A SHORT HISTORY OF THE F.A. CUP
by Tony Brown
Taken from "The Ultimate F.A. Cup Statistics Book" published by the AFS in 1994. © Tony Brown 1996. Tony Brown has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act, 1988 to be identified as the suthor of this work.
Internet users are welcome to make use of this article, but please acknowledge the author and the source.
The meeting that started it all took place on 20th July 1871 in the Sportsmans Office in London, "when it was resolved to institute a cup competition open to all clubs belonging to the Football Association". A five man committee was appointed on the 16th October to frame the rules; on the 19th, the drafts were presented by Mr. J. Powell and Mr. E.C. Morley.
The first set of rules was eventually agreed as follows:
1. The Cup shall be called The Football Association Challenge Cup.
2. The Challenge Cup shall be open to all clubs belonging to The Football Association and shall be competed for annually by eleven members of each Club.
3. No individual shall be allowed to play for more than one competing Club, but the members of each representative team may be changed during the series of matches, if thought necessary.
4. Each Club desirous of competing shall give notice of such desire to the Secretary of The Football Association, on or before the 15th day of August in that season in which such Club proposes to compete.
5. The duration of each match shall be one hour and a half.
6. The Committee shall divide the Clubs which shall enter for competition for the Challenge Cup into couples, which couples shall play one match each and the winners of the matches so played shall, in like manner, be divided into couples and each couple shall play one match, and so on, until there shall be but one couple left, the winners of which match shall be the holders for the current year.
7. The Committee of The Football Association shall have the power to draw the ties in such Competitions in such manner as they shall think fit, either by lot or otherwise, and to make such other arrangements as they may deem necessary.
In the case of Provincial Clubs, it shall be in the power of the Committee to except them from the early tie-drawings and to allow them to compete especially against Clubs in the same district except in the case of the Final Ties.
8. In the case of a drawn match, the Clubs shall be drawn in the next ties or shall compete again, at the discretion of the Committee.
In the event of a team refusing to play again or failing to play off the tie in which it has been drawn, within the stipulated time, it shall be adjudged to have lost the match.
9. The holder of the Cup shall be liable to play only the winner of the trial matches.
10. The ties shall be played off within a month of the publication of the ties in such papers as the Committee may think fit, such publication to be deemed sufficient notice of the drawing.
11. The Secretary of each winning Club shall, within seven days after the date of the match, send notice of the result, in writing to the Secretary of The Football Association.
12. When the winners of the Cup shall have been ascertained by such matches as aforesaid, the Secretary of the F.A. shall hand over the Cup to such winners on their subscribing a document to the following effect: -We, A.B. the Secretary of the Club and C.D., E.F. and G.H. members of and representing the said Club, having been declared to be the winners of the F.A. Challenge Cup and the same having been delivered to us by J.K. the Secretary of the Association, do hereby on behalf of the said Club and individually and collectively engage to return the same to the said J.K. on or before the 1st day of February next in like good order and condition and in accordance with the conditions of the annexed rules, to which also we have subscribed our respective names.
13. The holders of the Challenge Cup shall hand it over to the Secretary of The Football Association on or before 1st February in each year, unless the holders shall have won the Cup three years in succession, when the Cup shall become the absolute property of the Club so winning it. In addition to the Cup, the Committee will present to the winners of the Final Tie, eleven medals or badges, of trifling value.
14. The ties in the two final drawings for the season 1871-72 shall be decided in London upon a ground to be hereafter chosen by the Committee. In subsequent competitions the holders of the Cup shall have choice of grounds, subject to the approval of the Committee of The Football Association.
15. The Committee shall appoint two umpires and a referee to act at each of the matches in the Final Ties. Neither the umpires nor the referee shall be members of either of the contending Clubs and the decision of the umpires shall be final except in the case of the umpires disagreeing when an appeal shall be made to the referee, whose decision shall be final.
16. All questions of eligibility, qualification of competitors or interpretation of the Rules shall be referred to the Committee of the Association whose decision shall be final.
17. The President and Treasurer of the F.A. shall be, for all intents and purposes, the legal owners of the Cup, in trust for the Association.
