The FA Cup. Football’s oldest competition. Once viewed as the pinnacle of football in England. The magic of the cup. Where did it all go wrong?

The main reason the FA Cup lost its prestige was due to the decision to start hosting the semi-finals at Wembley. Getting to Wembley used to be a massive part of why the Cup was so special.

Despite the semi-finals being played there giving more fans the chance to have a day out at Wembley, that in itself took away some of the magic of getting to the final. When we think of iconic FA Cup semi-finals, we think of Manchester United versus Arsenal in 1999 or Crystal Palace-Liverpool in 1990, both of which were played at Villa Park.

Perhaps the competition would benefit from moving the semi-finals back to a neutral venue.

Even semi-finals like the Manchester Derby in 2010 or Chelsea-Tottenham in 2017 aren’t remembered as classic games and the fact they were played at Wembley before the winning teams returned to the same stadium for the final certainly hasn’t helped their case.

Now, another change has been made to the competition – thanks to the likes of Jurgen Klopp (the man who has had over £650 million to spend on his current set of players) complaining about fixture congestion. Replays have been scrapped, starting from the 2024-25 season.

While it’s easy for a fan of a Premier League team to wax lyrical about how this blemishes the tradition of a competition dating back to 1871, those it really causes detriment to are lower league teams.

Maidstone United's Liam Sole celebrates on the pitch with fans at the end of the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match at the Gallagher Stadium, Maidstone. Picture date: Saturday January 6, 2024. (Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Maidstone United’s Liam Sole celebrates on the pitch with fans. (Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

Replays are a tradition of FA Cup football, and not only that, were massively beneficial to lower league teams. This was due to the majority of the gate receipt being split between the two clubs.

That meant that when a lower league side got a tie away at a ground like Old Trafford, the club would make a significantly higher amount of money than they would in their usual league games and more than they would if the cup tie was at their home ground.

In the event they played a big team at home and took them to a replay, their club would benefit financially.

In the current football sphere, the disparity and undeniable gulf in money between some of the teams at the top of the Premier League and their lower league counterparts has taken the enjoyment out of the English game for many fans.

The FA Cup was something that had the capability to bring back that feeling of enjoyment for those supporters. Smaller clubs and their fans are able to benefit from these big ties, which they will now see less of as a result of the decision to get rid of replays.

Replays have given fans some of the most famous games in the history of the competition, the main one springing to mind being Hereford United beating six-time winners Newcastle United in 1972.

Football should be about the fans, and at one point it was. Now they, and the clubs at grassroots level are being left behind.

With the corporate change to the game, fans who go to watch their side week in, week out are lucky to be able to get tickets for matches at Wembley, which has a capacity of 90,000. Huge sections of the stadium are now reserved for members of Club Wembley, meaning that the atmosphere of semi-finals and finals are diluted by people who have no vested interest in either team playing.

Before this change, the care factor for the FA Cup had started to dwindle, from next season it now looks likely to decline further in terms of popularity compared to the Premier League and Champions League.

Paul Gascoigne spoke of how his dream as a kid wasn’t to play in the World Cup, but to walk up the stairs at Wembley as an FA Cup winner. Paul Scholes considered his goal for Manchester United in their victory over Newcastle in the final in 1999 as the best thing he’d done in his career.

It is difficult to imagine many up-and-coming footballers these days viewing this historic competition through the same lenses as their predecessors did.

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