After the drama of the penalty shootout at Wembley in the Carling Cup Final, once again we are left with the question - Is this the best way to determine a winner?

Replays

 For many years a draw after extra time would bring a replay.  Four League Cup Finals have all gone to replays, three of them involving Liverpool.  The first one, in 1977 actually needed two replays. Aston Villa and Everton played out a tedious 0-0 draw at Wembley, then a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough, 4 days later.  Such was the fixture congestion, the Second Replay couldn’t be played until three weeks later.  At Old Trafford, Brian Little scored in the dying seconds to give Villa a 3-2 win.

That was the final that spurned the phrase ‘the Mickey Mouse cup’.  Liverpool were about to compete in both FA Cup and European Cup Finals, and so taunted their city neighbours as they competed in a ‘lesser’ final. Liverpool were then involved in the two further replayed finals in the League Cup in 1978 when they lost to Nottingham Forest and then in 1984 when they beat Everton. The late 1970’s and early 1980’s suffered from numerous replays in cup Semi-Finals and Finals.  The 1981, 1982 and 1983 FA Cup Finals all needed a further game to decide the winner.  The nadir came in the Semi-Finals in 1980.  West Ham and Everton needed two matches to find a winner, Liverpool and Arsenal needed four!

All these re-arranged games played havoc with the fixture list, and when you add in the usual postponed fixtures from winter weather and frozen pitches, some teams had matches every few days just to fit it all in. Of course, these days tv would never sanction such uncertainty and lack of control over who played when. Football, therefore, decided the replay was an outmoded method of conclusion.

Penalty Shootout

The first shootout in a major Final in England was in 2001, and as it was the League Cup, Liverpool were involved.  Their game with Birmingham had ended 1-1 after 120 minutes of football and so a shootout prevailed.  Liverpool won 5-4.  Man Utd and Tottenham competed in a shootout in 2009, with United winning 4-1.  Then, of course, there was yesterday’s Final.

Two FA Cup Finals have gone to penalties, inevitably Liverpool has been involved in one of them, in 2006 when they beat West Ham.  The previous year, Arsenal beat Man Utd in a shootout.

Extra Time

It is easy to imagine a further period of playing time tagged on at the end of the game, is a modern invention.  But in fact, the fourth FA Cup Final in 1875 between Royal Engineers and Old Etonians, had 30 minutes extra time and as the two sides were still level, a replay was needed.  Record books don’t recall whether the two teams changed round after 15 minutes, but there are rumours that a Mr R. Giggs was on the teamsheet.

4 of the first 14 FA Cup Finals went to extra time and 2 of those needed replays.  It seems perfectly reasonable to have this as a mode of deciding a winner.  Often tired legs and a heavy pitch can produce real excitement, such as Ben Turner’s last gasp equaliser yesterday. But should the result remain level after 30 minutes, what about playing on until someone scores?  Other suggestions have involved removing a player on each side every 10 minutes.  This probably wouldn’t have worked yesterday, as Liverpool could’ve removed Jordan Henderson without any apparent disadvantage to their play.

Shootout

This was a method used in the old North American Soccer League (NASL) in the mid-to-late 1970’s.  A line was painted in each half, 35 yards out.  The shootout consisted of the attacker starting on the 35 yard line.  He could touch the ball as many times as he wanted to and the keeper could also come off his line, but not out of his area.  The striker had to try and score within a 5 seconds.  It certainly added to the drama of the episode, and shooting from 35 yards out may have given Charlie Adam a chance of hitting the target yesterday.

A Coin Toss

This is not a reference to the legendary writer on this site, it is another method of deciding a winner.  It’s not certain how Skytv could make a drama out of this, but no doubt there would be action replays and Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville could debate the validity of the calling, deciding afterwards whether it was ‘a good call’ or not.

Drawing Lots

You may ask, drawing lots of what?  But this has been used as a method of splitting two teams. In the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, FIFA hadn’t thought of the idea of ‘goal difference’.  In two of the four groups, the top 2 sides finished on equal points.  They drew lots to determine who would finish first. There is mileage in this idea, as Skytv could employ Simon Cowell or even Greg Wallace to announce who had chosen correctly, with the obligatory long pause during the announcement to build up the tension, before a winner was declared.

Straws could be used, both long and short, although it’s debatable whether television would be happy with matches being used, as the age-old tradition of children going out into their gardens after the Final, to emulate their heroes, could lead to one or two accidents.

Paper/Scissors/Stone

Many a match in playgrounds up and down the country has been decided by this method.  The main concern I would have with this option is whether your average footballer has the intelligence to work it out.  I would suggest a period of training may be required, although as many coaches advocate you cannot replicate the drama of a shootout in training, it seems unlikely this would be possible.  This would then lead to players seriously lacking in ‘match practice’ with this method and that could lead to a poor spectacle for the spectator.

Text Voting

I would be surprised if the powers-that-be at Sky have not already considered this.  Such is the sheer weight of money they throw at the game, it could conceivably be a ‘nice little earner’ for them in return.  This would then involve, not just the fans at the ground, but perhaps those unlucky enough to have missed out on tickets.  Of course, big screens could be used to see the votes increase, but it is unclear how you stop tactical voting.  The other inequity with this method is that should Millwall ever reach another Final, they wouldn’t receive any votes as no one likes them.

You could even have a ‘Strictly Cup Final’ or ‘X-Footer’ feel to the entertainment, with the great and the almost good of ex-footballers sitting on a panel giving their opinion of the performance.  We would then be free to vote for whoever. Care ought to be taken to consult Channel 9 out in Australia first, though.  They tried to hand the power of deciding Man of The Match in the recent cricket series against New Zealand, over to the great unwashed.  The result was that no Australian could bring themselves to vote for their Antipodean neighbours and decisions had to be reversed at a later date.

This idea, of course, wouldn’t work on the BBC as they still ban any kind of voting by phone.  It also wouldn’t work in Europe, either, as they’d require a second vote if the first one didn’t produce the ‘right result’.

Conclusion

Personally, I never liked replays.  Since the FA Cup Finals moved to Wembley in 1923, 5 went to replays.  The first was in 1970 when Chelsea and Leeds played out a 2-2 draw.  The replay was held at Old Trafford.  The next Final that went to a replay was in 1981 when Tottenham and Manchester City drew 1-1.  That was the first replay to be held at Wembley.  The problem with these replays were that you still had the teams come out together and line-up together, but there was no build-up, no marching band, not even royalty graced a replay, and seeing the FA Cup Final played under lights just seemed wrong.  Although, the 1981 replay made Ricky Villa’s career, as few remember how awful he was in the first match.

The Final was often played at least one month after the Semis, unless they were replayed!  So, fans had plenty of time to buy tickets and get excited about the occasion.  It hardly seemed fair they couldn’t see a conclusion to the game, including a trophy being lifted. Penalty shootouts seem so tough on the losing side.  Obviously being a Liverpool supporter I am not used to that feeling, but I am an England fan and well accustomed to the empty feeling and sheer unfairness of the realisation that your man couldn’t hit a target from 18 yards. 

It seems we are stuck with this method, though, as all other options have been exhausted.  But if you can think of a better way, then please add your comments at the bottom and maybe we can gain enough to add a petition to the Downing Street website.