Dropping FA Cup replays, another idiotic idea?

Lukaku sets up an FA Cup replay for Everton

The plethora of televised football in recent weeks finally took its toll on Tuesday night when I decided to give Everton v West Ham a miss. However rigorous sweeping of available channels and a thousand and one awful programme offerings promoted a quick check of the game at Goodison, if only to see what the score was.

West Ham were leading 1-0 going into added time and then justification for actually checking out the game arrived with one of the best goals I have seen. It wasn’t so much Lukaku’s strike of the ball from close range as much as the incredible speed he moved his foot to score after an initial touch to flick it up. It was almost Thierry Henry at his best and it meant a replay at Upton Park.

The scenic route, I know, to the point of this article. I read the other day a suggestion from someone that FA Cup replays should be dropped. My first reaction was ‘which Muppet from on high came up with that one’. I just had to check it out and discovered it was someone from a web site somewhere pontificating as to why replays should become a thing of the past. Well, time for someone else from another web site to counter that preposterous idea.

Thankfully most of the comments posted in response to the idea were pretty unanimous in saying leave the FA Cup replays alone but hardly touched upon some of the main reasons for keeping faith with that tradition.

When Everton were pushing West Ham hard to equalise on Tuesday they were not just doing so because professional sportsmen hate to lose, they wanted to stay in the FA Cup. They weren’t going to claw two goals out of the remaining few minutes but the hope that just a single goal was possible and would earn a second bite was uppermost in the minds of most wearing a blue shirt that night and drove Everton on, and that is the key. Hope that one more effort can bring its reward is what has driven teams to earn a replay ever since the first one on January 6th 1872 when Hampstead Heathens beat Barnes 1-0 in a 2nd Round replay.

In the 1990s it was decided that at the end of a replay if the scores were tied the tie would be settled by extra time and penalties if necessary. That was and still is a happy compromise. A second game allows for cash and glory, settling it at that point also saves both teams and the football audience from a game that very rarely produces a classic.

There have been hundreds of famous FA Cup replays down the years that would not richly embellish the history of the world’s oldest football competition if replays had not been an integral part of the game.

One of the best remembered and arguably the most famous was in 1971 when non-league Hereford United were drawn against Newcastle United in the 3rd Round. After a draw at St James Park the teams replayed at Edgar Street and the Southern League side dumped the Geordies out with that iconic Ronnie Radford piledriver, after extra-time.

Another famous FA Cup replay and one of many which epitomised the merits of a replay came in 1992 when Conference League Farnborough Town were drawn against First Division West Ham United. Foregoing home advantage as their Cherrywood Road ground was unsuitable proved no handicap as they held Billy Bonds’ team to a 1-1 draw. In the replay, also at Upton Park, two minutes from time Trevor Morley scored the only goal to prevent the game going to penalties.

It is a very long list of teams, especially from lower levels, who have forced replays with more illustrious opposition. Exeter City and Burton Albion, and their exploits against Manchester United in recent years spring readily to mind.

While there may be an argument for going straight to penalties, that does remove the anticipation of a lower league club looking forward to hosting more illustrious opponents or maybe visiting one of the game’s top venues not to mention the merits of the ’15 minutes of fame’. Then of course there is the financial angle which cannot be dismissed as many a club over the near 150 years of the FA Cup has been saved by the cash injection of an FA Cup replay date

We talk a lot in this country about our national game and its traditions. Any talk about scrapping FA Cup replays is just plain nonsense.

By
Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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