FA to amend rule that could kill Cup replays

LONDON - The English FA will act to amend an old FA Cup rule so that leading clubs cannot avoid replays if their original ties end in a draw.

An FA spokesman said on Saturday the law was likely to be changed after Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was widely reported by British newspapers to have considered invoking it to avoid a replay with Tottenham Hotspur if their fourth-round tie ended in a draw. In the event United won 2-1.

United issued an official statement on their website later on Saturday denying the club had any intention of invoking the rule.

"The club has never asked opponents to play extra time instead of a replay -- and has no intention of ever doing so." Ferguson had been quoted as saying: "I had never heard of it but it's in the regulations. The criticism would be that we're not adhering to the principles of the FA Cup or the spirit of it, but why have the FA got it in there? We will investigate."

United's statement added: "The manager's comments ... do not state that he either wished to or intended to invoke the rule... He made clear he knows the value of replays to clubs."

Ferguson told reporters he had learnt of Article 11a which allows teams to agree to play for an extra half-an-hour to settle the match and avoid a replay.

SMALLER CLUBS

However, for procedural reasons the law might have to stay on the statute books for the remainder of this season, possibly preventing replays between leading teams.

"The FA are considering it and the Cup committee will be looking into it," FA spokesman Adrian Bevington told Reuters.

"The rule exists primarily to help smaller clubs in the preliminary rounds settle a tie after one meeting so they can avoid lengthy journeys or suffer financial costs.

"It makes sense for the rule to govern the matches in the preliminary competition and an amendment could be made adding the words 'preliminary competition' into the rule."

United are in the hunt for four titles this season, had 10 players out injured ahead of the Spurs match, face a congested fixture list and would not have wanted a replay.

However, the law has to be invoked within seven days of the draw being made with the agreement of both clubs. The draw for the fourth round was made on January 4.

Replays have been part of the FA Cup since the competition started in 1871-72.

Bevington added: "We have checked through the history books and no professional club has ever tried to invoke the rule because replays can be so lucrative and are such a rich part of the tradition of the FA Cup."

It is not the first time Manchester United have been involved in an FA Cup controversy.

The club, who have won the competition a record 11 times, failed to defend the trophy in 1999-2000 due to a commitment to take part in the FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil.