3rd round magic - and no need for replays.

Published: Monday, 10 January 2022

What a good weekend that was. We had it all - scares, surprises, shocks - the lot. It was a good old fashion third round weekend - without the mud - and it finally lays to rest the argument for replays.

We don’t need them. The modern calendar is too demanding. I’m not sure of the need for extra-time, but if that’s the trade off for dropping replays, then I’ll take it.

Let’s not pretend, the FA Cup isn’t what it once was. When I was a lad the final was about the only live game on tv - and the day itself was special. TV was at hotels, on buses, occasionally in dressing rooms - there were supporters games like It’s a Knockout - it was a day-long party and the climax to the season. Nowadays schedulers squeeze the final in before the last PL match day.

The big boys don’t take it as seriously. They can’t afford to. I’m not saying that they don’t want to win it, but they’ve got to be careful with how they use a squad in the early rounds. We lost Arsenal this weekend, but the three above them carefully navigated their way to round four. 

Player welfare is more important now than it’s ever been - and there’s too much demand on the guys. It’s not a co-incidence that we’re seeing so many players collapse on the field of play. That is something that’s only going to get worse - and a subject for a blog another time. 

Despite a perceived lack of interest, it’s always one of the top 4 that ultimately wins the competition. Wigan - in 2013 - were the last team outside that group to win it. West Ham - in 1980 - were the last team outside of the top league to win it.

The argument for keeping replays seems to be that we won’t get surprises otherwise. Hereford/Newcastle in 1972 is always used as an example. Hereford got a battling 2-2 at St James’ and won the replay in extra time. It was a fantastic occasion and a game that has become legend. 

But - who’s to say that they might not have won a shoot-out at the first attempt?  And don’t tell me that’s no way to settle a game. Yes it is - and we all love the drama that goes with it. 

Look at the results this weekend. Cambridge were brilliant AT Newcastle. Brilliant. Boreham Wood beat Wimbledon. Huddersfield won at Burnley. Kidderminster beat Reading. Wigan beat Blackburn. Rotherham took QPR all the way. Mansfield did the same to Middlesboro. And Plymouth won at Birmingham (If I’ve missed anyone, apologies) What more do you want?

It was FA Cup football at its ‘modern’ best. I know a few of the fallers didn’t give it their all - Burnley, for example, won’t mind being out. But the winners had the time of their lives - and it’s done. It’s over. The 4th round draw was made without all that if, but and maybe nonsense.

The tie a lot of us were pleased to see was Chelsea v Chesterfield. Nothing will ever compensate Chesterfield for the scandalous, indifferent way they were treated by match ref David Elleray in the 1997 semi-final at OT. 

They were wonderful against Bryan Robson’s Middlesboro. They won really. They won with a goal that Elleray refused to give. His assistant knew that John Howard’s shot was in. He ran back towards the half way line. It was in. Everybody at the ground knew it was in - but Elleray didn’t give it. It would’ve made the score 3-1 and Chesterfield would’ve gone on to win it. As it turned out Boro forced a draw and won the replay. 

The ‘A’ team from Sky were there. Post match we twice asked Elleray why he hadn’t given it. Twice he gave nonsense ‘reasons’ as to why. Twice we made him look foolish proving he was wrong. He never forgave us and as his career progressed and he assumed more power he did everything he could to block our requests for ‘in-goal’ cameras - and much else that would’ve improved the viewer experience. 

As John Duncan, Chesterfield’s manager that day, said this weekend ‘us going to a final would be changed people’s lives’.  It would’ve done.

Twenty-five years too late Chesterfield finally got to play Chelsea, who were waiting for the winners of that semi-final in ‘97. It doesn’t make up for the robbery - nothing ever will - but it was nice to see. 

Elleray never apologised. It’s not in his nature unless his back is really to the wall. He’s gone on to have a stellar career in the game - fiddling with law changes and positioning himself for ever more influence. He’s still at it - but why? How? 

Can I steer you to a terrific piece by Sam Wallace in The Telegraph this weekend? 


How can one of the most senior men in football get away with asking a black colleague ‘You look rather tanned, have you been down a coal mine?’ This was back in 2014. 

Unbelievable. On this occasion he apologised to Rob McCarthy and he took a diversity training course - but he’s still in post. How? 

As Wallace concludes in his piece - Elleray remains the most powerful man in English refereeing - so powerful that the FA won’t say anything about his position, an upcoming new investigation or whether Elleray (as rumour suggests) has resigned. Why? How can this happen?