18. The Committee of the Association shall have power to alter or add to the above Rules as they from time to time shall deem expedient.
Note the stipulation that the teams should have eleven players. Games with mixed numbers on each side were common at the time; the first time Nottingham Forest met the established Notts (County) club, 13 Notts men were due to play 15 of the Forest. In the event, 11 played 17! There was no concept of a "home" tie in the rules; in any case, few clubs had grounds they could call their own. Rule seven shows that the idea of grouping clubs into geographical areas was used right from the start.
If a game was drawn, both would be allowed through, though the Committee had the discretion to ask them to play again. Ties had to be played before a set date, so a drawn game close to this deadline was almost certain to see both clubs in the next round draw.
It was a "Challenge" Cup; the significance of this was that the holder would be exempt from the next competition until the Final, where it would meet the winner of the so-called "trial" matches. The holders also had choice of ground for the final tie.
Queen's Park of Glasgow and Donnington School in Lincolnshire were drawn together in the first round of the opening tournament but were unable to arrange a date for deciding the tie, owing to the short notice received. Both clubs were therefore included in the second drawing.
A club called Crystal Palace was among the original entries. They were not related to today's club of the same name, so numbered brackets are used to distinguish between the two clubs in the results section of the book.
The first games took place on 11th November 1871. Civil Service could only field eight men for their game against Barnes. Crystal Palace and Hitchin drew 0-0 and both were allowed through to the next round.
The round two game between Hitchin and Royal Engineers only lasted 60 minutes, but the result was allowed to stand. The Committee met on 7th February 1872 to decide if Wanderers and Crystal Palace should "play out" their third round game that had finished 0-0. Again, it was agreed that both clubs would be allowed through to the next round.
The Committee met again on 13th February 1872 to decide on the design of the trophy. Two designs were considered, from Benson & Co. and Martin, Hall & Co. The latter company was chosen.
The visit of Queen's Park of Glasgow to the Oval for the semi-final with Wanderers caused a good deal of interest. A public subscription had been necessary to pay for their trip south. Their close passing style was much admired, but the game ended as a stalemate with no goals scored. Queen's Park were unable to remain for a replay and so Wanderers went through to the Final.
The Wanderers won the first competition; a crowd of 2000 at the Oval saw them beat the Royal Engineers of Chatham by one goal to nil. They therefore won the right of exemption until the Final of the 1872/73 tournament. The rule giving exemption was then dropped, but the name of the competition remained the "Challenge Cup".
Queen's Park were given a bye through to the semi-finals of 1872/73 because of travel problems. They then had to withdraw from their tie against Oxford University because of the business commitments of some of their team. Wanderers had choice of ground for the Final, electing to play at the Lillie Bridge ground, close to where Stamford Bridge is today. They beat the University by two goals to nil.
The size of the ball became standardised on 3rd October 1872, and an amendment made to the rules. Lillywhite's "No. 5" had emerged as the favourite; the ball had to have a circumference of "not less than 27 inches and not more than 28 inches"; balls of much larger circumference were used in the other forms of football played at the time. Late entries for the 1872/73 competition were received from Old Etonians and Harrow Chequers but were not accepted. Other rule changes saw the dropping of the clause that allowed both clubs through in the event of a draw.
The Sheffield Association entered "en bloc" for the 1873/74 competition. They were told that entries could only be accepted from clubs supporting the Association, and not from the Sheffield Association itself. The Sheffield club duly entered and met Shropshire Wanderers. After two drawn games the two clubs tossed a coin to see who would go through; Sheffield won.
Barnes' entry was overlooked and they were omitted from the first round draw. However, Harrow Chequers withdrew from their game against First Surrey Rifles, so Barnes took their place. The ties were drawn "all at once" for 1873/74, rather than after each round was completed.
The question of the "home" club was becoming more important as the competition expanded. The meeting of 14th July 1874 agreed a new rule: "The captains of the competing clubs shall toss for choice of ground in the first and second series of ties. In the case of drawn matches, captains of the club who lost the toss have choice for the second match, and so on alternately, but except by mutual consent, it shall not be allowable for a captain to select any ground other than that on which his club is accustomed to play. After the second series, all ties to be played at the Oval, or other ground determined by the Committee". The term "first series" referred to the segregation of the clubs into regional areas.
