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The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is a knockout cup competition in English football, run by and named after The Football Association. The name "FA Cup" usually refers to the English men's tournament, although a women's tournament is also held. Its current sponsored name is the FA Cup sponsored by E.ON.

The FA Cup was first held in 1871–72, and is the oldest association football competition in the world. Because it involves clubs of all standards playing against each other, there is the possibility for "minnows" from the lower divisions to become "giant-killers" by eliminating top clubs from the tournament and even theoretically win the Cup, although lower division teams rarely reach the final. The holders of the FA Cup are Chelsea, who beat fellow Premier League side Everton in the 2009 final on 30 May 2009.


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, though 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 further rounds, semi-finals, and the final. The competition begins in August with the Extra Preliminary Round, followed by the Preliminary Round and First Qualifying Round, which are contested by the lowest-ranked clubs. Clubs playing in the Conference North and Conference South are given exemption to the Second Qualifying Round, and Conference National teams are given exemption to the Fourth Qualifying Round. The 32 winners from that round join the 48 clubs from League One and League Two in the First Round (often called the First Round Proper). 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 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 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 season in recent times when this pattern was not followed was 1999–2000, when most rounds were played a few weeks earlier than normal as an experiment.

As well as being presented with the trophy, the winning team also qualifies for the UEFA Europa League (formerly named the UEFA Cup). If the winners have already qualified for the UEFA Champions League via the Premier League, the UEFA Europa League place goes to the FA Cup runners-up. If they also have qualified for the UEFA Champions League, the place goes to the next highest placed finisher in the league table.

The draw

The draw for each round, performed by drawing numbered balls from a bag, is a source of great interest to clubs and their supporters, and is broadcast live on television. Sometimes two top clubs may be drawn against each other in the early rounds, removing the possibility of them meeting in the final. Lower-ranked clubs with reputations as 'giant-killers' look forward to meeting a top team at home, although in some cases the expense of providing policing for a game can outweigh any financial windfall from larger crowds. Mid-ranked teams hope for a draw against a peer to improve their chances of reaching future rounds. Top-ranked teams look for easy opposition, but have to be on their guard against 'giant-killers' and lower teams with ambition. The draw was once broadcast from a television studio, and was done by officials of the Football Association. By 2007 it had become a public event. For the first round proper, it was broadcast live from Soho Squaremarker in London, the balls being drawn by famous players.

Eligible teams

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 that start playing in a high league, such as AFC Wimbledon or FC United of Manchester, 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. Manchester United withdrew from the 1999–2000 competition due to their participation in the FIFA Club World Championship, although this was highly controversial at the time.

Welsh sides that play in English leagues are eligible, although since the creation of the League of Wales there are only six such clubs remaining: Cardiff City (the only non-English team to win the tournament, in 1927), Swansea City, Wrexham, Merthyr Tydfil, 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 reaching the final 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. 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. 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 Londonmarker's Wembley Stadiummarker. Early finals were played in other locations and, due to extensive redevelopment of Wembley, finals between 2001 and 2006 were played at Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiffmarker. The final returned to Wembley in May 2007. Early finals venues include Kennington Ovalmarker, in 1872 and 1874–92, the Racecourse Groundmarker, Derby in 1886, Fallowfield Stadiummarker, Manchester in 1893, Burnden Parkmarker for the 1901 replay, Bramall Lanemarker in 1912, the Crystal Palacemarker Park, 1895–1914, Stamford Bridgemarker 1920–22, and Lillie Bridgemarker, Fulhammarker, Londonmarker in 1873. In more recent times the infamous 1970 final replay between Leeds and Chelsea was held at Old Traffordmarker 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 are contested at neutral venues; in the past these have usually been the home grounds of teams not involved in that semi-final. The venues used since 1990 were Manchester City's now demolished Maine Roadmarker stadium; Manchester United's Old Traffordmarker Stadium; Sheffield Wednesday's home stadium Hillsboroughmarker: Arsenal's former home Highburymarker Stadium (since redeveloped as housing): Wembley Stadium in London: The Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiff and the home of Aston Villa, Villa Parkmarker in Birminghammarker. Villa Park is the most used stadium, having been used for 55 semi-finals. The 1991 semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham was the first to be played at Wembley. Two years later both semi-finals were held at Wembley, which was again used for both matches in 1994 and 2000. In 2005 they were both 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 will be 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.


The second FA Cup trophy, used between 1896 and 1910.
At the end of the final, the winning team is presented with a trophy, also 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; a common riddle asks, "What is always taken to the Cup Final, but never used?" (the answer is "the losing team's ribbons"). However this isn't entirely true, as 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 1871–2 until it was stolen from a Birminghammarker shoe shop window belonging to William Shillcock while held by Aston Villa on 11 September 1895. It 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-crowns.

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 chairman of Birmingham City. David Gold has loaned this trophy to the National Football Museum which is housed in Preston North End's Deepdale Stadium 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, the only time a team from Bradford has reached the final. 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, smaller replica was also made by Fattorini, the North Wales Coast F A Cup trophy, 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.


