The County Cup: An Urgent Need For Reform!

The recent County Cup weekend threw up some “interesting” results… For example, in the Birmingham County Cup, the three T3 teams scored over 50 goals to nil; Northampton (currently 11th in T4) put 13 past their opposition, and Oxford United playing predominantly their development team won 9-0.

These are large score lines and, in this writer’s opinion, doesn’t do anything to help grow and develop the game.

I say this because as soon as these scores get published it tends to draw ridicule online on social media.  It was noticeable that Boldmere St. Michael stopped reporting goals scored (and the final score) on Twitter after half time and that Wolves only noted kick-off, some scores at half & full time. Even then these tweets drew negative comments.  Of course, this is when these games happen – often due to the disparities between the teams these games get declared as walkovers.

From the outside looking in it also doesn’t look like it could be good for the players – turning up at a game knowing that the chances of you winning are slim and the chances of a battering high can’t help with morale.  Although Tara Fletcher, a player for Kewford Eagles, has noted on Twitter that whilst there is a gulf in class “it’s good to watch and learn how they play and allows us to take that into our own training, and hopefully improve our own game from it”.

Going forward there is a need to look at how the County Cup can help build upon the success of the Lionesses and grow the game.  It is important that any reforms of the County Cups engage with the teams and players playing in Tiers 5-8, not just the “big” FA Women’s National League (FAWNL) teams.  To start this conversation, here are some ideas for developing it (they are not all the possible solutions, and not necessarily the right solutions, but hopefully may lead to starting conversations within the County FAs and the teams/players/fans of teams in their Counties.

Seed/filter teams: As per the FA Cup, filter teams into the competition so that if a Tier 8 team does come up against a Tier 3 or 4 team, they would have won three games rather than, in theory, meeting a top team in the opening round as is currently possible.

  • Pros: This provides teams with a chance to play similar-level teams and gives them the chance to progress to the next round/win games, where they can be rewarded with a “day in the sun” against a big club.
  • Cons: Won’t work for all County Cups – for example in the Oxfordshire County Cup there is one T3/T4 team, and the rest are in T6 or below so doesn’t result in many changes/challenges.

Reserve Teams as well as first teams: Some County Cups (e.g. Northamptonshire) allow Reserve teams to enter as well as First Teams. This increases the number and variety of opponents in the cup – although it does also run the risk of a game between the first team and their reserves. Although I note that Portsmouth’s first team only beat their Reserve team on penalties in the last round of fixtures.

  • Pros: More competition which helps develop the Reserve players playing against a Women’s first team.
  • Cons: It could result in an embarrassment of a final between a 1st team and a reserve team from the same club, which doesn’t improve competition.

Reserve Teams instead of T3 first teams: Rather than put the first teams in the T3 teams, submit the Reserves.

  • Pros: This narrows the gap between teams and makes the whole competition more competitive. It also gives the reserves competitive football against Women’s first teams.
  • Cons: Doesn’t give the opposition teams their “day in the sun” and it is still possible that there will be a big gap between T3 reserves and lower leagues. This won’t remove the embarrassing score lines (and could in theory be more embarrassing).

Cup/Vase: Rather than have one Cup Competition for all the teams, split it into two with the top half of the leagues (e.g. 3-5) playing in one competition and leagues 6 & below playing in another.

  • Pros: More competitive games and chances of winning games for all.
  • Cons: Limited number of games/teams reduces the number of rounds/games and restricts the competition. This is especially true in certain counties where there is only one team in Tiers 3-5.

Merge County Cups: Rather than small, dominated County Cups, have larger broader “County Cups” which will increase more variety and flexibility of opponents etc. For example, a joint Norfolk/Suffolk or Huntingdonshire/Cambridgeshire/Northamptonshire merge into one Cup.

  • Pros: More rivalry/variety in the Competition and therefore more challenging games for all involved.
  • Cons: With larger areas, there are increased costs for travel to these games (e.g. North Norfolk to Southern Suffolk, etc.), which impacts clubs with fewer resources.
...a change is needed before the competition, in its current guise, does more damage in the long run...

It is likely that any changes will have to be tailored to the individual counties, and that it could be that multiple of these changes are incorporated within a review and update of the County Cups. It’s also likely that one solution will not fit all so it should be a locally specific solution.  The key is that all teams, their players and fan groups are consulted on the future of the County Cup rather than just a top-down solution. 

However, a change is needed before the competition, in its current guise, does more damage in the long run, so I hope that the County FAs look at ways to improve the County Cup Competition before the start of next season.

In addition to ensuring that fans can plan and to help build momentum – County FA’s need to set the date of the draws (we have set days for the fixture so it can’t be hard to set the date of the draw for the next round – can it?) and record the draws and release the videos, rather than just publish a graphic with the draw. These two things need to be done regardless of any other changes to the cup! 

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