The 1874/75 result Wanderers 16 Farningham 0 was reported as the highest score ever made under F.A. rules. Both semi-finals were played on 27th February 1875, with 1.30 pm and 3.15 pm kick offs.
Sheffield met Shropshire Wanderers for the third successive season in 1875/76. This was inevitable under the original rule seven as there were no other entries from their areas.
The first clubs who would later play in the Football League entered in 1877/78; Reading, Notts County and Darwen. Wanderers won the cup for the third successive season and were entitled to retain it; however, it was presented back to the Association on condition that it could not be won outright again.
The success of the Northern clubs in 1881/82 led to the F.A. writing to Surrey CCC to say that they were departing from their normal practice of playing semi-final matches at the Oval. Blackburn Rovers met Sheffield Wednesday at St. John's Rugby Ground, Huddersfield and replayed at Whalley Range, Manchester.
The meeting of 17th April 1882 rejected the request of Blackburn Rovers that the F.A. should pay their fares to and from London for the Final! The Rovers were the first provincial club (if we exclude Queen's Park) to reach the Final. They lost to the Old Etonians, the last time a Southern amateur club was to take the trophy.
The 1882/83 rules were amended so that the first club out of the hat had choice of ground.
The competition of 1882/83 marked the coming of age of the "protest" as a strategic weapon. Protests came in all shapes and sizes; pitches were too long or too short, umpires were biased, goals were too big or too small, players were not registered. It was alleged that Nottingham Forest had posted bills in Sheffield offering a £20 reward if anyone could prove that one of the Sheffield Wednesday players was not properly qualified.
The Committee meeting of 8th February 1883 thankfully rejected a proposal from E.H. Bambridge of the Swifts that the Challenge Cup be competed for only by representative County elevens.
Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians in the Final of 1883 and so began a long period of Northern domination. However, the strongest amateur club of the time were the Corinthians, formed in 1882. Their club rules prevented them from entering the Cup until the 1920s, but they beat Blackburn Rovers 8-1 just after Rovers had won the Cup for the first time in 1884, and later beat the "invincible" Preston North End team by 5-0!
The increasing number of entries was beginning to cause some organisational difficulties. A proposal at the Committee meeting of 16th March 1885 from Mr. Betts was that the Challenge Cup should be competed for by the winners of the cups of the various County Associations.
After a drawn game, the 1884/85 semi-final between Queen's Park and Nottingham Forest was played at the Merchiston Castle ground in Edinburgh.
Darwen, Blackburn Rovers and other leading clubs made illegal payments to some of their players in the early 1880s; this led to many protests by losing clubs in the early years of the competition. Accrington was the first club to be penalised, being disqualified after beating Blackburn Park Road in 1883/84. Bolton Wanderers were drawn to play Preston Zingari in 1884/85, but both clubs withdrew because of the likelihood of disqualification.
1885 saw the FA legalise professionalism, admittedly with fairly tight constraints. A questionnaire had been sent to the clubs in April, including the question "Shall professionals be allowed to play in the F.A. Cup?". The Sub Committee met to agree the final proposals and these were agreed at a Special General Meeting held on 20th July 1885. The new rules placed strict conditions on professional players. Bolton Wanderers and Preston North End were disqualified in 1885/86 for breaking the rules. Burnley fielded their reserve team to avoid the problem, but lost 11-0 to a Darwen club, the Old Wanderers.
The 1886/87 tournament was played in regional groups until the fourth round. There were six divisions for the North and Midlands, and two for Southern clubs. Scottish clubs were included in groups one and two; Cliftonville of Belfast were in group two. Sheffield Wednesday were among the late entries that year and were not accepted. The fifth round was the first "unsegregated" round and was also known as "the first round of the second series".
This was the last year of entry by the Scottish clubs; the Scottish F.A. barred them from competing in any tournament but their own. Irish clubs continued to enter until 1890/91.
