Football Association’s FA Cup and Fixture Dilemma

Yesterday saw a single tie being played in the FA Cup second round between Liverpool Feds and Huddersfield Town. The fact that the tie was being played in this current climate is a miracle and perhaps maybe even questionable when many, including myself, would prefer to see a national lockdown and a ‘circuit breaker’ within football so we can gain the upper hand on the spread of this awful disease. 

National League North league leaders Huddersfield Town edged passed their lower league opponents with a 3-2 win. 

Kate Mallin put the Huddersfield Town ahead, only for Liverpool Feds’ Paige Cole to equalise in the seventh-fifth minute. The game went into extra time and Town looked to have killed the game off through Laura Elford and Mallin, making it 3-1. Chantelle Thompson pulled one back to make the closing stages interesting but there was to be no cup upset and Town progress to the third round.

The closely fought contest was a treat for the 150 strong crowd who were able to attend the game. 

Photo: @VitalityWFACup

With a potential national lockdown looming and ‘non-elite’ football realistically is not expected to return until February at the earliest, this season’s FA Cup will be facing a huge challenge to be completed within the scheduled season.

Many clubs from tier three of the women’s football pyramid and below are unable to train and fulfil their league fixtures so progressing the competition is going to take support from the government and Football Association,(FA).

It is my understanding that the FA is going to be paying for testing for the forty-six clubs involved in the men’s FA Cup that are from outside of the Premier League. However there is currently no suggestion that they will do anything of the sort for the women’s tournament.

The women’s FA Cup second round consists entirely on non-elite clubs who couldn’t dream of being able to pay for their players to be tested. Many are barely breaking even due to playing behind closed doors or are relying on contributions from a men’s side who are themselves feeling the pinch.

Many of these clubs might struggle to fulfil these FA Cup fixtures until well into March, at which point the competition is due to be playing their quarter-final ties.

To put it into perspective, the Women’s Super League and Championship sides are due to enter the competition at the fourth round stage which is due to be played at the end of January.

The latest statement by the FA states, “This week the Government announced further Covid-19 regulations across the UK, with the majority of the country now under Tier four restrictions. We are working with the Government to find a way to reschedule these Vitality Women’s FA Cup matches – as well as the postponed first-round tie between Kent Football United and Enfield Town – at the earliest opportunity, while ensuring that we maintain our priority of keeping our players, officials and everyone involved on a match day safe. Further details will be confirmed in due course.”

Non-elite clubs should be worried about how their season will be completed at this point with many looking at fifteen to twenty games still to be played. The FA will of course prioritise the completion of the FA Cup but that might be at the expense of league fixtures.

At present, there is no plan that has been made public about how leagues will be settled if that was the case, and no one wants a repeat of the debacle of leagues being cancelled. Last season you could forgive the FA for not having a plan in place as this was unprecedented but there should be a plan ready to go, whether that be to extend the season, points per game or even double-headers.

While this is a tricky dilemma it would be much more helpful if the FA came out with a plan of how they will support clubs to overcome a lengthy lockdown which appears inevitable. Players, club officials and fans deserve transparency and to be able to prepare for all eventualities.

Like many, we are pinning our hopes on these vaccines making a big difference and bring back competitive football on a regular basis. Join us in keeping everything crossed for a brighter outlook come February. 🤞