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FA Cup changes favour elite clubs over lower leagues again

Over recent years, football’s divide between the elite and lower leagues has only grown. From the European Super League, to ‘Project Big Picture’, when the top club’s in England attempted to radically alter the power structure in the game during the COVID pandemic, there are far too many examples of the game losing what it was created with in the first place: a fierce community spirit.

This week, there was another dark turn. The Football Association announced the scrapping of FA Cup replays from the first round proper. On the face of it, this may be an elegant solution to fixture congestion, another very real, but very different, issue in the game which needs serious consideration. But in reality, it has only increase the bitterness and division that is now too common between the Premier League and the English Football League. In fact, the announcement has even been declared as all out war between two sides.

While the early rounds of the FA Cup may be a nuisance to some top clubs, they can be defining moments in the seasons of clubs too towards the lower end of the pyramid. Big games against the very top clubs can allow non-league or League One and Two clubs to clear debt, build on their stadiums or sign a game changing player. These games are their finals; often the aim is draw and get a replay, to extend the experience and crucially the ability to grow their revenue streams. Football becoming more business-centric is nothing new, but this is feels like a choice to make it harder for the English football pyramid to exist, which is a disgrace.

That pyramid is the lifeblood of the game. In Germany for example, fans are put first; tickets are cheap, beer is cheap and available in the stands, and food is cheap. The 50+ 1 rule, guarantees that fans and therefore all clubs put community first, because they own the main share of the club. Their league system is much fairer and, for the most part, closer in quality. But four divisions down, their national game turns regional. By comparison, there are five nationwide leagues in England; all uniquely and heavily supported and able to thrive. At least, that was the case.

Making choices like this, which offer new challenges that could be insurmountable for many clubs, we see the death of such a rich heritage of football. Rather ironically, since the pandemic, which saw football played behind closed doors without fans, top clubs and authorities have spoken continuously about the unique community spirit and depth in England and how that authenticity should be protected, whilst consistently undermining it.

Decisions like this, albeit not directly, will only further the potential downfall of clubs like Bury, Scunthorpe and many others. League title winners like Derby, and former Premier League regulars Bolton, have been on the brink; because of their own mismanagement in part, but also because the structures and systems in place are not rigororous enough to stop these things from happening. The only thing that benefits to top clubs is timing; were the positions flipped, they’d be as outraged as the many EFL clubs who have quite rightly released statements opposing this announcement since it was made.

The EFL itself has released a statement, too; as strongly worded as can be expected.

“This latest agreement between the Premier League and the FA, in the absence of financial reform, is just a further example of how the EFL and its Clubs are being marginalised in favour of others further up the pyramid and that only serves to threaten the future of the English game.

“The EFL today calls on both the Premier League and the FA, as the Governing body, to re-evaluate their approach to their footballing partnership with the EFL and engage more collaboratively on issues directly affecting our Clubs.”

This is the latest example of a trend of self-harm to English football. Yes, teams play too many games; but it shouldn’t be the lower league clubs, for whom revenue can change so much, who pay the price. English football is unique and special because of how deep it runs in communities; it needs to stop simply saying that and start acting like it.


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