Matters became complicated in 1887/88! After Everton had beaten Bolton Wanderers in round one, they lost to Preston in round two. Then Bolton's appeal against Everton (for playing seven ineligible players) was successful, and they were reinstated. Preston then had to play another round two game, against Bolton. The number of groups increased to nine this season.
1888/89 was the first season of the Football League. The twelve founder members were Accrington, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Everton and Preston North End from the North of England, and Aston Villa, Derby County, Notts County, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers from the Midlands. A limit of twelve clubs was partly imposed by the twenty two Saturdays required for each club to play their home and away matches. Darwen's playing record had declined somewhat, which is perhaps why they were not included. A rule also limited participation to one club per town, and Darwen is close to Blackburn.
The Cup competition of 1888/89 was the first season in which qualifying rounds were played. The disparity between the leading clubs and the rest had been highlighted by Preston's 26-0 victory over Hyde the previous season. As the number of entries increased, so did the number of rounds to be played. Even without the League, the leading clubs were starting to have problems fitting the Cup games into their schedule. Making the leading clubs exempt until later rounds made good sense.
Arrangements for the early rounds of the Cup are made during the close season, so the formation of the League in the summer of 1888 could not have been taken into account by the Football Association. It was decided to make 18 clubs exempt from the qualifying rounds plus the four semi-finalists from 1887/88. Stoke, Notts County and Everton were drawn to play in the qualifying rounds. Old Carthusians, Notts Rangers and Halliwell (Bolton) were among the clubs exempted.
The principles of the qualifying rounds remain unchanged to this day. The clubs are organised into geographical groups to minimise travel costs. There were 10 such groups in 1888/89 (36 today). The clubs knock each other out until there is just one "winner" left in each group. These group winners are then joined by the exempt clubs in the later rounds. An appendix helps to explain the exemption system by listing the number of ties per round. The book does not list the exempted clubs but they can be deduced by observing which ones did not play in the previous round.
The League and Cup competitions lived uneasily together for some time, with several instances on record were clubs had to play their reserve teams in the Cup in order to fulfil a scheduled League fixture. Everton withdrew in 1888/89 when drawn to play Ulster in the first qualifying round.
The first League club to lose to a non league club was Stoke, beaten by Warwick County in the first qualifying round of the 1888/89 tournament. This was Warwick's only claim to fame in the Cup; they last entered in 1890/91, losing to Port Vale.
Of the great amateur clubs competing that year, Old Carthusians lost 4-3 at Wolves and Old Westminsters lost by the same score at Burnley.
The four semi-finalists were all League clubs, and the winners were Preston North End. Preston's unbeaten record in the League that year (never equalled) was matched by their record in winning the Cup; no goals conceded! Bury are the only club to match this feat, in 1902/03.
A new rule was carried in 1889: "That a club not having a private ground, shall provide a private or enclosed ground, to which gate money can be charged for Cup ties free of all charge to the visiting Club, or play on its opponent's ground".
The Shanghai (China) Marine Engineers Institute FC was affiliated to the association in 1890. It is perhaps fortunate that they never entered the Cup!
The first non League club to reach the Final was Sheffield Wednesday of the Football Alliance in 1889/90. This was the first season of the Alliance; it was absorbed into the Football League in 1892/93, most of its clubs forming the new Second Division.
The first Second Division club to win the Cup was Notts County in 1893/94. This was the first season of the Amateur Cup. The Sheffield club had proposed a Cup for amateur clubs in 1892, but the offer was declined. However, the F.A. Council decided they should institute the competition. Some clubs played in both tournaments in 1893/94, notably Tottenham Hotspur, but the famous "Old Boy" clubs were not seen in the F.A. Cup again.
A rare touch of humour entered the F.A. minutes of 21st November 1894. Among a long list of suspensions is the entry:
Referred to the Lancashire F.A.:
Case of Hadfield F.C., Romily F.C. and Dowthwaite.
Locker of David Jones and Stalybridge Rovers. David Jones had a locker, not a case.
The same meeting decided to provide some incandescent lights for the office, perhaps to keep a better eye on the Minutes Secretary!
