Will the End of Replays Destroy the Magic of the FA Cup?

The magic of the FA Cup is all about giant killings and underdogs battling against superior opponents and occasionally getting the better of them. If they can’t quite manage that, then a home draw to earn a money-spinning replay is a great consolation that can secure their financial future for years.

But replays in the FA Cup are set to become a thing of the past from the start of the 2024/25 campaign after a new agreement was signed between the Football Association (FA) and the Premier League. The change will apply from the first round proper onwards and will mean that if matches are all-square after 90 minutes, they’ll go to extra time and then, if needed penalties.

Understandably, many football clubs and indeed fans are up in arms about the decision to abolish replays in the cup, especially those of smaller clubs for whom the cup can be an essential source of income. On the flip side, the agreement does see an increase to the funding given from the Premier League to grassroots football, but that will be scant consolation to a lower league side who earns a draw at home in the cup against Arsenal or Man United, only to lose in extra time or on pens. They’d be missing out on a potential seven-figure windfall that could – in certain circumstances – make the difference between a small club surviving or going bust.

Can the Changes Be Stopped?

Fair Game screenshot

So, is the change set in stone or could it still be halted? More than 100 clubs have voiced their opposition to the decision and there are moves to challenge it. Football campaign group, Fair Game, has proposed an amendment to an upcoming act of parliament, the Football Governance Bill, that would ensure such changes could only be made after consultation with and a vote including the clubs affected.

Whether or not Fair Game’s request will be listened to by MPs is another matter. The organisation has the help of a political big-hitter in the form of Greater Manchester Mayor (and Everton fan) Andy Burnham. After the second reading of the bill passed through parliament on 23rd April 2024, the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron also suggested he would ask for an amendment to the aforementioned bill to ensure clubs are given a vote on changes like the dropping of FA Cup replays. It remains to be seen whether that will allow clubs to reintroduce replays if they’ve already been dropped.

Some of the Greatest FA Cup Replay Moments

Let’s leave politics aside for now though and take a look back at what we’d be missing if replays were indeed abolished. Anyone who’s enjoyed the FA Cup over the years will no doubt recall plenty of exciting replay moments, often involving giant killings and humiliation for the biggest sides in the land. Here are some of the most memorable FA Cup replay moments from the world’s oldest national football tournament.

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester United, 14th April 1999, Semi-final Replay

The current rules don’t allow replays from the fifth round onwards, so a replay in the semis wouldn’t happen these days. But this replay between title rivals Manchester United and Arsenal at Villa Park in April 1999 was an absolute classic. It will be remembered both for the bad blood between the opponents on the day (Roy Keane got his marching orders after 74 minutes) and also for a truly stupendous winning goal in extra time from Ryan Giggs.

Alex Ferguson’s United went on to win the cup, and completed their historic treble after pipping Arsenal to the Premier League title and getting the better of Bayern Munich to win the Champions League too.

Barnsley 3-2 Manchester United, 25th Feb 1998, Fifth Round Replay

Barnsley might have been in the Premier League in the 1997/98 season, but it was still a massive upset when they beat Fergie’s high-flying Man United in this fifth-round replay. Even more so because they’d been hammered 7-0 at Old Trafford in the league just a few months before. So when Danny Wilson’s men earned a 1-1 draw at the Theatre of Dreams, their fans started to believe that the Tykes might just do something special in the replay.

The South Yorkshire side didn’t disappoint, racing to a 2-0 lead by half time thanks to goals from John Hendrie and Scott Jones. Teddy Sheringham got one back for the visitors before Jones bagged his second with less than half an hour on the clock. The Red Devils, who were reigning Premier League champions, threw everything at the Tykes and made it 3-2 after Andy Cole found the net. But the home side held on for their famous victory. Unfortunately, they went out in the next round to Newcastle and got relegated from the top flight, but at least they knocked the then-mighty Man United out of the cup.

Everton 4-4 Liverpool 20th Feb 1991, 5th Round Replay

Merseyside derbies are often eventful affairs, but few can match the incessant thrill of this FA Cup fifth-round replay between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park. The eight-goal thriller was even more astounding given that the sides had initially played out a relatively dour 0-0 at Anfield just a few days prior. But there was nothing boring about this match as Kenny Dalglish’s team of stars, who’d won the league the season before, took the game to the Toffees.

Peter Beardsley opened the scoring after 37 minutes, only for Everton’s Graeme Sharp to level things up. Beardsley scored another after 71 minutes, and Sharp once more responded, just two minutes later. Sharpshooting Ian Rush pounced minutes after that, as fans from both sides started to realise they were witnessing something special; and as the clock wound down towards the 90th minute, up popped Tony Cottee to bang in an equaliser and send the game to extra time.

Both sides went tooth and nail for victory and there was little between them but it was once again the Reds who got the breakthrough, this time from John Barnes. But Everton weren’t done and Cottee saved the day again, scoring in the 113rd minute and it finished 4-4.

In those days, all-square after extra time in a replay didn’t lead to penalties, but rather another replay! Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish resigned before the second replay took place, perhaps due to the stress of watching his side throw away the lead four times! Everton won the second replay 1-0, but then lost to West Ham in the quarters.

Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United, 5th Feb 1972, Third Round Replay

One of the most iconic giant-killing achievements in FA Cup history, this third-round replay came about after Southern League side Hereford United earned a fantastic 2-2 draw at St James’ Park. The minnows took the lead on Tyneside and despite going 2-1 behind, found the equaliser to take it back to their Edgar Street ground.

The match remained 0-0 until the 82nd minute when Newcastle’s Malcolm Macdonald put the visitors ahead. Despite just a few minutes left of normal time, Hereford rallied and found the equaliser through Ronnie Radford, taking the game to extra time. That’s when substitute Ricky George found his shooting boots to get the goal that put the underdogs through and sent the home fans into delirium. Hereford earned another draw in the fourth round against top-flight opponents, West Ham United, but lost the replay 3-1.