From coin tosses to extensions into next season, Rich Laverty explores the potential next steps for this year’s competition.
With news of COVID cases increasing and the UK in its third lockdown, the FA announced on Wednesday that the Women’s FA Cup is suspended. The cup schedule is in chaos for a second consecutive season.
‘Lockdown One’ led to last season’s competition being completed almost six months after the final should have taken place; Manchester City – Americans and all – ran out winners against Everton on October 31st.
The news of a suspension naturally has positives and negatives for the players, clubs, and the FA itself. The ‘coin toss’ debacle of last week, on whether second and third round games could be decided by the drawing of lots, received widespread condemnation.
The idea isn’t yet completely off the table. While I’m against it, nobody has come forward with a viable alternative to the fixture chaos inherent in a suspension.
That is the main problem now facing the FA: how is a situation which is becoming more and more problematic day by day going to sort itself?
The first issue is that there is no clear date as to when the competition can resume. Mid-February has been touted as when lockdown will end, but nobody really knows. Round five is set for February 28th; but even if non-elite football can resume next month, the idea of getting rounds two, three and four in before the 28th is pure fan fiction. And that’s if teams didn’t have to think about their league campaigns too, which will take priority given leagues can’t run into the next season, unlike the cup if needed.
In reality, this year’s FA Cup final going ahead as planned on May 22nd seems implausible. The competition will hopefully resume this season, unlike last year. But we must remember it also reached the quarter-final stage before last season’s suspension, while this time around only one second round tie has been played.
Expanding the tournament into the summer also seems unlikely at this stage. With the postponed Tokyo Olympics (hopefully) taking place, a free slot during the summer is not something the FA can yet bank on; Team GB camp is due to start in June, shortly after the scheduled FA Cup final.
In all likelihood we are looking at the unenviable – but possibly best case – scenario of the competition once again extending into next season. While it worked last time around, having very different squads over two separate seasons for one competition is not ideal.
Would Everton have made the final pre-summer investment? Unlikely. Alex Greenwood certainly wouldn’t have been setting up Man City’s first goal in the final, and midfielder Sam Mewis certainly wouldn’t have been on the end of the cross.
Vitality’s new sponsorship may potentially create further problems, but little to nothing is known about the demands in the contract. They may be happy for it to extend into next season, given this probably offers a better chance of seeing fans on Wembley Way again.
If it is to be completed this season, then off-field solutions may again rear their ugly heads. Is there a better way than simply tossing a coin? Ironically, money plays a massive role here.
There’s £1,000 available for every team that gets through the second round, and a further £1,250 for those who make it through the third. While the majority are unlikely to go much further unless they draw each other, each of the fourth round losers would take home another £500. All that amounts to only £2,750 – but that’s a lot for many teams beyond the top two ‘elite’ tiers of the women’s game.
To decide who takes home the cash on the flip of a coin seems ridiculous the more you say it out loud, and is also grossly unfair. Financials aside, many players and clubs look forward to the competition to get a slice of ‘FA Cup magic’ or the chance to have a crack at a ‘giant-killing’ – just ask Ipswich Town.
Another suggestion is that the nine best ranked sides may automatically go through. While this could be a representative version of what the fourth round might have looked like in reality, this also causes problems.
There isn’t a huge gap between the third and fourth tiers of the women’s game, meaning ‘shocks’ often occur. Last season, five second round games were won by tier 4 sides playing tier 3 sides, while three third round ties were also won in the same manner. To assume the nine strongest sides would progress is fanciful.
The hope is that all the games can be played and the tournament completed in the fairest way possible, even if that does likely mean once again continuing into next season. One positive is the breathing space left by Wednesday’s decision giving the FA a free weekend on January 30th/31st.
No decision has been taken yet, but they are likely to use what is now a weekend with no games to get in some of the many postponements brought on by ‘Dubai-gate’, which should ease the increasing fixture back up in the leagues.
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty