15 February ~ On Saturday the Times revealed that the FA Cup faces a "radical overhaul" in order to revive interest in what is perceived, especially by the mainstream media, as an ailing competition. The FA's chief executive Ian Watmore has reportedly drawn up a list of proposals that include abolishing replays, playing games midweek and seeding teams for the draw. The newspaper described the plan as Watmore's "brainchild".

This makes Mr Watmore sound like quite the innovative whizzkid, but his brainchild will sound very familiar to anyone with a scant knowledge of German domestic football. The German FA Cup also has no replays, stages all its games midweek bar the first round and seeds teams in the early stages so that lower division teams enjoy home advantage and are guaranteed to play a team from either the first or second division. Some years ago the Football League spawned a brainchild of its own and applied much of the above to another under-loved English competition, the League Cup.

But the amazingly dynamic Mr Watmore did not just google the German FA website to produce his earth-shattering blueprint. The Times also reported that the FA Cup might be used to "give a trial to innovations such as goal-line technology or additional referees". Quite how this is going to bring the fans back into stadiums is not clear. Would it be the allure of having an extra ref to scream abuse at? The chance to see an actual goal line camera live, in action? Only a cynic would label it a glib plan to raise the competition's global media profile without adding anything of substance to the actual game.

That nonsense aside, the format for the German Cup is worth taking a look at. It's a compact, six-round competition spread across the entire season that doesn't place too many demands on the top-flight teams, who consequently field full sides and take the competition seriously. The early rounds broadly pit big against small and generally produce a few surprises. Naturally it takes second place to the Bundesliga, but it's a popular enough competition, helped by midweek broadcasts on free-to-view TV.

Our own FA Cup, by contrast, has for too long lived off its status as the oldest football competition in the world. The FA's proposed tinkering is a belated acknowledgement that just saying the word "tradition" over and over is probably no longer good enough for the Premier League generation. Is there really any good reason for replays, apart from historical precedent? Why should it not be a midweek competition? What speaks against seeding lower-league clubs against bigger ones? It's arguable whether or not any of these measures would change the competition for the better, but it's at least worth having the discussion.

It's well established that saturation live TV coverage robbed the FA Cup final of its special place in the football calendar and the subsequent race for Premier and Champions League cash caused the competition to fall in priority for clubs, media and many fans too. While on the field this season's tournament – and many of this past weekend's fifth round ties – have again proven that Cup football has plenty to offer, it's still the significantly poorer cousin in pure economic terms. Our fond memories of second and third replays in the 1970s will not compel managers to stop fielding weakened teams as long as we tolerate what the sensible Germans view as an insanely overcrowded fixture list. A dispassionate outsider might advise us to scrap the League Cup, reduce the Premier League to 18 teams and reform the FA Cup so that it's more of a joy than a burden. That's what you'd call a radical overhaul. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (14)
Comment by Nurse Duckett 2010-02-15 12:15:24

I agree that the FA should look at improving the FA Cup's status; it's not enough to rely on tradition.

However, I look back in fondness at second and third cup replays; it made a team's whole cup campaign seem more of a titanic struggle. When penalties were introduced to first replays, it gave the impression of "oh for God's sake, let's get it over with: it's only the FA Cup".

Part of the FA Cup's appeal is the randomness of the draw each round (conspiracy theories about warmed up balls notwithstanding). Seeded draws might ensure that lower clubs get their day in the spotlight against higher clubs, but wouldn't this also protect higher clubs from facing each other until later rounds, thus prolonging the boredom of the same few teams winning it almost every year?

I agree with reducing the PL to 18 teams, although I'd prefer scrapping the PL altogether and reverting to it being the First Division of the Football League - call me a dinosaur.

Comment by t.j.vickerman 2010-02-15 12:22:15

I'm afraid the cup is now well beyond redemption after Tim Loeufjoi's participation in the draw...

Comment by Jongudmund 2010-02-15 12:58:06

Midweek games are a nightmare for exiled fans and those who travel away though. And anything that makes the galling corporate whores of the premier league sit on the sidelines for a week while all the attention is switched elsewhere (as pretty much happened this week) has got to be a huge plus.

The thing about replays is that, okay, as small club in a seeded competition you may get to see the big boys on your patch, but it would also be nice to travel away to one of these much-touted famous homes of football and see what they're really like. (After an underwhelming experience at Old Trafford to see an England game a few years ago, nothing dents the facade of amazingness than actually going to one of those places.)

Comment by loppy 2010-02-15 14:58:44

The FA cup needs one simple thing. Champions league qualification for the winner. It needs mo other change. Suddenly interest is back up from fans and the big teams try again. Easy.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-02-15 15:27:33

Nurse Duckett is a dinosaur.