Aston Villa had to report the loss of the Cup at the F.A. Committee meeting in November 1895! It had been stolen from the shop window of William Shillcock, football and boot manufacturer. A £10 reward was offered, but the trophy was never seen again. The meeting in February fined the club £25, which was also the cost of a new trophy "as nearly as possible like the old cup".
There were changes to the exemption system in 1896/97. Twenty two clubs were exempt until the first round proper. Four clubs from each of the ten qualifying groups were exempt until the third qualifying round. This season is rather an oddity in Cup history; groups were involved in different rounds on the same day. Also, the same round was called "preliminary", "first qualifying" or "first preliminary", depending on the group.
Another non League club reached the final in 1899/1900; Southampton of the Southern League. The Southern League was formed in 1894/95 and the leading clubs in its early years would certainly have done well in the Second Division of the Football League and probably the First Division as well. The First Division of the Southern League was eventually to form the Third Division of the Football League in 1920/21.
The first (and only) non League winners were Tottenham Hotspur in 1900/01. The Spurs finished fifth in the Southern League that season.
The exemption system had three categories for this season. Twenty two clubs were still exempt to round one. Ten were exempt to a new intermediate round after the qualifying rounds. Four from each group were exempt to the third qualifying round as before.
Coventry City withdrew from the competition in 1900/01 in order to play a fixture in the Birmingham League.
A record entry in 1904/05 saw four levels of exemptions; the three described for 1900/01, and ten clubs to a new qualifying round six. The scheme was simplified for 1905/06 by returning to two levels of exemption; twenty four to the last qualifying round (Q4) and forty to round one. The number of qualifying groups was increased to 24.
1906/07 required further tuning; fifty two clubs exempt until round one, twelve until qualifying round five. This lasted (with a few minor variations) until 1913/14.
A dispute led to the withdrawal of some clubs from the 1907/08 competition. The F.A. ruled that County Associations should permit the affiliation of professional clubs. The Surrey and Middlesex Associations remained firmly amateur, and led a breakaway group called the Amateur Football Defence Federation, later renamed the Amateur Football Association. The clubs affected did not return until the 1913/14 competition.
In 1910, the Committee passed the resolution "The present Football Association Challenge Cup, having been duplicated without the consent of the Association, be withdrawn from Competition, and a new Cup offered, the design of which should be registered". Messrs Fattorini and Sons of Bradford were awarded the contract to design the new trophy; the first winners were Bradford City in 1911! The old cup was presented to Lord Kinnaird to celebrate his 21 years as president of the Association.
The meeting of 19th July 1912 decided that extra time would be played in the final tie if necessary.
The F.A. Cup was popularly known as "The English Cup" through to the late 1920s. The medal engravers made the mistake of engraving this on the finalist's medals for 1914.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 presented the Association with a problem. Although supporting the enrolment of footballers into the armed forces it decided to continue with the 1914/15 competition. Many smaller clubs withdrew from the qualifying rounds, but the rounds proper were unaffected. Manchester City's proposal that extra time should be played in the first game was agreed to, and it was also ruled that replays should take place the following Saturday, despite the possible interference with League matches. One replay between Bradford City and Norwich City was played behind closed doors in Lincoln, though it is reported that many fans managed to break in to watch the game.
The exemption system returned to three levels for 1914/15; twenty four clubs to Q5, twelve to Q6, and fifty two to the first round.
The 1915 Cup Final is known as the "khaki final" because of the number of soldiers in the crowd. The competition was not held again until season 1919/20.
Leeds United were elected to the League in 1920/21 and withdrew from the qualifying rounds after playing two games. Similarly, Charlton Athletic withdrew in 1921/22, and Doncaster Rovers in 1923/24, after their election to the League.
1921/22 saw the largest ever number of entries accepted for the competition; 656. (A higher figure quoted in some F.A. sources for 1920/21 is incorrect). New rules on grounds and club status helped reduce the number of entries for 1922/23.
Birmingham were missing from the 1921/22 competition because their secretary forgot to return the entry form! Queen's Park Rangers made the same mistake in 1926.
