How many subs are allowed in an FA Cup match?

In the FA Cup competition, teams are allowed to make up to 3 substitutions per match. This allows managers some flexibility to change tactics or rest key players during the match. The rules around substitutions in the FA Cup are:

Quick Summary

  • Teams can make up to 3 substitutions per match
  • Substitutions can be made at any time during the match, with the permission of the referee
  • Once a player is substituted, they cannot return to the field of play
  • If a match goes to extra time, teams are permitted one additional substitution (a 4th in total)
  • Unused substitutions are allowed to be named as substitutes for the next round

Normal Time Substitutions

During normal time in an FA Cup match, each team is allowed to make up to 3 player substitutions. A substitution occurs when a player who started the match is replaced by a substitute player from the team’s bench.

Substitutions can be made at any point during the match, but the player coming on must wait until the player coming off has left the field. All substitutions require the referee’s permission to proceed. Once a player is substituted, they cannot return to the field of play as the substitution is permanent for that match.

Making a substitution is an important strategic decision for managers. Substitutions may be made to replace fatigued players, change tactics, or introduce more attack/defense based on the game situation. Managers have up to 3 opportunities to freshen their team and impact the outcome.

Extra Time Substitutions

If an FA Cup match goes to extra time due to being level after 90 minutes, each team is allowed one additional substitution. This means teams can make up to 4 substitutions total if a match goes to extra time.

The intention of the extra substitution is to allow for fresh legs during the additional 30 minutes of play. Managers can use the extra sub strategically to introduce pacey attacking players if they are chasing a goal, or defensive reinforcements if they are trying to protect a lead.

The rules state that any unused normal time substitutions (up to 3) can still be used during extra time. So if a team only used 2 substitutions during normal time, they could still make 2 more changes in extra time.

Unused Substitutes

Any unused substitutions from an FA Cup match can be carried over and named as substitutes for the next round. For example, if a team made only 2/3 substitutions in round 4, the player who was an unused sub can be named in the squad for round 5.

This allows teams to essentially expand their squad size as the competition progresses. Players who were unused subs continue to be available for selection in future rounds.

Substitution Rules Summary

  • 3 substitutions allowed per team during normal time
  • Substitutions can be made at any time during the match
  • Once substituted, a player cannot return to the field of play
  • 1 additional substitution permitted in extra time, allowing up to 4 subs total
  • Unused normal time subs can still be used in extra time
  • Unused substitutions can be named as subs for the next round

Key Reasons for Substitutions

There are a number of key reasons a manager may utilize their allotted substitutions during an FA Cup match:

  • Fatigue – Replace tired players with fresh legs
  • Injury – Bring on a substitute for any injured players
  • Change of tactics – Adjust formation or style of play
  • Game management – Introduce defensive or attacking reinforcements as the game situation demands
  • Disciplinary – Replace players on a yellow card to avoid going down to 10 men
  • Impact substitutes – Bring on attacking threats or target weak areas of opposition

Utilizing their 3 allowable substitutes (4 in extra time) can give managers an advantage and chance to positively influence the outcome late in an FA Cup match.

Famous FA Cup Substitutions

There have been a number of famous substitutions made in FA Cup history that had a decisive impact on the match result:

  • Ricky Villa – Came on as a substitute for Tottenham in the 1981 FA Cup Final replay against Manchester City and scored a match-winning solo goal.
  • David Fairclough – Known as the “Supersub”, he came off the bench to score 7 goals for Liverpool during their victorious 1974 FA Cup campaign.
  • Tommy McQueen – The Southampton defender was brought on as an 88th minute sub and headed home a last-minute winner in the 1976 FA Cup Final against Manchester United.
  • Alexis Sanchez – Scored an extra-time winner for Arsenal after coming on as a sub in the 2015 FA Cup semi-final against Reading.
  • Aaron Ramsey – Volleyed home a 113th minute winner for Arsenal as a substitute in the 2014 FA Cup Final against Hull City.

