Football: League cautious over replays

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THE FOOTBALL League has revealed it would have given much lengthier consideration to the prospect of replaying a controversial fixture such as Arsenal's FA Cup tie against Sheffield United than the Football Association did.

It may still have come up with the same decision to sanction a rematch if the game had been a Worthington Cup tie, but there would be little prospect of the same move applying to Nationwide League games.

The controversy at Highbury earlier this month was caused when Arsenal failed to return possession to United and instead scored through Marc Overmars, after the visitors had kicked the ball out to allow their player, Lee Morris, to receive treatment.

The FA's interim executive director, David Davies, consulted with a legal expert, Nic Coward, and Challenge Cup committee members before accepting Arsenal's offer, given within 90 minutes of the final whistle, to replay the tie.

The Football League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, did not directly join in with criticism which has previously been expressed in some quarters that the FA acted hastily. However, he has said: "The FA were within their rights to do what they did because it was their competition.

"But I would like to think that, if it had been a one-legged Worthington Cup tie, we would have sat down and taken 24 hours before coming up with the decision that was right in the circumstances."

Scudamore added: "I can't really ever see a situation where we would replay a League game when no rules had actually been broken." He explained that no other clubs are affected by the result of a cup tie, but League games inevitably have an effect on other teams, not just in terms of points but also goals scored by both sides.

Scudamore also revealed that the Football League had "put as much pressure as possible" on the FA to switch the kick-off of England's Euro 2000 qualifier against Poland on 27 March from 3pm. It was concerned its clubs would lose out financially from matches clashing with an international screened live, and all but a dozen Nationwide League fixtures have now been switched from the Saturday afternoon.

"We understand and accept the reasons, but that doesn't mean we don't find it any more palatable," Scudamore said. The reasons for not moving the timing of the game were that Glenn Hoddle, the former England coach, believed his players' preparations in terms of rest and diet would be disrupted by an earlier kick-off, while police objected to a later start.

Meanwhile, Scudamore revealed that next season's Worthington Cup final, as well as the play-off finals, would probably be moved to the new Welsh national stadium in Cardiff if reconstruction work rules out Wembley.

This season's Worthington Cup final will be refereed by a Nationwide League official: Terry Heilbron, from County Durham.