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|Number of teams||763 (2011–12)|
|Current champions||Chelsea (7th title)|
|Most successful club(s)||Manchester United (11 titles)|
|2012–13 FA Cup|
The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is a knockout cup competition in English football and is the oldest association football competition in the world. The "FA Cup" is run by and named after the Football Association and usually refers to the English men's tournament, although a women's tournament is also held. Its current sponsored name is the FA Cup with Budweiser.
The FA Cup was first held in 1871–72. Entry is open to all teams who compete in the Premier League, the Football League and in steps one to five of the FA National League System, as well as selected teams in step 6. This means that clubs of all standards compete, from the largest clubs in England and Wales down to amateur village teams. The tournament has become known for the possibility for " minnows" from the lower divisions to become "giant-killers" by eliminating top clubs from the tournament and even theoretically winning the Cup, although lower division teams rarely progress beyond the early stages. The qualification rounds and a system of byes mean that the very smallest and very biggest teams almost never meet.
The competition is a knockout tournament with pairings for each round drawn at random. There are no seeds and the draw for each round is not made until after the scheduled dates for the previous round. The draw also determines which teams will play at home.
Each tie is played as a single leg. If a match is drawn, there is a replay, usually at the ground of the team who were away for the first game. Drawn replays are now settled with extra time and penalty shootouts; until the 1990s further replays would be played until one team was victorious. Some ties took as many as six matches to settle; in their 1975 campaign, Fulham played a total of 12 games over six rounds, which remains the most games played by a team to reach a final. Replays were traditionally played three or four days after the original game, but from 1991–92 they were staged at least 10 days later on police advice. This led to penalty shoot-outs being introduced. Replays are no longer held for the semi-finals or final.
There are a total of 14 rounds in the competition – six qualifying rounds, followed by six "proper", plus the semi-finals and the final. The qualifying rounds are regionalised to reduce the travel costs for smaller non-league sides. The First and Second Rounds were also previously split into Northern and Southern sections, but this practice was ended after the 1997–98 competition.
The competition begins in August with the lowest-ranked clubs (those from level 9 and below of the league system), contesting the Extra Preliminary Round, followed by the Preliminary Round (when clubs from level 8 enter) and First Qualifying Round (level 7 clubs enter). Clubs in the Conference North and Conference South join in the Second Qualifying Round, and Conference National clubs join in the Fourth Qualifying Round.
The 32 winners from that round progress to the First Round (often called the First Round Proper). They are joined by the 48 clubs from League One and League Two. Finally, teams from the Premier League and Football League Championship enter at the Third Round Proper, at which point there are 64 teams remaining in the competition. The Sixth Round Proper is the quarter-final stage, at which point eight teams remain.
The FA Cup has a set pattern for when each round is played. Normally the First Round is played in mid-November, with the Second Round on one of the first two Saturdays in December. The third round is played on the first weekend in January, with the Fourth Round later in the month and Fifth Round in mid-February. The Sixth Round (or quarter-finals) traditionally occurs in early or mid March, with the semi-finals a month later.
The final is normally held the Saturday after the Premier League season finishes in May. The only seasons in recent times when this pattern was not followed were 1999–2000, when most rounds were played a few weeks earlier than normal as an experiment, and 2010–2011 when the FA Cup Final was played before the Premier League season had finished, in order to allow the stadium to be ready for the UEFA Champions League final.
The FA Cup winners qualify for the following season's UEFA Europa League (formerly named the UEFA Cup; until 1998 they entered the Cup Winners' Cup instead). This European place applies even if the team is relegated or is not in the English top flight. However, if the FA Cup winning team has also qualified for the following season's Champions League, then the losing FA Cup finalist is given the Europa League place instead. FA Cup winners enter the Europa League at the Group Stage. Losing finalists, if they enter the Europa League, must begin earlier, at the play-off or Q3 stage.
The FA Cup winners also qualify for the single-match FA Community Shield against the Premier League Champions.
The draw for each of the "proper" rounds is unseeded and is broadcast live on television, usually taking place at the conclusion of live coverage of one of the games of the previous round. No teams are seeded in the qualifying round draws either, but the teams are grouped geographically in the qualifying rounds to reduce travel costs. Public interest is particularly high during the draw for the third round, which is where the top-ranked teams are added to the draw.
