It has emerged recently that the Premier League (PL), the Football Association and the English Football League (EFL) have been in discussions about implementing a winter break for the English Premier League.
The idea of a winter break has been kicked around for years. Originally it was to avoid the worst of the winter weather but nowadays, given EPL clubs are obliged to have under-soil heating, it is more about helping England players prepare for international tournaments. Europe's other top leagues (in Italy, Germany, France and Spain) plus Scotland already benefit from a break in January. Ours could be introduced as early as the 2019-20 season, with Euro 2020 in mind.
As the supporter of a lower league team you may ask, so what? Give them a break, time to clean their Lamborghinis and get their beards waxed. But the introduction of any such break will, in all probability, impact on us, too. It has been suggested that, to accommodate the break without extending the season, FA Cup replays from the 3rd round would be abolished. Additionally the FA Cup 4th and 5th rounds could be played mid-week. All of a sudden this has potentially more sinister implications for clubs at lower levels.
So what do you think of this proposal, and its implications for lower league football?
Whilst the absence of PL matches over the period concerned (likely to be late January and February) may boost EFL attendances, the removal of FA Cup replays and midweek-only rounds could be a serious loss of opportunities for smaller clubs to get a financial boost. As well as the gate money there are large quantities of TV cash at stake these days, too. At United we have recent first hand experience of this, of course. - who amongst us can forget that night at Old Trafford?
In a recent Football Supporters Federation (FSF) survey only 30% of members were in favour of shifting FAC 4th and 5th round matches to mid-week. The vast majority wanted replays to remain, at least up to the quarter finals. Not a surprise. Paul Tisdale and Michael Flynn, managers of Exeter and Newport respectively, have both spoken out against the suggestion of abolishing replays. Both have recent personal experience of the huge financial benefits that can result from lucrative FA Cup replays can bring, money that can transform the fortunes of a small football club.
It sounds like a winter break is coming, though. So, if we are not to tinker (further) with the FA Cup, what other options are there to make room for the displaced PL fixtures? Well, it occurs to me that we could abolish the League Cup (for the teenagers, that's the Carabao Cup)! What do you think? People are quick to highlight how low the FA Cup has dropped down the priorities of PL and Championship clubs, but the League Cup (LC) has dipped even lower. In my view it suffered a major blow to its credibility when clubs playing in Europe were given byes until the third round. Crowds are now very low in the first few rounds, especially at the bigger clubs. LC replays were abandoned years ago. There are now very few lucrative LC ties for small clubs – unless they reach the two-leg semi-finals.
I asked Cambridge United's Head of Football, Ben Strang, for his view. He is not in favour of scrapping the League Cup as United could miss out on a big draw. I suspect many other small clubs will share this view, and reluctantly accept that the writing is on the wall for FA Cup replays. It's hard to disagree: Replayed finals ended in the 1980s, replayed semi-finals disappeared when the ties were moved to the new Wembley, and this year we found that the QFs had to be settled at the first time of asking.
So what do you think? CFU is organising a quick survey to find out. You can provide your view by completing the survey below -