What has happened to the state of English football when empathy for lower league clubs has all but disappeared, and FA Cup replays and League Cup games are being seen as a nuisance. Although it feels slightly crazy to settle a Carabao Cup semi-final with two games, home and away, there is a deeper issue surfacing.
Elite football doesn’t want to carry on troubling itself with these unprofitable commitments when it has much more important business to deal with in the Premier League and Europe.
OK, Liverpool were promised a February fixture break, agreeing not to fill it with money spinning friendlies, but for Jurgen Klopp to allow Neil Critchley to run the team when his side are due to meet Shrewsbury at Anfield in an FA Cup replay next week, and to say that no first-team player will face the Shrews, is a further sign that even those we thought would care about smaller clubs are starting to cut them free.
The arguments from Leagues One and League Two clubs that FA Cup replays and League Cup ties help them earn much needed funds to keep going are now just an irritation to outfits that have become multi-million-pound corporations who have bigger things to worry about.
Yes, Klopp has concerns about the workload of his first team players; the football calendar is already jam packed, but Liverpool have only themselves to blame for not winning the tie at Shrewsbury first time-round. If they had fielded a stronger side, they probably would be through by now to face Chelsea in the next round.
Unfortunately, Premier League, and now Championship clubs, are giving up on the Cups. They treat them as inconvenient and irrelevant in their battle to feature in the world’s richest league. Is there a secret agenda to turn English football into a Premier League 1 and Premier League 2, with the rest of the clubs abandoned to semi-professionalism status?
Something important happened when Shrewsbury’s fans spilt on to the pitch as Jason Cummings celebrated his two goals. The FA Cup was held aloft in the TV studio and shown to the fans below, exposing the unchallengeable power of the big clubs and their billionaire owners. A 2-2 draw and a pitch invasion restored a value to the FA Cup many thought had been lost.
But soon, the arguments started with phrases like replays, winter breaks, burnout, and fixture congestion all banded about. Some may have been valid, but all have put in danger an acceleration of the demise of lower league football, which in many places is the glue that holds communities together.
For Klopp and Liverpool fans, even most Premier League fans, Shrewsbury went from being a beacon of hope and heroism, to a nuisance who are messing up Liverpool’s winter break.
Suddenly, all clubs in a similar world to Shrewsbury have been cast aside as teams with no real role, except as opposition for Liverpool B, and then Liverpool C in the upcoming replay. A sad state of affairs, especially with clubs going out of business.