allowing us to ease fixture congestion generally.”

The FA also said the calendar changes had been approved by the Professional Game Board, which includes representatives of EFL clubs.

The Premier League’s arrogance and FA’s weakness has devalued the FA Cup

The FA Cup was once the greatest cup competition. It had a unique heritage throughout the world and it brought together the pyramid of English football.

The glory of the FA Cup was the uncertainty, the dream of a smaller club getting through and playing a larger club. The possibility of going to a larger club’s ground – of Southport going to Manchester United – but also having the larger club come to your ground – Manchester City going to Barnet.

It was the only competition that seriously brought all that together.

All that has been eroded over the years. The Football Association has allowed the Premier League, in particular, and European football to dominate to such an extraordinary extent that everything has got out of balance.

I would not call the FA Cup a Mickey Mouse competition – I would not be so insulting – but it is a devalued one in my view. Scrapping replays is like having Champions League knockout ties on a one-off basis, without them being home and away. Nobody would dream of that.

If there was a regulator in place now, I would have expected it absolutely to be looking at an issue like this. Because one of the main reasons for the regulator, I have always said, is to look at the domination of the big clubs in the Premier League and the extent of their influence at the expense of everybody else. This is a very good example of that.

The English Football League either was not consulted or was not involved in the final deal struck between the FA and Premier League and it was not part of an overall settlement between the Premier League and EFL over funding the game longer term.

There, again, is an example of, if I may say, the arrogance of the Premier League and also the inability of the FA to do its job properly. The governing body of English football absolutely should be ensuring all parties sit round the table for something like this and nobody is excluded.

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