FA Cup Trophy

The FA Cup

The FA Cup is one of the oldest and most hotly contested competitions in English football. While it does not sit at the very pinnacle of the football pyramid, it represents an excellent string to a club’s bow – and, for fans, a diverse snapshot of England’s footballing world, from Premier League clubs to, at times, level 10 clubs from the North and South divisions. 

In other words, it represents something of a level playing field (pun intended), where lower-level clubs with less funding and fewer opportunities for television are able to pit themselves against larger teams – and, for some, kickstart the next level of their career. 

It’s also a fond staple for England’s football fans. In 1938, an FA Cup match between Huddersfield and Preston North End was the first major football match to be televised live. Liverpool’s legendary – and shockingly bad? Good? – Anfield Rap made it to number 3 in the UK singles chart in 1988. In the 2011-2012 season, a staggering 763 clubs competed within the competition. In short, the FA Cup doesn’t represent just another mark in English football’s calendar each year; it represents a well-loved tradition of the sport that will, hopefully, continue on for centuries to come. 

Whether you’re a relative newcomer to the sport, or just want to brush up on your knowledge of the FA Cup, here is everything you need to know – from start to finish. 

FA Cup 101:

  •     In terms of football competitions at the national level, the FA Cup is the oldest in the world.
  •     More clubs are eligible to play in the FA Cup than any other Cup competition in the English Football League System. It is predominantly open to levels 1-9 of the football pyramid, but level 10 clubs can compete if not enough higher-level clubs enter. By contrast, the EFL Cup (currently known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons) is open to just the top 4 levels.
  •     Arsenal have enjoyed the most wins in the FA Cup than any other club, although Blackburn Rovers and the long-defunct Wanderers Football Club (Leytonstone) hold the joint record for the most consecutive wins, with 3 each. 
  •     Due to the disruption of the Second World War, Portsmouth (who won the FA Cup just before the war) ended up storing the cup itself in their headquarters for 7 years. Ironically, this still represents the longest streak for any team to hold onto the cup.
  •     It took more than a century for a player to be sent off the pitch during a final since the start of the FA Cup – 113 years, to be exact. Since then, only five more have been sent off during finals, which seems like pretty good going. 
  •     The oldest player in an FA cup final was Billy Hampson, in 1924. His club, Newcastle United, beat Aston Villa. He was 41 at the time and continued to play until the age of 47. 
  •     The first goal of the FA Cup was scored against Upton Park, by a player called Jarvis Kenrick (Clapham Rovers). He contributed another goal to a 3-0 win, although Wanderers would lay claim to the first FA Cup win. None of these teams remains active today. 

The Exceptional History of the FA Cup 

It all started in the summer of 1871, when a sportsman and writer named Charles William Alcock presented his thoughts to the Football Association. By November, the first teams began to compete for what was, at the time, known as The Football Association Challenge Cup. There were 15 entrants, although only 12 went on to actually play a match (others were carried through on byes, or chose to withdraw). Those 15 teams were:

  •     Barnes
  •     Civil Service
  •     Crystal Palace
  •     Clapham Rovers 
  •     Donington School
  •     Hampstead Heathens
  •     Harrow Chequers
  •     Hitchin
  •     Maidenhead
  •     Marlow
  •     Queen’s Park
  •     Reigate Priory
  •     Royal Engineers
  •     Upton Park
  •     Wanderers 

A mixed bag of names – some familiar, some long-since dissolved. The highest-scoring match of the FA Cup’s inaugural season took place between Royal Engineers and Hitchin on 10th January 1872. Royal Engineers scored 5 goals, while Hitchin failed to score, but they lost to Wanderers in the final round, and Wanderers became the first to lay claim to the title. 

Wanderers went on to defend their title in 1873.

In 1875, the Royal Engineers managed their first (and, to date, only win). This Cup competition also hosted the first replayed final, following a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time. The penalty shoot-out would not be introduced to the sport for almost 100 years – and it would be much longer before the format would be used in an FA Cup final. 

By 1888, things became more streamlined. Qualifying rounds were used, so teams would no longer bypass entire rounds through byes. There were four qualifying rounds, and the first three were organised regionally. 

The Twentieth Century

Bury were the first team to win a twentieth-century FA Cup final. 

The 1901 FA Cup Final was the first ever captured on film, and also happened to see what was, at the time, a record-breaking audience of more than 100,000. This was also the year that Tottenham Hotspur (at the time, a non-league club) claimed the title, beating Stoke (First Division). After that, the true scope of the competition to pit non-league clubs against some of the country’s greatest – and see surprising results – was recognised.