The Corinthians finally entered the tournament in 1922/23, and were given exemption until the rounds proper. This was the first season that Wembley Stadium was used for the final, though it had been hoped that the stadium would have been ready for the 1922 final.
The 1925/26 competition took the shape we are familiar with today, though the number of ties per round and the number of exemptions are now slightly different. The bulk of the clubs were divided into 26 regional groups. By qualifying round three, just two clubs were left from each group, making this round a sort of "group final". The 26 successful clubs were joined by 24 leading non league clubs in qualifying round four. This left 25 victorious clubs to be joined by a further 51 clubs in round one; these included the Amateur Cup finalists from 1925, Clapton and Southall, and clubs from the Third Division of the Football League. Finally, the remaining 45 League clubs joined in round three.
Freak weather hit the South Yorkshire area on September 19th 1925, causing most of the preliminary round games to be abandoned.
The "North Eastern Daily Gazette" was amused to report that two draws had been made for the first qualifying round in 1928/29. The F.A. had pre-drawn the round (the usual practice) but the local committee were unaware of this and made their own draw after the preliminary round had been played.
Newport County were excluded from the 1931/32 competition because of the issue of tickets for an illegal lottery the season before. In 1932/33, Third Division Brighton and Hove Albion repeated the mistake of Birmingham and forgot to enter. However, they decided to play through the qualifying rounds. This obviously did them no harm as they went on to defeat First Division Chelsea in round three! They scored 43 goals in eleven games that season.
The extra preliminary round of the 1939/40 competition had been played before the outbreak of the Second World War. The rest of the competition was cancelled.
The competition restarted in 1945/46. Entry was restricted to those who had entered in 1939/40, except by special permission of the Cup Committee. The 10/- (50p) entry fees paid in 1939 were accepted as the entry fee for 1945/46!
With no League competition that year, the Football Association decided that rounds one to six would be played over two legs, with the aggregate score deciding the tie. The first legs were generally played on a Saturday, with the second leg in the middle of the following week. Extra time was played in the second leg, ten minutes each way, and then the game continued to the finish if the scores were still level. Bad light caused some games to go to a third meeting.
Newport (Isle of Wight) had the unusual distinction of losing four games in 1945/46. They survived a third qualifying round defeat when their opponents were disqualified, lost the first leg of their round one tie, and both legs of round two!
Transport difficulties after the war caused the F.A. to agree that extra time should be played in the first meetings in seasons 1947/48 and 1948/49.
A steady growth in entries to 1950/51 was halted when new qualification rules were implemented. This was the last season that an extra preliminary round was needed. Further refinements led to a led to a ten percent drop in entries for 1955/56; new "yardsticks" required consideration of attendances, gate receipts and ground facilities as well as the playing ability of the club.
Changes to the competition were still considered. A 1954 scheme was that all Football League clubs should enter at the same time, in a 128 club first round. In 1959, it was proposed that all amateur clubs should be excluded, together with professional clubs not in full membership, and a new tournament organised for them. The proposal was rejected, but the Committee agreed to write to Third and Fourth Division clubs to see if they were interested in an "Intermediate Cup" for those knocked out in the early stages of the Cup; they weren't!
Wembley finals seemed to bear a charmed life; a replay was not necessary until 1969/70 when Chelsea beat Leeds at Old Trafford. Replays have since been held at Wembley; they were needed three years in succession from 1981 to 1983.
The question of substitutes for injured players was first discussed in 1960. They were not allowed in cup ties until the 1966/67 season.
The distinction between amateur and professional players was abolished in 1974. The F.A. Vase competition was introduced to replace the Amateur Cup. A competition for the senior non League clubs, the F.A. Trophy, was introduced in 1969/70.
Penalty shoot outs were introduced into the rounds proper in 1991/92 in order to settle replayed games that were still level after extra time. Goals scored in these shoot outs are not included in the statistical analyses that follow.
The fourth trophy came into use for the 1991/92 Final, won by Liverpool. It is an exact copy of the third trophy, which now is in honourable retirement at Lancaster Gate unless loaned out on exhibition. The original plinth was retained, though close inspection reveals little space is left in which to inscribe the names of future winners!