Clubs threaten FA Cup boycott as government demands answers over axed replays

Stuart Barlow of Tranmere scores the winning goal during the FA Cup fifth-round replay match against Southampton
Tranmere Rovers produced one of the great FA Cup replay upsets – fighting back from 3-0 down to beat Southampton in 2001 – but now they could join a boycott of the competition - Getty Images/Michael Steele

Clubs are threatening to boycott the FA Cup in protest against the axing of replays after Downing Street demanded answers over a decision that has plunged the Football Association into crisis.

The FA failed on Friday to quell a growing revolt against a deal with the Premier League that has also seen the Cup final lose its traditional place in the calendar, with furious English Football League teams warning they stood ready to withdraw from the competition.

As EFL clubs queued up to issue statements condemning Thursday’s announcement by the FA and Premier League and demanding the decision be reversed pending full consultation, Mark Palios, the chairman of Tranmere Rovers who was FA chief executive between 2003 and 2004, told Telegraph Sport he was ready to back the nuclear option.

“There needs to be further debate,” he said. “But if that was the situation that most of the clubs felt that way, I’d support it.”

Palios’s comments came after the chairman of Accrington Stanley, Andy Holt, led calls for rival teams to unite in fighting back.

“I would support a boycott if enough clubs feel the same,” Holt posted on X after demanding the Premier League sign off on its stalled £900 million football support system before making any “concession” over the future of the Cup.

The boycott threat was compounded by Government intervention courtesy of a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

“David and Goliath fixtures are a part of the magic of the Cup,” he said. “We know that replays have been a welcome source of income for smaller clubs throughout the years. These are, however, decisions for the footballing authorities. But clearly it’s incumbent on the FA and Premier League to explain this decision and why it is in the interests of fans.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer went further over what he branded a “wrong decision” to abandon “part of the tradition of the FA Cup”.

The FA was accused of trying to shift “blame” for that decision by the vice-chairman of its own FA Cup committee, Steve Kavanagh, the Millwall chief executive and EFL board member.

Kavanagh also sits on the Professional Game Board (PGB), which the FA claimed had “approved” a calendar that included no Cup replays from the first round due to the relentless expansion of the Champions League and Club World Cup.

He told Telegraph Sport: “It would appear the FA were trying to point the finger of blame at the EFL, which is beyond belief. I am incredulous.

“For the FA to not take responsibility for its own actions, its own agreements, is spineless.”

Tottenham Hotspur's Ricky Villa on the ball with Manchester City's Nicky Reid challenging
Ricky Villa scored a sensational goal in the 1981 FA Cup final replay – now all replays from the first round proper, and not just the final, have been scrapped from next season - Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Replays were sold off and the Cup final moved to the penultimate weekend of the Premier League season in exchange for a £33 million-a-year payment from the Premier League and other concessions over scheduling.

Kavanagh said: “I am actually vice-chairman of the FA Cup committee. I didn’t even get a notification on that committee. No real conversations took place on that committee regarding this.

“The FA are trying to shift the finger of blame – they need to take a long, hard look at themselves and go away and think about whether they absolutely represent the full pyramid.”

Kavanagh claimed Mark Bullingham, the chief executive of the FA, told him clubs would be “happy” to lose replays, despite their abolition removing a potentially lucrative form of broadcast and match-day income for clubs outside the Premier League.

He added: “I made it absolutely clear I didn’t agree with that decision and told him that I didn’t feel clubs would agree.

“The last 24 hours proved I was right and my knowledge of football clearly stretches to the lower reaches – that includes the National League by the way. For them, replays are vital. Vital to what goes on.

“The truth is there were conversations regarding FA Cup replays but it was all part of redistribution – it was a conversation around the calendar.

“Of course, that has been taken away from us as well so we are left empty handed and for the finger of blame to be sent in our direction is utterly bewildering.”

EFL could seek compensation

The EFL has threatened to seek compensation for the loss of replays and the FA said on Friday it understood the concerns expressed and would be “sharing more details with clubs very shortly to explain the additional revenue opportunities in the early rounds”.

It said discussions over next season’s calendar and scrapping FA Cup replays dated back “well over a year”, insisting “all parties accepted that they could not continue”.

It added the PGB and FA board which “approved” the calendar both included representatives of the EFL.

In response to Downing Street’s demand, it said: “David and Goliath fixtures are still a core part of the magic of the FA Cup draw – the challenge is replays in a congested calendar and we have explained the process behind the decision today.”

Of Kavanagh’s accusations, it said: “The membership of the Professional Game Board is in the public domain and listed on the FA website.”

The EFL said its representatives had challenged the scrapping of replays in the absence of the so-called ‘New Deal For Football’ being agreed.

It added: “Any decisions taken on the calendar involving EFL representatives are in no way an endorsement of the joint deal agreed between the FA and Premier League that imposes changes to the FA Cup competition format in isolation.”

Calling on the FA and Premier League to “re-evaluate their approach to their footballing partnership with the EFL and engage more collaboratively on issues directly affecting our clubs”,  it warned: “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.”

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag branded the axing of Cup replays “very sad for the British football culture” but added the outcome was “inevitable”.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said his club’s responsibility was to “protect our players” and that something had to give.


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