Comment by danielmak 2010-02-15 17:07:14

It seems like there is no winning here. The cries were loudest about the lack of luster the year that Portsmouth played Cardiff in the final. The final was a bore, the semi-finals were attrocious, cried the media pundits. Yet, they also complained that the Big 4 (which if it keeps up like this will just be an expanded replica of the SPL's Big 2 and should be re-named the Big Snore) were dominating all domestic competitions. I think the cries are louder again this year because Chelsea is the only top side left and the so-called magic of the cup (little sides knocking off big sides) is only magical in theory but not in practice.

I would bet that seeding, which will favor the big clubs, will be the next move. If that doesn't work, the FA can then follow the Coppa Italia model where seeding also has played out this season by having the higher ranked club as the home team. This type of move should suit all the United and Chelsea fans well, boost the ratings internationally, bring in tons of cash, and still give the pundits something to complain about.

Comment by stuart77 2010-02-15 17:39:46

Loveboy loves touching the FAs balls

Comment by shadsworth cloud 2010-02-15 17:47:56

there is a fashion at the moment amongst some football fans of gazing jealously at the german model and wishing everything here was like there: member-owned clubs, full stadiums, terraced areas, beer on sale.
But the german cup is not a competition taken more seriously than shoulder-shruggingly. OK if you get to the semi-final and start to dream of a day out in may in berlin but apart from that there is plenty of apathy there for the DFB-Pokal.
The great thing about the FA Cup is its sheer simplicity. put all the names in a hat and you get who you get. Chelsea at home, or Darlington away. All the froth about Lovejoy or Elliot doing the draw is just froth, not important. To start loading the draw would be a massive nail in the coffin.

And cup shocks are just that: they are shocks because nobody expected them. So media pundits drumming up "potential shocks" are missing the point. If southampton v portsmouth is a potential shock, it cannot be a shock. Is that clear?

Comment by Walker 2010-02-15 18:51:53

Scrapping the league cup would be a start. It's never brought much into the game. I don't think a seeded draw would add much to the competition- you could argue that it's just a way of trying to kill off all the small clubs early on in the proceedings.
What about playing the FA cup under 1872 rules? that'd bring the crowds back

Comment by NiceOneCenturian 2010-02-16 06:14:00

Scrap the League Cup, all league and Premiership teams enter the FA Cup from round 1.

More chance of the non-league teams meeting one of the big-boys and the big-boys have to make more of an effort as it's the only domestic cup competition on offer.

The so-called magic of the FA Cup is that some team of part-timers from the Doc Martins Third Division might draw a glamour tie against a Premiership team. Seeding would kill that entirely.

Comment by Ossy 2010-02-16 19:02:58

How will teams in the extra preliminary round benefit from having to play midweek with no replays? For many teams in the really early stages a home FA cup game on a Saturday will be their biggest gate of the year. And how would Burton players and fans feel about not having the opportunity of having a replay at Old Trafford?

Also at what stage do the extra referees and video technology come in?

The beauty of the FA Cup is that any team from the littlest to the biggest can enter - over 700 clubs entered the cup this season. Therefore any changes should be designed with all clubs in mind not just a handful at the top.

The cup doesn't need tinkering with it's format it just needs incentive. Give the winners of the FA Cup a Champions League place and I think you'd find all the big clubs and their supporters would suddenly remember about the 'magic' of the FA Cup.

Comment by madmickyf 2010-02-17 04:34:05

Of course these proposed changes are all for the benefit of the 'big boys' who can't be bothered with 'minor' domestic cups when they're chasing glory in Europe. Why don't we just close down every club except Chelsea, Man U, Arsenal & Liverpool, then they'd be rid of the inconvenience of playing against the peasantry altogether!

Comment by A09 2010-02-17 12:49:08

Some thoughts from Germany:
Allows winning of the FA Cup to start in the Euro-League?
That's why it is interesting for a German Team to win the DFB-Pokal. Even if you loose the final you are in, if the winning team is already qualified for either Champions-League or Euro-League by it's position in the Bundesliga. So for every starter it means that you need six wins to start in Europe - the easiest way at all compared to 34 matches during the whole Bundesliga-season.
Even more interesting is the financial aspect: Starting in Europe makes additional 1.5 - 2 Million Euro - a lot of money for a lot of German Teams which haven't such a big TV contract as the Premier League.
For me it's difficult to compare Premier League and Bundesliga because both haven't the same conditions.

Finally reg. the discussion about replay matches or not: Not having replays helps your penalty-performance ;-)


Comment by Jongudmund 2010-02-17 14:02:39

"It seems like there is no winning here. The cries were loudest about the lack of luster the year that Portsmouth played Cardiff in the final. The final was a bore, the semi-finals were attrocious, cried the media pundits."

That is abotu the only final I've watched in recent years that I've in any way enjoyed mainly because someone 'different' was going to win the cup. The worst final ever was the Arsenal-Man U one that went to Penalties. That was absolutely dreadful. Anyone whose first experience of watching two teams for the greatest league in the world would wonder what on earth the hype was about if they saw that game.

Madmickyf is spot on. This kind of messing about with the cup lark is all about the new class warfare in football, between those with money at the top and those without it struggling to survive.

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