|Number of teams||736 (2014–15)|
|Current champions||Arsenal (11th title)|
|Most successful club(s)||Arsenal
|Television broadcasters||BBC Sport
|2014–15 FA Cup|
The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout cup competition in British football; it is the oldest association football competition in the world. The FA Cup is organised by and named after the Football Association. A concurrent women's tournament is also held, known as the FA Women's Cup.
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 1 to 5 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.
Arsenal are the current holders, having beaten Hull City 3–2 after extra time in the 2014 final. With their 11th FA Cup title, Arsenal are now level with Manchester United for the greatest number of title victories in the history of the competition.
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 (except for the Preliminary and First Qualifying Rounds which are drawn at the same time as the Extra Preliminary 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 Premier 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 2010–11 and 2012–13 when the FA Cup Final was played before the Premier League season had finished, to allow Wembley Stadium to be ready for the UEFA Champions League final.
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 Sir Alex Ferguson later admitted his regret regarding their handling of 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, Newport County, Wrexham, Merthyr Town 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. In the 2013–14 season the first Channel Island club entered the competition when Guernsey F.C. competed for the first time.
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.
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. From the 2015/16 season, UEFA will not allow the runners-up to qualify for the Europa League through the competition.
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 extra time and a penalty shoot-out 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 from 1874 to 1892; the Racecourse Ground in Derby in 1886; Fallowfield Stadium in Manchester in 1893; Goodison Park in Liverpool in 1894; Burnden Park in Bolton for the 1901 replay; Bramall Lane in Sheffield in 1912; the Crystal Palace Park from 1895 to 1914; Stamford Bridge from 1920 to 1922; and Lillie Bridge in 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. It was common for these venues to be roughly equidistant between the two teams for fairness of travel. 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. This tradition was ended by the Football Association in 2013 at the behest of an American brewery which was sponsoring the competition that year, when the winners, Wigan Athletic, were presented with a trophy dressed in sky blue and red ribbons bearing the sponsor's name and logo, rather than their club colours of royal blue and white. 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 made by Martin, Hall & Co at a cost of £20 and 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. 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. A smaller, but otherwise identical replica was also made by Fattorini, the North Wales Coast FA Cup trophy, and is contested annually by members of that regional Association.
A new trophy identical in design to the 1911 is now currently in use as of 2014.
Though the FA Cup is the oldest domestic football competition in the world, its trophy is not the oldest; the oldest trophy for a national competition is the Scottish Cup, which was first presented in 1874. An even older trophy still in existence is the Youdan Cup, made for a one-off competition in Sheffield in 1867.
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|
The FA Cup has a long tradition of lower-ranked teams becoming "giant-killers" by defeating opponents from a higher level. 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. The most recent example of a non-league team (Levels 5 through 10) beating top-flight opposition is Level 5 Conference Premier side Luton Town's victory over Level 1 Premier League's Norwich City at Carrow Road in the 2012–13 Fourth Round Proper. In games between league sides, one of the most notable results was the 1992 victory by Wrexham, 92nd/last in the previous season's league, over reigning league champion Arsenal. One analysis of four years of FA Cup results showed that it was 99.85 per cent likely that at least one team would beat one from a higher division in a given year. The probability drops to 48.8 per cent for a two-division gap, and 39.28 per cent 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 through the years before it achieved promotion into The Football League. The record for a club which has never entered The Football League is held by Altrincham, with 16 league scalps.
The Football League was founded in 1888, 16 years after the first FA Cup competition. Since the creation of The Football League, Tottenham Hotspur is the only non-league "giant-killer" to win the Cup, taking the 1901 FA Cup with a victory over reigning league runners-up Sheffield United. Other than Tottenham's non-league victory, the FA Cup has only seen 24 finalists from outside English football's top division – all from Level 2 – with a record of 7 wins and 17 runners-up.
For non-league teams, reaching the Third Round Proper – where all Level 1 sides now enter – is considered a major achievement. In the 2008–09 FA Cup, a record nine non-league teams achieved this feat. Since 1945, only seven non-league team have reached the Fifth Round Proper (final 16), and none have progressed to the Sixth Round (final 8) – although the 1977–78 FA Cup saw fully amateur team Blyth Spartans take the fully professional side Wrexham to a Fifth Round replay, only to lose 2–1.
Chasetown, whilst playing at Level 8 of English football during the 2007–08 competition, are the lowest-ranked team to play in the Third Round Proper (final 64, of 731 teams entered that season). Chasetown was then a member of the Southern League Division One Midlands (a lower level within the Southern Football League), when they lost to Football League Championship (Level 2) team Cardiff City, the eventual FA Cup runners-up that year. Their success earned the lowly organisation over £60,000 in prize money.
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).
In 1993, Arsenal became the first side to win both the FA Cup and the League Cup in the same season when they beat Sheffield Wednesday 2–1 in both finals. Liverpool (in 2001) and Chelsea (in 2007) have since repeated this feat. 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 title to their league and cup double to complete a unique 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 curious 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 to win the national cups of two different countries in the same season, having also won the Welsh Cup in 1927. The Scottish team Queen's Park reached and lost the final in both 1884 and 1885.
Winners from outside the top division
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 elected to the Football League only in 1908. At that time the Football League consisted of 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. With the exception of Tottenham in 1901, these clubs were all playing in the old Second Division. No other Third Division or lower side has won the trophy or even reached the final since the Football League was founded.
One of the most notable upsets in the final occurred when Sunderland beat Leeds United 1–0 in 1973. That season, Leeds finished third in the First Division, while Sunderland were in the Second Division. Three years later, Second Division Southampton also won the Cup, when they beat First Division Manchester United by the same 1–0 scoreline. The other Second Division winners of the FA Cup are Notts County in 1894; Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1908; Barnsley in 1912; and West Bromwich Albion in 1931. West Bromwich Albion are the only team to have won the FA Cup and promotion from the Second Division in the same season.
