Football Association hits back in row with English Football League as Whole Game Solution project collapses

The Football Association has denied it is blocking plans to ease fixture congestion after the English Football League accused the governing body of refusing to compromise on FA Cup scheduling.

Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 6:01 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th November 2016, 2:18 pm
The row was sparked over the FA Cup and EFL hopes of moving fixtures to midweek

In a forthright statement, EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey announced today that his Whole Game Solution (WGS) proposal to restructure the league pyramid was being scrapped.

The WGS plan was for the most radical revamp of English football since 1992 with a move to five 20-team leagues, a commitment to playing as many league fixtures as possible on weekends and the creation of a mid-winter break.

This hinged on the FA agreeing to move some FA Cup games from weekends to weekdays but last week the governing body's chief executive Martin Glenn emailed the EFL to say he did not see "sufficient advantage" to the FA in the WGS plan.

He explained this was because of the "massive economic value" of weekend cup games as proven by the £800million, six-year deal the FA signed last month for the competition's international television rights.

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Harvey described this decision as "premature" and accused the FA of not "fully understanding" the financial implications of what he was proposing.

But an FA spokesman said: "The FA remains fully committed to working with the EFL and the Premier League to address the issue of fixture congestion in the professional game.

"This is why we are trialling the removal of sixth-round replays in the FA Cup this season and why we supported the EFL in consulting on its innovative ideas for reform. That commitment remains."

Press Association Sport understands that this diplomatic response to Harvey masks irritation at the suggestion the FA has misled the EFL on the issue of FA Cup scheduling.

The governing body believes it has already made a significant contribution to creating space in the calendar by scrapping replays in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and points out that it is a not-for-profit organisation that reinvests its broadcasting revenues throughout the national game.

It is also understood to be surprised that the EFL ever thought the FA might be willing to give up FA Cup weekends, as that has never been discussed by the FA and would appear to be contrary to what most lower-league clubs want from the world's oldest cup competition.

The FA believes the FA Cup has enjoyed a renaissance in recent seasons thanks to its domestic TV deal with the BBC and BT, and highlights the huge viewing figures for Salford City's cup run and Bradford's 4-2 win over Chelsea two seasons ago, not to mention the excitement generated by Eastleigh's progress this season.

But in the EFL statement, Harvey said: "As a result of the FA's decision, the board has been left with no option but to end the Whole Game Solution discussions as, in its current form, it is no longer viable.

"If the weekend slots are not available, then there is simply no way we can meet the financial conditions (to be no worse off) as outlined at the very outset.

"The stance the FA has adopted has brought the discussions to a premature end, before fully understanding what the financial outcome from the creation of a new distribution model could be.

"If the FA are willing to change its position then we are, of course, open to re-engaging in what is a hugely important debate that was designed to help shape the future of football in this country."

Harvey's frustration is obvious in a letter that he sent to the chairmen and chief executives of the 72 EFL clubs which has been seen by Press Association Sport.

In the letter he reveals what Glenn told him via email, outlines why he thought it was important for the EFL to take a lead in the debate and reiterates his position that any restructuring should not leave the EFL clubs worse off.

He continues by saying if more weekend slots cannot be freed up for league fixtures, which attract bigger crowds than midweek games, the "EFL has no way of meeting the primary condition precedent" of not hurting the clubs financially.

The apparent end of the WGS debate, though, will not be lamented by many within the EFL pyramid, as several EFL clubs, National League clubs and fans groups have voiced concerns about the proposed changes.

Harvey has repeatedly had to defend himself against accusations that he was trying to introduce Premier League B teams - as once suggested by former FA chairman Greg Dyke - into the league pyramid, give Celtic and Rangers an opening to leave the Scottish leagues or ring-fence the enlarged EFL from clubs in non-league football.

The proposed timeline was that the EFL would develop a final proposal by next February and then vote on the matter at the EFL's annual general meeting in June. That, however, has now all been scrapped.

AFC Wimbledon have welcomed the EFL's decision to scrap its plans, despite initially supporting the debate for change.

The Sky Bet League Two club said not enough time had been allowed to discuss the plan's implications on both the clubs and the FA Cup.

"At the beginning of this review, we welcomed the EFL board taking the initiative to look at a number of areas where they perceived there would be pressure for change in future, so as to put the League in a position of leading the discussion," a club statement read.

"However, in our feedback we expressed concerns that the need for change had not been adequately demonstrated and that we were uncomfortable about the likely negative impact of the proposed changes on the status of the FA Cup.

"We expressed substantial concerns that the time scale for implementing the proposed changes was too restrictive to allow for full and thorough discussion.

"Therefore we welcome the withdrawal of the proposals as it will provide a breathing space and subsequently a more considered return to the subject to determine what changes, if any, are needed."