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A Brief history of the FA Cup

Beginnings of the FA Cup

England has been touted as the birthplace of football; we hear it from English fans when they sing “Football’s Coming Home” at World Cup events or when social media blows up after an important match in the Premier League. Some of the earliest forms of the game were played in England between clubs that were established in the late 19th century.

The FA Cup was formed in 1871 and was the first national competition to be formed in the sport. Until then there were only local football matches and some sporadic friendly games played in certain regions, all between schools or local workers, who played the game at an amateur level. The rules for the game had just been written eight years earlier, in 1863, when a formal distinction was made between what would later be known as Rugby and what would become Football.

The Football Association, who were responsible for making the rules for the game, had decided that it would be beneficial to English football clubs to participate in a nationwide Cup to help make football more popular for the people.

The First FA Cup consisted of 15 teams, from England and Scotland, who played each other in a 5 round knockout contest. The venue of the final was the cricket stadium Kennington Oval.

The Modern Game

The FA Cup has come a long way since its inception, it is now contested by over 700 eligible teams. There are 10 tiers of English football who can compete in the FA Cup, in 6 Qualifying Rounds before the Competition Proper.

The six qualifying rounds are played from September until October, and feature clubs from tiers 10 to 5 in a round based knockout. 184 matches are played in August, between ninth and tenth level teams, and the victors proceed to the next round where they face level eight clubs. The following two rounds see the winners face the seventh and next the sixth level clubs. In the last two rounds of the qualifying phase, the fifth tier teams' entrants come in.

The Competition Proper is when the teams from the English Football League and Premier League join in the knockout. There are two rounds played in November and December, and in January, the Premier League and Championship teams start their first matches. There are three matches played out two weeks apart, until there are only 16 teams left, who play in the quarterfinals. Following that are the semi-finals and finals, which are both played in Wembley Stadium.

Historic Moments in the History of the FA Cup

White Horse Final

1923 was the first year when the FA Cup final was played in Wembley. It was played between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, and was the inaugural football match to be played in the newly built stadium. The match officials did not count on how many people would come to watch the match, and so they did not ticket the event, resulting in a huge crowd that spilled onto the field. The game was going to be called off until mounted policemen came in and made the spectators stand behind the touchlines. One of the policemen was mounted on top of a white horse that was particularly visible, hence the final came to be known as the White Horse final. It was estimated that 200,000 people came to watch, and ever since, the match has been entry with tickets only.

The Stanley Matthews Final

Stanley Matthews was a football player who had a career that lasted 33 years. He holds the record for the longest career, playing professionally until he turned 50. He won one FA Cup in his career in 1953, when he brought Blackpool FC to the finals and single-handedly brought his team to win the game from 3-0 behind against Bolton Wanderers. He scored a hat trick, the only player to ever do so in the FA Cup final, and gave an assist in injury

Manchester City’s 1956 Final

Manchester City won their third FA Cup in 1956, in a 3-1 win over Birmingham City. The Manchester City goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann, had a rough collision with Birmingham's Peter Murphy 15 minutes before the end of the game. Though he continued to play and finished the match, a couple of days later he went to Manchester Royal Infirmary and they discovered that he had broken his neck. He had dislocated five vertebrae, with the second one being broken. If his third vertebrae had not wedged the second in place, he would have likely died during the match. Fortunately he survived, but he never played to the same high standards again.

Hillsborough Disaster

On the 15th of April 1989, tragedy struck in a game that is forever remembered by Liverpool fans. Liverpool played Nottingham Forest in Hillsborough Stadium, Yorkshire in an FA Cup Semi-final. Just minutes after the game started, the crowds started pushing forwards towards the pitch and resulted in 97 people losing their lives with 766 injuries. To this day it remains the tragedy with the highest death toll in English football.

Biggest Upsets

There are many teams of differing quality playing in the cup, and there have been some major upsets when the underdogs have beaten the favourites. Statistics taken from the FA have shown that it is 99% likely that at least one team would beat a club from a higher division in any given year. The percentage drops to 48% for a team to beat a team that is two divisions higher, and 39% for teams with a three division gap to beat.

Wrexham AFC - Arsenal

Wrexham beat Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup in 1992. They were at the bottom of the First Division table in the previous season, but had avoided regulation because of the restructuring of the league (this was when the Premier League was formed). Arsenal had starters the match on the front foot, scoring early but failing to improve on their lead, until the 82nd minute when Wrexham equalized from a free kick. Two minutes later, Wrexham took the lead, and with the final whistle, the fans invaded the pitch in celebration.

Wigan Athletic - Manchester City

The FA Cup final of 2013 was one of the most bizarre events to occur in the Cup’s history. Manchester City went into the final after finishing a Premier League campaign where they finished second, and were looking to win their piece of silverware for the season. Wigan Athletic had finished bottom of the table, and were going to be relegated to the Championship, so with both teams on either end of the standings, it looked a sure thing for Manchester City. The first half ended goalless, and for most of the second half neither team could break the tie, though both teams had racked up plenty of shots. Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta was sent off after receiving a second yellow card in the 84th minute, and just before the match could head into extra time, Wigan scored from a corner in injury time.


For fans of football and the history of the game, the FA Cup is one of the most exciting knockout tournaments in football. Whether you support one of the top flight clubs or support a local team, you will get the chance to follow your side each year as they play for the acclaimed English trophy. The Wembley Stadium finals are a must watch for all fans of the English game.

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