FA Cup Replica
The Football Association Challenge Cup, more commonly known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout football competition in men’s domestic English football. First played during the 1871–72 season, it is the oldest national football competition in the world. It is organized by and named after The Football Association (The FA). Since 2015, it has been known as The Emirates FA Cup after its headline sponsor. A concurrent women’s tournament is also held the Women’s FA Cup.
The competition is open to any eligible club down to Level 10 of the English football league system – all 92 professional clubs in the Premier League (level 1) and the English Football League (levels 2 to 4), and several hundred non-League teams in steps 1 to 6 of the National League System (levels 5 to 10). A record 763 clubs competed in 2011–12. The tournament consists of 12 randomly drawn rounds followed by the semi-finals and the final. Entrants are not seeded, although a system of byes based on league level ensures higher ranked teams enter in later rounds – the minimum number of games needed to win, depending on which round a team enters the competition, ranges from six to fourteen.
The first six rounds are the Qualifying Competition, from which 32 teams progress to the first round of the Competition Proper, meeting the first of the 48 professional teams from Leagues One and Two. The last entrants are the Premier League and Championship clubs, into the draw for the Third Round Proper. In the modern era, only one non-league team has ever reached the quarter-finals, and teams below Level 2 have never reached the final. As a result, significant focus is given to the smaller teams who progress furthest, especially if they achieve an unlikely “giant-killing” victory.
Winners receive the FA Cup trophy, of which there have been two designs and five actual cups; the latest is a 2014 replica of the second design, introduced in 1911. Winners also qualify for the UEFA Europa League and a place in the upcoming FA Community Shield. Arsenal is the most successful club with fourteen titles and Arsène Wenger is the most successful manager in the history of the competition, having won seven finals as Arsenal’s manager.
Leicester City are the current holders, having beaten Chelsea 1–0 in the 2021 final
In 1863, the newly founded Football Association (the FA) published the Laws of the Game of Association Football, unifying the various rules in use before then. On 20 July 1871, in the offices of The Sportsman newspaper, the FA Secretary C. W. Alcock proposed to the FA committee that “a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete”. The inaugural FA Cup tournament kicked off in November 1871. After thirteen games in all, Wanderers have crowned the winners in the final, on 16 March 1872. Wanderers retained the trophy the following year. The modern cup was beginning to be established by the 1888–89 season when qualifying rounds were introduced.
Following the 1914–15 edition, the competition was suspended due to the First World War and did not resume until 1919–20. The 1923 FA Cup Final, commonly known as the “White Horse Final”, was the first final to be played in the newly opened Wembley Stadium (known at the time as the Empire Stadium). The 1927 final saw “Abide with Me” is sung for the first time at the Cup final, which has become a pre-match tradition. Due to the outbreak of World War II, the competition was not played between 1938–39 and 1945–46 editions. Due to the wartime breaks, the competition did not celebrate its centenary year until 1980–81; fittingly the final featured a goal by Ricky Villa which was later voted the greatest goal ever scored in an FA Cup Final but has since been replaced by Steven Gerrard.
Having previously featured replays, the modern-day practice of ensuring the semi-final and final matches finish on the day was introduced in 2000. Redevelopment of Wembley saw the final played outside of England for the first time, the 2001–2006 finals being played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The final returned to Wembley in 2007, followed by the semi-finals from 2008.
The competition is open to any club down to Level 10 of the English football league system which meets the eligibility criteria. All clubs in the top four levels (the Premier League and the three divisions of the Football League) are automatically eligible. Clubs in the next six levels (non-league football) 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 participating clubs must also have a stadium suitable for the competition.
It is very rare for top clubs to miss the competition, although it can happen in exceptional circumstances. Manchester United did not defend their title in 1999–2000, as they were already in the inaugural Club World Championship. The club stated that entering both tournaments would overload their fixture schedule and make it more difficult to defend their Champions League and Premier League 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 stage of the Club World Championship. 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 only five clubs are remaining: Cardiff City (the only non-English team to win the tournament, in 1927), Swansea City, Newport County, Wrexham, and Merthyr Town. In the early year’s 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. The first game played in the Channel Islands – and thus the southernmost FA Cup tie played – took place on 7 August 2021 between Jersey Bulls F.C. and Horsham YMCA F.C.
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, 758 for 2012–13, 737 for 2013–14, and 736 for 2014–15. By comparison, the other major English domestic cup, the League Cup, involves only the 92 members of the Premier League and Football League
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