BROWNE ON THE BALL: FA Cup replays must stay - 11,000 people can’t be wrong

Boston United news.
Boston United news.

In recent years FA Cup replays have meant little more to Boston United than a midweek defeat at Kidsgrove. But that hasn’t always been the case...

In January 1974 a club record 11,000 fans passed through the turnstiles to watch Boston United of the Northern Premier League line-up to face Division One Derby County in the FA Cup.

Due to the Three-Day Week and the government’s energy saving policy, the match was played in the afternoon to avoid the use of floodlights.

But the sense of occasion was so great that the town’s schools shut down, allowing their pupils and staff the chance to watch a side packed with internationals, to say they were there as Colin Todd and Archie Gemmill strutted their stuff.

As the final whistle blew it was the Rams, who went on to finish third in the top flight that season, who recorded a 6-1 victory.

But despite the defeat, that day retains its place in Pilgrims foklore, as does the goalless draw at the Baseball Ground four days earlier which set up this replay.

But now noises are being made about doing away with such occasions.

The biggest clubs - ironically, the ones with the biggest budgets and biggest bank accounts - fear that FA Cup replays only add to fixture congestion, hamper their European dreams and tire out the national team ahead of major tournaments.

Of course, it is not the lower-league clubs who are kicking up the stink. They are the teams who need the FA Cup and its replays.

A second bite of the cherry will never be sneered at by the minnows. It’s a moneyspinner for those clubs whose revenue comes from bums on seats and not a stake in their star player’s image rights, kit deals and an official Japanese soft drink partner.

Too often taking a bigger club to a replay is the difference between another crack or liquidation, one club’s chump change is a relegation-threatened lower league side’s last chance to not hand Doris the long-serving dinnerlady her P45.

Indeed, a Tuesday evening at the Dog and Duck may be an absolute pain for your average multi-millionnaire international, but the chance of a replay play at Old Trafford would be a lifetime-defining opportunity for Big Dave the left back and friendly family fishmonger.

That would be his Facebook profile picture sorted for life.

And this is where we need perspective.

The Premier League is packed with some of the world’s finest players, but why should a handful of clubs from the top flight dictate the possible earnings of the hundreds of other teams who also set foot on that road to Wembley?

Without FA Cup replays for United, that draw at Swindon Town, Adam Boyd’s last-gasp ballooned penalty at Hartlepool, a goalless 90 minutes at Kingstonian and that memorable day at the Baseball Ground could have amounted to nothing.

An additional 30 minutes could have seen the higher-league team flex their muscles, show superior fitness and progress comfortably, rather than allowing those travelling fans a journey home feeling like kings with a dream to cling firmly on to.

The earlier rounds of the League Cup are settled on the night. Pilgrims fans know all about losing by a silver goal at Brighton on a cold Tuesday or Lee Thompson swearing live on the radio as his extra-time finish put Luton Town out of the competition.

There’s a different magic to be found in that format, but the FA Cup still offers so much more.

Please don’t mess with tradition. Please don’t fix something which really ain’t broken.

Please don’t let the greedy few ruin it for everyone else.

After all, we turn to football to get away from everyday life.