By the next decade, the war would cause the temporary suspension of the FA Cup. It would continue until the end of the 1915 competition, which was won by Chelsea, in a bid to boost soldier’s morale through sport. However, criticisms would eventually lead to a seven-year break, with the FA Cup resuming in 1923. That year, it would represent the first-ever match hosted at Wembley Stadium – completed just a few days prior. That day, organisers learned a valuable lesson in ticketing events after an unprecedented crowd swarmed the stadium’s entrances.

White horse final 1st FA Cup at Wembley

Thanks to a now-famous photograph of a policeman mounted on a white horse as a result of the rowdy spectators making their way onto the pitch, this final became known as the ‘white horse’ final.

In 1926, the off-side rule was introduced to the competition. Without substitutes, many matches and finals were uneven, thanks to injuries incurred during earlier rounds. By 1930, Arsenal won its first FA cup – a prelude to their ongoing success in this competition. 

Once again, war led to the temporary suspension of the FA Cup between 1939 and 1945.

The Mid-Century

In 1953, the only hat-trick ever scored at an FA Cup Final hosted at Wembley was made by Stan Mortensen. It led to Blackpool’s victory over Bolton Wanderers, who had been playing with 9 men on the pitch due to injuries. Despite this imbalance, it wouldn’t be until 1966 that the FA Cup saw the long-awaited introduction of substitutes.

In 1970, a match had to be replayed due to the poor state of the pitch at Wembley. What had caused the pitch to get so uneven and pitted? None other than The Horse of the Year, which had seen numerous horses brought out onto the grass. 

While 1971 represented the 100-year anniversary since the formation of the FA Cup, it actually celebrated one-hundred years of the competition in 1981, due to the missed Cups during the First and Second World Wars.

For more than 100 years, finals that finished extra time as a draw would have to be replayed but, finally, the penalty shoot-out format was introduced in 1999. It would not be needed, however, until 2005.

 

  •     1871: the first FA Cup game is played, and the first title is won by Wanderers in 1872.
  •     1873: another win from Wanderers.
  •     1873: Sheffield win an FA Cup game on a coin toss. This method of deciding the winner in the event of a tie was, unsurprisingly, never used again. 
  •     1876: another win from Wanderers, and the start of a three-year winning streak, although the team will be dissolved in the following decade.
  •     1888: a more recognisable format for the Cup, utilising regional qualifying rounds, is introduced. 
  •     1889: the first Double (the result of a combined win of the FA Cup and League title in a single season) is achieved by Preston North End.
  •     1900: the new century begins with a win for Bury. 
  •     1901: an FA Cup Final is captured on film – including a wrongful decision made by the ref. 
  •     1912: the last 0-0 draw in an FA Cup final for almost 100 years. 
  •     1916: for the first time since its creation, the FA Cup does not occur. It will remain this way until the end of the First World War. 
  •     1923: The FA Cup resumes, and the final – which will come to be known as the White Horse Final – is hosted in the newly built Wembley Stadium. 
  •     1926: the off-side rule is introduced, making the game much more recognisable to what we know today. 
  •     1930: Arsenal wins the FA Cup for the first time. 
  •     1939: Portsmouth wins the FA Cup, and the competition is subsequently called off in light of the Second World War. The club will keep the FA Cup in their trophy case for seven years. 
  •     1946: Derby County wins the first FA Cup competition to take place after WWII. 
  •     1953: Stan Mortensen scores his unrivalled hat trick in the Final against Bolton Wanderers. 
  •     1965: Liverpool win the FA Cup for the first time. 
  •     1966: Substitutes are now permitted in FA Cup games, meaning injured players needn’t represent holes in the team’s line-up at the end of well-fought seasons. 
  •     1976: the start of an unprecedented competition, which saw a total of 173 matches – more than any other in the competition’s history. 
  •     1981: 100 FA Cups are celebrated with a win by Tottenham Hotspur against Manchester City. 
  •     1999: the penalty shoot-out format is introduced, although it won’t be needed for six more years. 
  •     2000: Chelsea wins the FA Cup. Along with the competition’s runner-up, Aston Villa, they are the last to play an FA Cup game at the ‘original’ Wembley Stadium.
  •     2001: for the first time, the FA Cup Final was hosted at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. This would prove only a temporary measure, however, during the rebuilding of the Wembley Stadium. Liverpool would beat Arsenal to the title 2-1, with both Liverpool goals made in the final 10 minutes of the match. 
  •     2003: the Cup is won by Arsenal without conceding a single goal. This will go down in sporting history as their Invincible era. 
  •     2004: Curtis Weston becomes the youngest player to appear at a final for the FA Cup.  
  •     2005: Arsenal wins their tenth FA Cup title, 5-4 after a penalty shoot-out against Manchester United. It is the first penalty shoot-out in FA Cup history. 
  •     2012: Didier Drogba scores in his fourth FA Cup final. He is the first player in the history of the competition to do so. 
  •     2011: 763 clubs – more than ever before – are accepted. 
  •     2013: Wigan Athletic wins the FA Cup but, that very same year, the club is relegated to the Championship. This is an unprecedented combination of events, and the club remain the only one to win the FA Cup and face relegation in the same year. Also, Chelsea makes it to a record 29 matches within the FA Cup without a single defeat. Manchester City will break that streak for them.
  •     2019: Manchester City, in their rise to dominance, win the FA Cup, the EFL Cup, and the Premier League in a single season. 

