FA Cup: 'Hapless' FA criticised by lower-league clubs for scrapping potential money-spinning replays

Lower-league football clubs have hit out at the FA over its decision to scrap replays in its flagship men's competition.

FA Cup replays will be scrapped next season amid concerns the increasingly congested calendar could impact player welfare.

Sky News in December revealed the players' union was considering legal action over the packed football year.

The current FA Cup format has no replays from the fifth round, but now there will be none from the first round "in light of changes to the calendar driven by the expanded UEFA competitions".

But clubs in lower leagues will miss out on payments that can come from earning a replay against teams in higher divisions.

Such matches are often televised - which gives smaller clubs rare access to the related revenue - and are likely to sell out their stadium.

Nicola Palios, vice-chair of League Two club Tranmere Rovers, said: "The FA and the Premier League have reached an agreement to suit themselves further at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid."

While calling for protest, she added: "Seven hundred and twenty-nine teams compete in the FA Cup. Why is its format being dictated by the Premier League who represent circa 3% of them?"

Andy Holt, the chairman of League Two club Accrington Stanley, said: "Why would the hapless FA scrap early-round replays that can be lucrative to minnows?"

AFC Wimbledon supporter Ray Armfield cited his club's famous replay against Leeds United in 1975, which he said raised money from a 45,701-strong crowd.

He said on X the club may not have been elected to the Football League two years later without it.

The English Football League (EFL), which is formed of the Championship, League One and League Two said: "We will now be discussing the implications for EFL clubs and seeking appropriate compensation arrangements."

'Magic will be protected'

The new format is part of an agreement between the FA and the Premier League that will see up to an extra £33m going to grassroots football from the top flight each season.

It will provide up to £133m per season in funding to the football pyramid from 2025-26, the FA claims.

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FA chief executive Mark Bullingham, meanwhile, said the "magic" of the competition will be "protected".

The FA is blaming the Champions League expansion from next season - with eight rather than six games per team in the new-look first phase - for a radical overhaul of its flagship men's competition.

These concerns are magnified by FIFA introducing a new 32-team Club World Cup in 2025 when most Premier League players would be on holiday.

The mid-season break has also been removed to allow a mid-August start date for the Premier League, with the longer break affording clubs a better chance of giving players a three-week break.

FA sources have challenged the notion that replays, which have been a part of its tradition for 150 years, are major revenue earners for lower-league clubs.

Of the 19 third and fourth-round replays in the last 10 years where an EFL side were away, 12 had an attendance of over 25,000. Only a very small percentage of first and second-round replays over the same period achieved attendances of over 7,000.