The FA Cup is a competition steeped in history. First taking place in 1871, it is the world’s oldest cup competition. It is unique in the sheer number of teams which take part in it, with 736 clubs from across England and Wales having a shot at glory. There have been 43 different winners since Wanderers Football club first lifted the famous trophy 148 years ago.
With 13 FA Cup triumphs to their name, Arsenal are the competition’s most successful team – between 1930 and 2017, they’ve appeared in 20 finals. They are closely followed by Manchester United who have recorded 12 FA Cup successes, winning for the first time in 1909 and, most recently, in 2016.
Like Arsenal, United have appeared in 20 finals, losing eight – this is an unwanted record they share with Everton. Following up United and Arsenal in the all-time FA Cup leader-boards are Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur who both have eight FA Cup trophies apiece. Only slightly behind the two London clubs are Liverpool and Aston Villa who have both won the famous old trophy seven times.
Last year’s iteration of the FA Cup was won by Manchester City who were, domestically, all-conquering – they won the FA Cup, League Cup and Premier League to complete a domestic treble
Sensationally, they destroyed Watford by a six-goal margin in last season’s final. This annihilation was the joint-biggest victory in FA Cup final history.
As has become customary, the final was held at Wembley Stadium, as were the semi-finals. The penultimate round of fixtures being played under the Wembley arch is a relatively new phenomenon as, up until 2008, the semi-finals were held at other neutral grounds. The most common venues prior to the format change in 2008 were Manchester United’s Old Trafford, Aston Villa’s Villa Park and Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough.
As you might imagine fora competition which nearly one and a half centuries old, there is a wealth of records and quirky statistics available which show the uniqueness of the FA Cup as a competition. Lifting the trophy a remarkable seven times, former Arsenal, Chelsea and England left-back Ashley Cole is the FA Cup’s greatest player in terms of trophies per player.
Cole was lucky enough to win the FA Cup an astonishing seven times before hanging up his boots – three times with his first club, Arsenal, and four in his later years with fellow London club Chelsea. French legend Arsene Wenger is the manager to have won the competition the most times – like Ashley Cole, Wenger has had the fortune to lift the trophy seven times – he did so with Arsenal between 1998 and 2017.
Arguably the game’s ultimate ‘big game player’, Ivorian Didier Drogba has earned the record of having scored the most amount of goals in FA Cup finals – remarkably, he found the net on four separate occasions on the competitions biggest stage. Billy Townley, Stan Mortensen and James Logan collectively share the record for the greatest number of goals scored in a single final, each of them scoring hat tricks.
Some of the competition’s more outlandish records come from before the modern era. For example, it’s overwhelmingly unlikely that the record for the biggest victory in any round of the competition will ever be surpassed. Lancashire’s Preston North End beat Hyde 26-0 in a First Round clash in 1887. Another record which sure never to be overturned is the attendance set at the 1923 FA Cup Final.
The game, between Bolton and West Ham United, saw around 300,000 spectators pile in to the old Wembley Stadium. Bolton won 2-0 but it was events off the pitch that made the first final held at Wembley Stadium so remarkable. The crowd was so gigantic that supporters were forced to vacate the stands and pile on to the pitch. Thankfully, there were no fatalities due to the heroics of the iconic white horse which became synonymous with the FA Cup and has passed into English footballing mythos.
One of the most endearing aspects of the FA Cup is that its format, in theory, puts all its teams on a level playing field.
This romantic setup makes possible what are known as ‘giant killings’, when one team of relatively small stature beats another, much larger team. There have been countless giant killings in FA Cup history.
Most recently, a giant killing of enormous proportions took place at Burnley’s Turf Moore as National League Lincoln City beat the Premier League home side curtesy of a last-minute winner scored by Sean Ragget. Another one of the great upsets in living memories came, not over the course of a single game but rather two teams’ respective cup runs culminating in the reaching the final. In 2008, Cardiff City became the last non-Premier League team to reach the final stage of the competition when they faced Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth.
Portsmouth themselves, while a Premier League team at the time, were no big-wigs. The final is therefore considered to have been a clash between the two massive underdogs. Portsmouth were the eventual victors on this occasion.
So that’s the history, but what about this year’s FA Cup? Well, the competition began on the 10th of August 2019 with the extra-preliminary qualifying rounds. There were five more rounds of qualifying which took place between the 24th of August and the 19th of October. Finally, the FA Cup will truly get underway with the First Round Proper on the 8th of November 2019 with League One and League Two clubs joining the action.
FA CUP Final 2020 will be held on the 23rd of May
After this round of fixtures, the draw for the Second Round Proper will take place on the 11th of November with the first fixtures to be played on the 29th of November. And then, after the draw on the 2nd of December, Championship and Premier League clubs will join the fray in the Third Round Proper with the first fixtures to be played on the 3rd of January. After the third round, there are three more rounds before the remaining teams face off in the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium with the first game played on the 18th of April. This year’s FA CUP final will be held on the 23rd of May, 2020.