A Fresh Competition: FA Cup 23/24

The oldest domestic cup competition in the world grips the English football world in ways few other competitions can. The absolute minnows battling away from the Extra Preliminary Rounds to the First Round proper begin the glorious run to Wembley. Giants await them, of course. Giants are relative: for some, it’ll be Oxford City of the National League, and for others, it’ll be Manchester City of the Premier League. No team wants to avoid each other. The rub of the green saves itself for this competition.

Winning the FA Cup is the goal. But it’s not necessarily what leaves a lasting impression on a season’s competition. Wrexham’s run in the 22/23 is what will live on for many, overcoming difficult circumstances to reach the Fourth Round, losing to Sheffield United in a replay. They fell two rounds short of the Final, and in the history books of rote statistics and round-by-round data, their narrative may be overlooked. But the history of the FA Cup is more than that.

Manchester City, though, were the winners. As they won the Premier League and Champions League in 23/24, they start the next as defending champions. While Davids hope to beat Goliaths, in general, they don’t – though they continue to inspire. As such, in 23/24, a final competed by two of the best Premier League teams is to be expected. Chelsea are frequent finalists, and new manager Mauricio Pochettino may target the competition as one to clinch to ignite a medal-winning mentality. Manchester United will hope to go one step further than they did last year after losing to bitter rivals City in the final. Arsenal – the record holders for most FA Cup wins – are likely to have their sights on the lofty ambitions of Premier League and Champions League titles. Liverpool, despite winning it a couple of seasons ago, are never expected to take the FA Cup too seriously until it is unignorable. Newcastle, like Chelsea, may use the FA Cup as a Silverware Starter for this new and emerging squad. Spurs – who knows?

The complacency of these teams, and the alleged disrespect they give the FA Cup, may come around to bite them. Teams like Brighton, West Ham, Brentford, and even Aston Villa could emerge as genuine challengers should any of the top teams doze off.

The FA Cup: DAZN Bet’s Pop Quiz

Fill in any gaps in your knowledge – or just flex those FA muscles – with our quickfire pop quiz on the FA Cup’s greatest moments – and its duds. 

Who has scored the most FA Cup goals of all time? 

A player whom you may not have heard of – Harry Cursham, who played for Notts County on and off (with short stints at rival teams) for 14 years, between 1877 and 1891. In that time, he scored 49 goals for the club across a total of 44 FA Cup Games, although the club wouldn’t win until 1894. One of his greatest FA Cup games ended 11-1 in 1882.

You may find his closest rival, Ian Rush, a tad more familiar. Rush scored a total of 44 goals in FA Cup games during his career. The Welsh forward remains Liverpool’s top scorer of all time, and one of the most revered names in FA Cup history.  

Which team(s) have lost the most FA Cup finals? 

This one is a three-way tie – fortunately for the clubs, who don’t have to bear the weight of that attribute alone! Chelsea, Manchester United, and Everton have each faced 8 losses in FA Cup finals – although, unlike Birmingham City, Crystal Palace, Queen’s Park and Watford, they have each gone onto win FA Cups. Those four clubs are still waiting on their first win, to balance out the defeats. 

Which club has won the most FA Cup titles? 

Arsenal have won 14 FA Cup competitions to date – more than any other club. Their first win did not come until 1930. 

Which player has won the most FA Cup titles?

Having played for both Arsenal and Chelsea during the 2000s and early 2010s, left-back Ashley Cole has lifted the trophy more than any other player, with 7 wins under his belt. He played for Arsenal in FA Cup competitions a total of 8 times.