‘Lack of FA Cup replays could cost clubs money’

Darlington chief also expands on hopes to play at The Northern Echo Arena

THE scrapping of FA Cup replays for 2020-21 could potentially deny non-league clubs much-needed revenue, that is the view of Darlington chief executive David Johnston.

The FA this week announced that due to the delayed start to the season as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, no replays will be held in the famous knockout competition.

There are fears among some in the game that the change could become permanent, though for the time being it is the 2020-21 season which is of most concern.

It is delayed as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, and Johnston has suggested his club could groundshare at The Northern Echo Arena in order to comply with social distancing measures.

Should his club be given a home fixture, Quakers could be at the Arena on October 3 when the season kicks-off with an FA Cup tie, and it would be settled on the day with no replays accommodated in the football calendar.

While Johnston understands the FA’s position in what are unusual circumstances, he pointed out the revenue Darlington made last season thanks to their best cup run for 30 years.

“We had a fantastic run last year in the FA Cup, which culminated in playing at Walsall and we got the replay back at our ground which generated a huge amount of income for the football club.

“From one side, it is disappointing because the ability to win money in the FA Cup is huge for non-league clubs, but from a logistics perspective I understand the league’s direction in this.

“Our FA Cup run generated about £90,000 of income, that’s huge for a club like Darlington. We are working our way back up the pyramid system, getting that kind of income is fantastic, it changes everything.

“You ask any non-league chairman around what worries them the most, it’s cashflow.

“We’re trying to get back into the Football League, the National League North is so competitive, so getting windfalls like that for a fan-owned club was unbelievable.”

In 2019-20 Darlington beat Trafford, Leamington and Tamworth in the FA Cup, the first time Quakers fans had seen their side string together three wins in one season in the competition since 1989-90.

Johnston added: “Hopefully this season we’ll be able to do better. What’s more worrying for me is the government’s guidance on returning to playing in front of crowds. The capacities of the grounds are going to be reduced.

“We’ve estimated that our capacity will reduce to 17 per cent because of social distancing.

“I think the league need to look at how they support the non-league clubs during the pandemic – can we groundshare? Can we look at stadia that allows all the fans to come in with a safe and controlled manner.

“At 17 per cent, Darlington cannot provide access for all of our season ticket holders, let alone any away fans.

“I’ve asked the league to consider if we could relocate to a different stadium – the Arena down the road that we used to play in, 25,000 capacity – which would allow the safe access and egress for all of our fans, the away fans too, there’d be social distancing in the walkways, the car park, everything.

“These are unprecedented times. We’re trying to go back to playing football in front of crowds, how do you stop crowds in a standing stadium from interacting? If we score a goal, what’s going to happen? The 2m distance is just not going to happen.

“The league need to think carefully and innovatively about fans returning in a safe manner.”

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