The FA Cup final has never been contested by two teams from outside the top division. Uniquely, in 2007–08 three of the four semi-finalists (Barnsley, Cardiff City and West Bromwich Albion), were from outside the top division, although the single Premier League team remaining, Portsmouth, went on to win the competition that year.
The FA Cup Final is one of 10 events reserved for live broadcast on UK terrestrial television under the Ofcom Code on Sports and Other Listed and Designated Events.
In the early years of coverage the BBC had exclusive radio coverage with a picture of the pitch marked in the Radio Times with numbered squares to help the listener follow the match on the radio. The first FA Cup Final on Radio was in 1926 between Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City but this was only broadcast to in Manchester, the first national final on BBC Radio was between Arsenal and Cardiff in 1927. The first final on BBC Television was in 1937 in a match which featured Sunderland and Preston North End but this was not televised in full. The following seasons final between Preston and Huddersfield was covered in full by the BBC. When ITV was formed in 1955 they shared final coverage with the BBC in one of the only club matches shown live on television, during the 1970s and 1980s coverage became more elaborate with BBC and ITV trying to steal viewers from the others by starting coverage earlier and earlier some starting as early as 9am which was 6 hours before kick off. Nowadays this continues with Setanta and ESPN having all day broadcasts from Wembley but terrestrial TV coverage usually begins 2 hours before kick off. The sharing of rights between BBC and ITV continued from 1955 to the 1988 FA Cup Final when ITV lost coverage to the new Sports Channel which later became Sky Sports.
From 1988 to 1997, the BBC and Sky Sports had coverage of the FA Cup, the BBC had highlights on Match of the Day and usually one match per round while Sky had the same deal. From 1997 to 2001, ITV and Sky shared live coverage with both having two matches per round and BBC continuing with highlights on Match of the Day. From 2002 to 2008, BBC and Sky again shared coverage with BBC having two or three matches per round and Sky having one or two. From 2008–09 to 2013–14, FA Cup matches are shown live by ITV across England and Wales, with UTV broadcasting to Northern Ireland but STV refusing to show them. ITV shows 16 FA Cup games per season, including the first pick of live matches from each of the first to sixth rounds of the competition, plus one semi-final exclusively live. The final is also shown live on ITV. Under the same 2008 contract, Setanta Sports showed three games and one replay in each round from round three to five, two quarter-finals, one semi-final and the final. The channel also broadcast ITV's matches exclusively to Scotland, after the ITV franchise holder in Scotland, STV, decided not to broadcast FA Cup games. Setanta entered administration in June 2009 and as a result the FA terminated Setanta's deal to broadcast FA-sanctioned competitions and England internationals. As a result of Setanta going out of business ITV showed the competition exclusively in the 2009–10 season with between three and four matches per round, all quarter finals, semi finals and final live as the FA could not find a pay TV broadcaster in time. ESPN bought the competition for the 2010–11 to 2012–13 season and during this time Rebecca Lowe became the first woman to host the FA Cup Final in the UK.
In October 2009, The FA announced that ITV would show an additional match in the First and Second Rounds on ITV, with one replay match shown on ITV4. One match and one replay match from the first two rounds will broadcast on The FA website for free, in a similar situation to the 2010 World Cup Qualifier between Ukraine and England. The 2009–10 First Round match between Oldham Athletic and Leeds United was the first FA Cup match to be streamed online live.
Many[who?] expected BSkyB to make a bid to show some of the remaining FA Cup games for the remainder of the 2009–10 season which would include a semi-final and shared rights to the final. ESPN took over the package Setanta held for the FA Cup from the 2010–11 season. The 2011 final was also shown live on Sky 3D in addition to ESPN (who provided the 3D coverage for Sky 3D) and ITV. Following the sale of ESPN's UK and Ireland channels to BT, ESPN's rights package transferred to BT Sport from the 2013–14 season.
BBC Radio 5 Live provides radio coverage including several full live commentaries with additional commentaries broadcast on BBC local radio stations, talksport also hold rights from the 2012–13 season.
Until the 2008–09 season, the BBC and Sky Sports shared television coverage, with the BBC showing three matches in the earlier rounds. Some analysts argued the decision to move away from the Sky and, in particular, the BBC undermined the FA Cup in the eyes of the public.
The FA Cup 2008–09 early rounds were covered for the first time by ITV's online service, ITV Local. The first match of the competition, between Wantage Town and Brading Town, was broadcast live online. Highlights of eight games of each round were broadcast as catch up on ITV Local. Since ITV Local closed, this coverage did not continue.
ITV lost the rights to the FA Cup beginning with the 2014–15 FA Cup, terrestrial rights will return to BBC Sport, with the final being shown on BBC One while BT Sport hold the pay TV rights. Under this deal, the BBC will show around the same amount of games as ITV and still having the first pick for each round.
The FA sells overseas rights separately from the domestic contract. In Australia, FA Cup games from the First Round to the Semi-finals are broadcast exclusively by ESPN Australia and the final is co-broadcast with SBS. Due to Australian anti-siphoning laws, the FA Cup Final is on a list of sporting events, that must first be offered to national television broadcasters and commercial free-to-air television broadcasters before rights can be acquired by a subscription television broadcaster. Starting in 2012–13, Fox Sports United States will feature the FA Cup games split between Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Soccer Plus and the broadcast Fox network, with the Final being on Fox (though subject to local pre-emption or tape-delay). Supersport broadcasts the tournament in Africa and ESPN STAR in India.
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