All clubs in the Premier League and Football League are automatically eligible, and clubs in the next six levels of the English football league system are also eligible provided they have played in either the FA Cup, FA Trophy or FA Vase competitions in the previous season. Newly formed clubs, such as F.C. United of Manchester in 2005–06 and also 2006–07, may not therefore play in the FA Cup in their first season. All clubs entering the competition must also have a suitable stadium.
It is very rare for top clubs to miss the competition, although it can happen in exceptional circumstances. Defending holders Manchester United did not enter the 1999–2000 FA Cup, as they were already in the inaugural Club World Championship, with the club stating that entering both tournaments would overload their fixture schedule and make it more difficult to defend their Champions League and Premiership titles. The club claimed that they did not want to devalue the FA Cup by fielding a weaker side. The move benefited United as they received a two-week break and won the 1999–2000 league title by an 18-point margin, although they did not progress past the group stages of the Club World Cup. The withdrawal from the FA Cup, however, drew considerable criticism as this weakened the tournament's prestige and Alex Ferguson has since admitted his regrets in how they handled the situation.
Welsh sides that play in English leagues are eligible, although since the creation of the League of Wales there are only six clubs remaining: Cardiff City (the only non-English team to win the tournament, in 1927), Swansea City, Wrexham, Merthyr Town, Newport County and Colwyn Bay. In the early years other teams from Wales, Ireland and Scotland also took part in the competition, with Glasgow side Queen's Park losing the final to Blackburn Rovers in 1884 and 1885 before being barred from entering by the Scottish Football Association.
The number of entrants has increased greatly in recent years. In the 2004–05 season, 660 clubs entered the competition, beating the long-standing record of 656 from the 1921–22 season. In 2005–06 this increased to 674 entrants, in 2006–07 to 687, in 2007–08 to 731 clubs, and for the 2008–09 and 2009–10 competitions it reached 762. The number has varied slightly but remained roughly stable since then, with 759 clubs participating in 2010–11, a record 763 in 2011-12 and 758 for 2012-13. By comparison, the other major English domestic cup, the League Cup, involves only the 92 members of the Premier League and Football League.
Matches in the FA Cup are usually played at the home ground of one of the two teams. The team who plays at home is decided when the matches are drawn. There is no seeding system in place within rounds other than when teams enter the competition, therefore the home team is simply the first team drawn out for each fixture. Occasionally games may have to be moved to other grounds due to other events taking place, security reasons or a ground not being suitable to host popular teams. In the event of a draw, the replay is played at the ground of the team who originally played away from home, with a penalty shootout deciding the winner if the replay game also ends in a tie.
In the days when multiple replays were possible, the second replay (and any further replays) were played at neutral grounds. The clubs involved could alternatively agree to toss for home advantage in the second replay.
Traditionally, the FA Cup Final was played at London's Wembley Stadium. Early finals were played in other locations and, due to extensive redevelopment of Wembley, finals between 2001 and 2006 were played at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The final returned to Wembley in May 2007. Early finals venues include Kennington Oval, in 1872 and 1874–92, the Racecourse Ground, Derby in 1886, Fallowfield Stadium, Manchester in 1893, Goodison Park in 1894, Burnden Park for the 1901 replay, Bramall Lane in 1912, the Crystal Palace Park, 1895–1914, Stamford Bridge 1920–22, and Lillie Bridge, Fulham, London in 1873. In more recent times the memorable 1970 final replay between Leeds and Chelsea was held at Old Trafford in Manchester. This was the only time between 1923 and 2000 that the FA Cup final or the FA Cup Final replay was held at a stadium other than Wembley.
The semi-finals were traditionally contested at high-capacity neutral venues; usually the home grounds of teams not involved in that semi-final. Venues used since 1990 include Manchester City's now demolished Maine Road stadium, Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium, Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough stadium, Arsenal's former home, Highbury (since redeveloped as housing), London's Wembley Stadium, the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and Aston Villa's Villa Park in Birmingham. Villa Park is the most used stadium, with 55 semi-finals. The 1991 semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham was the first to be played at Wembley, as were both 1993, 1994 and 2000 semi-finals. In 2005, both were held at the Millennium Stadium. The decision to hold the semi-finals at the same location as the final can be controversial amongst fans However, starting with the 2008 cup, all semi-finals are played at Wembley; the stadium was not ready for the 2007 semi-finals. For a list of semi-final results and the venues used, see FA Cup Semi-finals.
