English football in civil war after EFL excluded from talks over FA Cup changes

Jack Grealish poses for a photograph with the FA Cup Trophy after the team's victory with Kalvin Phillips in the Manchester City changing room after the Emirates FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium
City are defending champions in this year's FA Cup - Getty Images/Tom Flathers

Civil war has broken out within English football over the scrapping of FA Cup replays from next season.

The Football Association and Premier League are at loggerheads with the English Football League following an announcement that has also seen the FA Cup final lose its traditional place in the calendar.

EFL clubs are in open revolt and have called for a “protest” against the sale by a “hapless” FA of some of what remains of the cup’s heritage in exchange for £33 million a year – and other concessions – from the world’s richest league.

Even Premier League managers and supporters’ groups have spoken out against a move driven by “the big boys” amid the relentless expansion of the likes of the Champions League and Club World Cup that has seen the game lose “another part of its soul”.

But it was the EFL itself which broke ranks over changes to the calendar that has seen the top-flight’s abolished winter break abolished as well to allow a mid-August start date for the competition.

Suggesting its approval for such changes had been conditional on the delivery of the Premier League’s elusive new £900m football support system, EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: “The EFL notes today’s joint announcement from the FA and Premier League regarding the removal of FA Cup replays and wider calendar changes. Whilst the league had previously been involved in discussions over the future of the calendar, these were predicated on the agreement of a new financial deal with the Premier League for EFL clubs which has not progressed.

“This is frustrating and disappointing given the calendar is a shared asset across football and as we have consistently said a whole game approach is required to find solutions to complex fixture scheduling challenges.

“Our domestic calendar has been put under extreme pressure by the expansion of Uefa competitions and ultimately this represents another lost traditional revenue stream for EFL clubs at a time when the financial gap between the biggest clubs and those further down the pyramid is growing bigger than ever. We will now be discussing the implications for EFL clubs and seeking appropriate compensation arrangements.”

Abolishing FA Cup replays from the first round removes a potentially-lucrative form of broadcast and matchday income for clubs outside the Premier League, although this will be offset somewhat by the £33m-a-year payment to the rest of the English game from 2025-26.

Andy Holt, chairman of League Two Accrington Stanley, said the announcement had come “out of the blue”, writing on X: “Why would the hapless @FA scrap early round replays that can be lucrative to minnows? A chance to change their financial fortunes? Against @EFL clubs?

“When deals are done under a cloak of secrecy they are generally wrong.”

Nicola Palios, the vice-chair of Tranmere Rovers and wife of chairman Mark Palios – the former FA chief executive – posted: “The FA and the @premierleague have reached an agreement to suit themselves further at the expense of the rest of the football pyramid.

“Bring on the regulator and make sure it has some teeth before the @premierleague strangle the pyramid.

“729 teams compete in the @TheFACup. Why is its format being dictated by the @premierleague who represent c.3% of them? Why were @EFL clubs not given a say? Why is the EPL even dictating whether replays are allowed in rounds they don’t participate in? Protest is needed! #FACup.”

Chris Wilder, of Sheffield United, became the first Premier League manager to voice his opposition, saying: “As always, the game is dictated and dominated by the big boys and the big boys don’t want FA Cup replays, do they? So there’ll be an argument that they’re bringing all the money into the game.

The Arsenal Supporters Trust also posted on X: “Football loses another part of its soul. Sold out again.”

In exchange for scrapping replays, the FA has extracted a commitment that no Premier League matches will take place on cup final day or the day before.

The fourth and fifth rounds and the quarter-finals will also be exclusive of top-flight fixtures for the first time, and the fourth round will have an extended window from Friday to Wednesday.

In addition, the fifth round will revert to being played at the weekend, having been staged in midweek for the last five seasons.

The £33m-a-year cash injection from the Premier League is on top of the £100 million the latter currently gives to good causes each season.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said: “The Emirates FA Cup is our biggest asset and generates over 60 per cent of our revenue to invest into the game, so it is critical to secure a strong format for the future.

“This new agreement between the FA and the Premier League strengthens the Emirates FA Cup and gives this very special tournament exclusive weekends in an increasingly busy calendar.

“The new schedule ensures the magic of the cup is protected and enhanced, while working for the whole of the English game. The longer summer period also allows a much-needed player break before the start of the next season.

“We have also agreed new funding for the grassroots game, disability football and the women’s and girls’ game. All football begins at the grassroots, and this is recognised by the Premier League with very welcome additional financial support.”

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters added: “The Premier League is proud of the investment it provides to all levels of the game and this new agreement with the FA will see us enhance our support into grassroots football. This will improve facilities for communities and lower league clubs across the country, through the Football Foundation and Premier League Stadium Fund.

“Throughout our discussions, both parties have been committed to enhancing the scheduling of the Emirates FA Cup, a hugely important domestic competition with a storied history.

“The FA and the Premier League have worked in partnership to deliver more exclusive weekends without compromising the excitement of knockout football and this has been achieved at the same time as allowing us to ease fixture congestion generally.”