Did scrapping FA Cup replays really come after consultation with lower league clubs, or have they had their dreams dashed to radio silence?


THE dream was always Southend away in the cup.

Others had different ambitions. For some it’s a big draw against a rival – a derby or a simple tie at home, maybe – but for me it was a trip to Roots Hall on the Essex coast.

There were several reasons for this.

There’s the fact that former Liverpool great Ronnie Whelan managed them briefly. Also, it wasn’t too far from London where I lived for three decades, so I could easily handle a late midweek finish and – of equal importance – the ground is referenced in ‘Rock n Roll is Full of Bad Wools’ by Half Man Half Biscuit. The world’s greatest band.

But the biggest factor was that I’d never been there. A new ground. I love a new ground.

This isn’t due to any laxity on my part. We’ve played the Shrimpers a grand total of five times in our history. Three of those were in the late ‘50s and twice in 1979 when The Reds took a 0-0 draw at their place before a routine 3-0 win at Anfield. The great Ray Kennedy netting the third.

January 1979. I was 11 years old, and in my final year of primary school. I didn’t even know where Southend was, so asking my Everton-supporting, job-threatened docker of a Dad if I could get on a coach to see the lads was somewhat out of the question.

I say this ‘was’ the dream. I’ve given up on it now.

There’s little chance of us playing Southend any time soon. They’re no longer in the Football League, so that leaves only the FA Cup and they’d be hard pushed to make it to the third round of that, and that’s before the lottery of an away draw there.

Play Liverpool? Behave. They can’t always be guaranteed to play a full side.

Last December they played Bromley in a National League fixture. Goalkeeper David Martin, who had briefly warmed the home bench in the Rafa Benitez days, went off injured. Full back Gus Scott-Morriss took the gloves and, despite a blinding save, oversaw a 2-1 defeat from between the sticks.

Why not put the substitute goalkeeper on? Well, they only had one sub and he wasn’t a keeper. One sub?

By that time they were still undergoing a transfer embargo, had been docked 10 points, had gone through a couple of winding up orders, had nearly had the electricity turned off (they were taken to court by Npower), and only had a safety certificate because 160 volunteers cleaned and painted the stadium.

They simply didn’t have (and, in any case, were not allowed to buy) a keeper for the bench. There’s poor and there’s that.

In February 2023, the club had to find new medical cover when the St John’s Ambulance refused to commit to fixtures due to lack of payment. In July, they had the water turned off.

Last week, it was announced that there would be no longer be FA Cup replays.

Picture the scene. Southend draw The Reds at Anfield. For reasons unknown to us, the new manager chooses a side made up of the U8s from The Academy to even up the game. It’s a stalemate and the tie will be replayed at Roots Hall a week on Thursday.

It’s a sellout. The away end is packed. I’ve finally achieved the Holy Grail and got into the ground, and the Southend staff and players can be paid in full and on time. They’ve not always had that luxury.

But we’re doing away with that. That’s not in anyone’s interest, apparently. They get in the way of the super-rich clubs and their already cramped schedules.

The EFL claim that this decision was agreed solely by the FA and the Premier League. The former say they were consulted for over a year. Consulted maybe, not listened to.

In 2005, Exeter City drew 0-0 at Old Trafford against a weakened Man Utd side. The match was replayed at their St James Park home ground. Utd won 2-0, as you’d expect.

The revenue from that game – and similarly in a replay against us in 2016 – enabled the Grecians to pay-off substantial debts. Those games saved them. They’re now a buoyant League One club.

Yeah, but it’s about fixture congestion.

Come on, eh?

The water doesn’t begin and end at the Premier League. Both organisations should consider the EFL clubs. What’s the point of the game if there are only 20 or so clubs in existence?

And many of us love a lower-league ground. Me, for one. I loved it when we drew Burton Albion a few years ago. We got to stand on a terrace and some old lad got a song about Gordon Lee going. I loved that too! Gordon Lee last managed a club over 30 years ago. It was like hugging the past.

There has to be support. I’ve no connection to Southend or, say, Bury and they probably both hate us, but I also love the game. Football clubs are vital for the community. People work at them, volunteer at them, live their lives through them. We do!

To be deprived of that revenue is cruel and vindictive. What’s more, it’s laughable. To claim they’re doing it to strengthen the competition. How? They’re always pushing out that ‘Magic of the Cup’ wank.

Magic of the Cup, such as…

Coventry City very nearly reached the final at the weekend. The same Coventry who have had to groundshare with Northampton Town, Birmingham City and Burton Albion at various times since we relegated them in 2001.

They needed a replay in the third round after drawing against Sheffield Wednesday. Had that gone to penalties and fate gone the other way, they’d have no big day out at Wembley, or Molineux for that matter.

This measure marks the further polarisation of the Premier League and the lower leagues. Another power grab in a game already ruined by the greedy and soullessness. This is not about football. This is not about the glory of the game. This is about resting players for more lucrative tournaments, and it stinks.

How far is this going to go? Can we just be sporting to save a sport? An extra 50 people on a gate can make all the difference.

We should be encouraging help, not reducing the opportunity of it.


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