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What Is a Cup Replay in Football?

When two teams meet in a league game, we’re comfortable with the idea that the fixture can end in a draw – if the sides can’t be separated after 90 minutes, then they can shake hands and take home a point each. But in cup games, a draw is less than ideal – after all, by the very nature of cup competitions, we need a winner to progress to the next round.

Many competitions around the world have long utilised the extra time and/or penalties method of splitting the two teams, and for a while there was even the infamous golden goal format – that lasted less than a decade.

In English football, the domestic cups have used a different method of transforming a draw with a win for either team. The cup replay was introduced as far back as the 1800s, and while the extra game hasn’t always been met positively by all, it has provided a financial lifeline for lower league clubs when taking on the elite.

What Is a Cup Replay?

Some terms and happenings in football require in-depth explanation – but not cup replays, which are exactly as the name implies. When a cup game finishes as a draw after 90 minutes, it will then go to a replay – a new date will be agreed, at which point the two teams will play each other once more. Once upon a time, all rounds of the FA Cup were subject to a replay – even the final, which saw the sides reconvene back at Wembley Stadium at a later date.

But in the earlier rounds, the team that played the original game away from home would then host the replay. This was often a crucial detail for lower league clubs, because the gate money was split 50/50 for FA Cup ties – so a non-league team securing a replay at Old Trafford or Anfield, for example, was a huge deal for them financially.

From 1991 onwards, a game could only be replayed once – so, if the replay also ended in a draw, that’s when extra time and/or penalties would be used to generate a result. But that wasn’t always the case: one FA Cup tie between Alvechurch and Oxford City back in 1971 was replayed five times before the former went on to win! So cup replays have been a feature of English football for more than a century – that is, until the Football Association decided to pull the plug on replays altogether….

Why Were FA Cup Replays Scrapped?

FA Cup logoAs of the 2024/25 season, replays in all rounds of the FA Cup will be scrapped. Since the dawn of the FA Cup, replays have been played for drawn games in every round up until the fifth – as of the 2018/19 season, replays were scrapped from the fifth round onwards in a bit to cut down on the fixture congestion that could build up in the final months of the campaign.

But the Football Association went even further in 2024, confirming that all replays would be scrapped in the FA Cup – causing uproar amongst clubs in the lower leagues, who weren’t consulted on the change. However, replays will remain in the qualifying rounds of the competition.

The reason, as per the FA, is to help clubs playing in Europe better manage the schedule of their squads with fewer games – the Champions League has been expanded from 2024/25 onwards, with each team playing more games. That has led to accusations that the FA are only interested in protecting the interests of the English football elite – as opposed to all teams in the league pyramid.

Tranmere Rovers chairman Mark Palios, who had previously served as chief executive of the FA, said that ‘the process is an absolute disgrace, a deal concocted in the corridors of power,’ while Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder commented:

The game is dominated by the big boys, and the big boys don’t want FA Cup replays, do they?

There have been clubs that have had FA Cup runs and replays that have financially benefitted themselves for the next three, four, five years.

It’s expected that the FA will change how the prize money for the competition is awarded, with more of a weighting towards the earlier rounds to compensate those that might otherwise miss out on replay revenue.

But that only aids those that win a game or two – those that battle bravely to secure a draw against higher level opposition, before losing in extra time or on penalties, won’t benefit financially from their feat, as they would have in the era of replays.

Does the World Cup Have Replays?

As has been the general theme in English football, replays have died a death at the World Cup – but they were once used to separate two teams that had drawn their original game. The 1934 World Cup saw the competition’s first ever replayed game – Italy and Spain’s original quarter-final ended 1-1, so they came back to the same ground in Florence the very next day, with the Italians winning the replay 1-0.

Ironically, the final might also have been replayed – Italy and Czechoslovakia were level 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes. So they played a period of extra time, and on this occasions the Italians were able to find a winning goal on the day to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.

The same format was used at the 1938 World Cup – games ending in a draw were subject to 30 minutes of extra time. If no further goal was scored, a replay would be played. All told, three replays were needed – Switzerland and Cuba triumphing over West Germany and Romania respectively in the last 16, before Brazil needed a replay to see off Czechoslovakia in the quarter-finals.

The 1950 World Cup did away with a knockout round altogether, with two phases of league play meaning that draws were acceptable. By 1962, FIFA officials had had enough of replays – any knockout phase game ending in a draw would have 30 minutes of half time. If there was still deadlock, FIFA made the bizarre decision to decide the game with the drawing of lots, rather than playing a replay.

Thankfully, no games at any of the 1962, 1966 or 1970 editions needed lots to be drawn, before FIFA saw sense and introduced penalty shootouts in 1974.