These examples demonstrate how important substitutions have been in FA Cup history. Introducing an impact substitute at the right time can turn defeat into victory.

Substitution Controversies

While substitutions are usually straightforward, there have been some controversial incidents involving subs in FA Cup history:

  • Leeds vs Sunderland 1967 – There was no provision for substitutions at the time, so Leeds illegally swapped injured goalkeeper Nigel Sprake for reserve Gary Sprake when 2-0 down.
  • Chelsea vs Middlesbrough 1997 – Chelsea made a 4th substitution in extra time, incorrectly thinking it was allowed. Middlesbrough complained after losing and Chelsea were disqualified.
  • Arsenal vs Sheffield United 1999 – Arsenal made a 4th sub in FA Cup QF, but referee failed to send the extra player off. Arsenal won game, but later disqualified.
  • Tottenham vs Chelsea 2002 – Spurs started cup-tied player Gustavo Poyet due to administrative error. Chelsea complained when they lost and Tottenham were disqualified.

These examples show some of the high-profile FA Cup substitution controversies. Teams must be certain to follow the competition rules precisely to avoid potential disqualification.

Youth and Reserve Team Substitution Rules

The FA Cup rules on substitutions apply slightly differently for youth and reserve teams competing in the early rounds:

  • Youth teams can make up to 5 substitutions per match
  • Reserve teams can make up to 7 substitutions per match
  • Once substituted, a player cannot return for youth/reserve teams
  • Extra time subs also allowed as per normal senior rules

These relaxed rules for youth and reserve sides give young players more opportunity to participate. Up to 7 subs helps rotate reserve team squads. But the standard 3/4 subs applies for senior teams from the 1st Round proper onwards.

Substitution Trends Over Time

The substitution rules in the FA Cup have gradually evolved over time:

  • 1967 – Substitutions first permitted, but only for injured goalkeepers
  • 1974 – Outfield substitutes allowed for the first time
  • 1975 – Number of subs increased from 1 to 2 per team
  • 1986 – 3 substitutions now permitted for each team
  • 1991 – Fourth substitute introduced in extra time

The steady increase in permitted substitutions reflects changing ideas around squad management. Coaches now rely heavily on substitutions to change games compared to the past.

Substitution Numbers Over Time

Season Subs Permitted
Before 1967 0 – No substitutions allowed
1967 – 1974 1 – Only for injured goalkeepers
1974 – 1975 1 – Outfield subs permitted
1975 – 1986 2
1986 – 1991 3
1991 – present 3 + extra time sub

The table summarizes the increasing substitutions over FA Cup history, from 0 up to the current 3 + extra time rule.

Substitution Statistics

Some interesting statistics on substitutions in the FA Cup:

  • The record number of subs made by a single team in an FA Cup match is 7, by Everton against Chelsea in a 1970 quarter-final replay. Everton won 1-0 after extra time.
  • The first substitute to ever be used was Manchester City’s Dennis Tueart, who replaced injured goalkeeper Ken Mulhearn against Stoke City in 1975.
  • Manchester United used a record 6 substitutes in their 2019 Semi Final against Chelsea. Despite the raft of changes, the game finished 1-1.
  • Arsenal benefiting from 8 goals scored by substitutes during their 1993 FA Cup winning run – a competition record.
  • The most common minute for substitutes to be introduced is the 60th, as managers look to change the game. 80th minute is 2nd.
  • The least used substitute in FA Cup final history is Brentford’s Kevin O’Connor, who was an unused sub in their 1925 loss to Sheffield United at Wembley.

These stats show some of the notable records and trends around managers’ use of substitutes in FA Cup history.


In summary, teams are allowed to make up to 3 player substitutions during normal time in an FA Cup match. A 4th sub can be added if a match goes to extra time. Substitutions must be authorized by the referee and are permanent – once replaced, a player cannot return to the field.

Substitutions are an important tactical tool for managers to change shape, manage fatigue and influence the outcome late in a match. There have been many key substitutions that altered the direction of FA Cup ties throughout the competition’s 148 year history.

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