At the end of the final, the winning team is presented with a trophy, known as the "FA Cup", which they hold until the following year's final. Traditionally, at Wembley finals, the presentation is made at the Royal Box, with players, led by the captain, mounting a staircase to a gangway in front of the box and returning by a second staircase on the other side of the box. At Cardiff the presentation was made on a podium on the pitch.
The cup is decorated with ribbons in the colours of the winning team, but during the game the cup actually has both teams' sets of ribbons attached and the runners-up ribbons are removed before the presentation. Individual members of the teams playing in the final are presented with winners' and runners'-up medals. The present FA Cup trophy is the fourth.
The first, the 'little tin idol', was used from the inception of the Cup in 1871–72 until it was stolen from a Birmingham shoe shop window belonging to William Shillcock while held by Aston Villa on 11 September 1895, and was never seen again. The FA fined Villa £25 to pay for a replacement. Almost 60 years later, the thief admitted that the cup had been melted down to make counterfeit half-crown coins.
The second trophy was a replica of the first, and was last used in 1910 before being presented to the FA's long-serving president Lord Kinnaird. It was sold at Christie's on 19 May 2005 for £420,000 (£478,400 including auction fees and taxes) to David Gold, the then joint chairman of Birmingham City. David Gold has loaned this trophy to the National Football Museum which is now based in Manchester and it is on permanent display to the public.
A new, larger, trophy was bought by the FA in 1911 designed and manufactured by Fattorini's of Bradford and won by Bradford City in its first outing. This trophy still exists but is now too fragile to be used, so an exact replica was made by Toye, Kenning and Spencer and has been in use since the 1992 final. A "backup" trophy was made alongside the existing trophy in 1992, but it has not been used so far, and will only be used if the current trophy is lost, damaged or destroyed. An otherwise identical, but smaller replica was also made by Fattorini, the North Wales Coast FA Cup trophy, and is contested annually by members of that regional Association.
Though the FA Cup is the oldest domestic football competition in the world, its trophy is not the oldest; that title is claimed by the Youdan Cup. The oldest national trophy is the Scottish Cup.
In 1914 Burnley F.C. won the cup and received unique medals incorrectly struck as "English Cup Winners". One is displayed at Turf Moor, within the 1914 collection.
Since the start of the 1994–95 season, the FA Cup has been sponsored. However, to protect the identity of the competition, the sponsored name has always included 'The FA Cup' in addition to the sponsor's name, unlike sponsorship deals for the League Cup where the word 'cup' is preceded by only the sponsor's name. Sponsorship deals run for four years, though – as in the case of E.ON – one-year extensions may be agreed.
Below is a list of sponsors and the sponsored name of the competition:
|1871–1994||No main sponsor||The FA Cup|
|1994–1998||Littlewoods Pools||The FA Cup sponsored by Littlewoods|
|1998–2002||AXA||The AXA-Sponsored FA Cup|
|2002–2006||No main sponsor||The FA Cup|
|2006–2011||E.ON||The FA Cup sponsored by E.ON|
|2011–2014||Budweiser||The FA Cup with Budweiser|
From August 2006 to 2014, Umbro will supply match balls for all FA Cup matches.
The FA Cup has a long tradition of lower-ranked teams becoming "giant-killers" by defeating opponents from a higher division. Linked to this giant-killing is the progression of small teams through the Cup, to later rounds than they would expect to reach.
Giant-killing victories on various scales happen every year; it is considered particularly newsworthy when a top Premier League team suffers an upset defeat, or where the giant-killer is from outside the Football League divisions. The most recent example of a non-league team beating top-flight opposition is Luton Town's victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road in 2012–13. In games between league sides, one of the most notable results was the 1992 victory by Wrexham (who finished the previous season in last place, 92nd in the league) over Arsenal, the reigning champions. One analysis of four years of FA Cup results showed that it was 99.85% likely that at least one team would beat one from a higher division in a given year. The probability drops to 48.8% for a two-division gap, and 39.28% for a three-division gap.
Almost every club in the League Pyramid has a fondly remembered "giant-killing" act in its history. Some small clubs gain a reputation for being "cup specialists" after two or more such feats within a few years. Yeovil Town holds the record for the most victories over league opposition as a non-league team, having recorded 20 wins before Yeovil entered the league. The record for a club which has never entered the league is held by Altrincham, with 16 league scalps.
A few teams have won the FA Cup while outside of the top division, though no team from the third level of the football league has progressed to the final. For non-league teams, reaching the third round – where all top flight sides now enter – is considered a major achievement. In the 2008-09 FA Cup, a record nine teams achieved this feat. Tottenham Hotspur won the 1901 FA Cup as a Southern League club, but since 1945 no non-league team has progressed past the fifth round.
Chasetown are the lowest-ranked team to play in the third round, in the 2007–08 competition whilst the club was in the Southern League Division One Midlands, the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.
Notable events in the FA Cup
FA Cup winners and finalists
Three clubs have won consecutive FA Cups on more than one occasion: Wanderers (1872, 1873 and 1876, 1877, 1878), Blackburn Rovers (1884, 1885, 1886 and 1890, 1891), and Tottenham Hotspur (1961, 1962 and 1981, 1982).
Seven clubs have won the FA Cup as part of a League and Cup double, namely Preston North End (1889), Aston Villa (1897), Tottenham Hotspur (1961), Arsenal (1971, 1998, 2002), Liverpool (1986), Manchester United (1994, 1996, 1999) and Chelsea (2010). Arsenal and Manchester United share the record of three doubles. Arsenal have won a double in each of three separate decades (1970s, 1990s, 2000s). Manchester United's three doubles in the 1990s highlights their dominance of English football at the time.
In 1993, Arsenal became the first side to win both the FA Cup and League Cup in the same season, beating Sheffield Wednesday 2–1, in both finals. Liverpool repeated this feat in 2001, as did Chelsea in 2007. In 2012, Chelsea accomplished a different cup double consisting of the FA Cup and the 2012 Champions League.
In 1998–99, Manchester United added the 1999 Champions League crown to their league and cup double, an accomplishment known as The European treble. Two years later, in 2000–01, Liverpool won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup to complete a cup treble.
Portsmouth have the unusual accolade of holding the FA Cup for the longest unbroken period of time; having won the Cup in 1939, the next final was not contested until 1946, due to the outbreak of the Second World War.
The FA Cup has only been won by a non-English team once. Cardiff City achieved this in 1927 when they beat Arsenal in the final at Wembley. They had previously made it to the final only to lose to Sheffield United in 1925, and lost another final to Portsmouth in 2008. Cardiff City also is the only team, which were winners in 1927 of both the FA Cup, their only win, and the Welsh Cup, which they now won for the 5th time.
Winners from outside the top flight
Since the foundation of the Football League, Tottenham Hotspur in 1901 have been the only non-league winners of the FA Cup. They were then playing in the Southern League and were only elected to the Football League in 1908. At that time the Football League consisted of only two 18-team divisions.
In the history of the FA Cup, only eight teams who were playing outside the top level of English football have gone on to win the competition, the most recent being West Ham United, who beat Arsenal in 1980. Excluding Tottenham in 1901, these clubs were all playing in the old Second Division, no other Third Division or lower side having reached the final.
One of the most famous upsets was when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1–0 in 1973. Leeds were third in the First Division and Sunderland were in the Second. Three years later Second Division Southampton also won the Cup, against First Division Manchester United by the same 1–0 scoreline. The other non-top flight winners of the FA Cup were Notts County in 1894, the first non-top flight team to win the FA Cup since the inception of the league; Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1908; Barnsley in 1912; and West Bromwich Albion in 1931. West Bromwich Albion remain the only team to have won the FA Cup and promotion from the second flight in the same season.
Thus far the FA Cup final has never been contested by two teams from outside the top flight. Uniquely, in 2007–08, three of the four semi-finalists ( Barnsley, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion), were from outside the top flight, although Portsmouth went on to win it.