Since the start of the 1994–95 season, the FA Cup has been sponsored. However, to protect the identity of the famous competition, the name has never changed from "The FA Cup", unlike sponsorship deals for the League Cup. Instead, the competition has been known as "The FA Cup sponsored by ..." but during 1999–2002, the competition was known as "The AXA Sponsored FA Cup". The competition is formally named "The FA Cup sponsored by E.ON", owing to energy company E.ON sponsoring it for four years from 2006. From August 2006 to 2014, Umbro will supply match balls for all FA Cup matches.


Aside from the non-top-flight winners mentioned below, the FA Cup has a long tradition of lower-division and non-league teams becoming "giant-killers" by defeating much higher-ranked opponents during earlier rounds. There are various famous giant-killing feats, although it is comparatively rare for a team to beat one more than two divisions above them. The last time a non-league team beat top-flight opposition was Sutton United's victory over Coventry City in 1988–89. Another notable result was in 1969 when in the fifth round Mansfield Town of the Third Division were drawn at home to West Ham United, who were standing sixth in the First Division and who had three World Cup winners in their side: Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst along with youngsters Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. The game was postponed five times before it finally went ahead on 26 February 1969, on what turned out to be one of the greatest nights in the club’s history. In front of 21,117 at Field Mill, Mansfield won 3–0 and became only the fourth team in cup history to knock out clubs from five different leagues in the same competition.

Other giant killings include Hereford United shocking Newcastle United in 1972 with one of the most famous goals in the history of the cup coming from the boot of Ronnie Radford.

In 1975, Wimbledon became nationally famous during a spectacular FA Cup run. They were the first non-league team that century to beat a First Division team at its own ground, when they defeated Burnley F.C. 1–0 at Turf Moormarker in the third round. In the fourth round they held the reigning First Division Champions, Leeds United F.C., to a 0–0 draw at Elland Roadmarker, with goalkeeper Dickie Guy saving a penalty from Peter Lorimer, before narrowly losing to an own goal in the replay at Selhurst Parkmarker, in front of over 40,000 spectators. Wimbledon went on to win the FA Cup as a First Division side in 1988.

Blyth Spartans' 3–2 win at Second Division Stoke City in 1978 saw them progress to the fifth round, where they were beaten by Wrexham in front of over 40,000 fans at Newcastle United's St James' Parkmarker. Bristol City's giant killing replay win over Liverpool in 1994 was also notable as being the last game for Graeme Souness. Yeovil Town won more games against league opposition than any other non-league team before their promotion. This includes a famous victory over top-flight Sunderland on a sloping pitchmarker in 1949. Chasetown are the lowest ranked team to play in the third round, playing eventual runners-up Cardiff City in the 2007–08 competition. The game took place on 5 January 2008 whilst Chasetown were playing in the Southern League Division One Midlands, the eighth tier of the English football pyramid.

Telford United are perhaps one of the most famous FA Cup giantkillers in recent decades, Defeating football league counterparts Wigan Athletic (1982–83), Stockport County, Northampton, Rochdale (all 1983–84), Lincoln City, Preston North End, Bradford City, Darlington (all 1984–85), Stockport County (1985–86), Burnley (1986–87), Stoke City (1991–92). 1984–85 was undoubtedly the club's peak as far as the FA Cup was concerned, the aforementioned victories over Lincoln, Preston and Bradford preceding a tie against Everton at Goodison Parkmarker in the fifth round. Telford eventually lost 3–0 to the side who would go on to win the league, after going in 0–0 at half time, but the crowd of 47,000 (swelled by a travelling contingent of around 13,000 from Telford) has not since been bettered at Goodison and the club's achievement of reaching round five has not since been surpassed by any non-league club to this day. More recently for Telford in 2004 victories against Brentford and Crewe Alexandramarker led to a run to the fourth round before losing at home to eventual finalists Millwall.

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 Roversmarker (1884, 1885, 1886 and 1890, 1891), and Tottenham Hotspur (1961, 1962 and 1981, 1982).

Six clubs have won the FA Cup as part of a League and Cup double, namely Preston North End (1889), Aston Villa (1897), Tottenham Hotspur F.C. (1961), Arsenal (1971, 1998, 2002), Liverpool (1986) and Manchester United (1994, 1996, 1999). Arsenal and Manchester United share the record of three doubles. Arsenal has won a double in each of three separate decades (70s, 90s, 00s). 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 1998–99, Manchester United added the 1999 Champions League crown to their 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 in its history. Cardiff City were the club to achieve 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.

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; Tottenham's victory would be comparable to a team playing at the third level of the English football pyramid (currently League One) winning today.

In the history of the FA Cup, only eight teams who were playing outside of the top level of English football have gone on to win the whole 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 so far reached the final.

Arguably, one of the most famous of these 'upsets' was when Sunderland A.F.C. 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 achieved the same feat as Sunderland 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 F.C. went on to win it.

Media coverage

The FA Cup Final is one of ten events reserved for live broadcast on UK terrestrial television under the ITC Code on Sports and Other Listed Events.

From August 2008 until June 2012, FA Cup matches are shown live by ITV1 across Englandmarker and Walesmarker, with UTV broadcasting to Northern Irelandmarker. ITV shows sixteen FA Cup games per season, including first pick live matches from each of the 1st to 6th rounds of the competition plus one semi-final exclusively live. The final is also shown live on ITV1.

Under the same 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 broadcasted ITV's matches exclusively to Scotlandmarker, 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 the FA Cup and England internationals.

In October 2009, The FA announced that ITV would show an additional match in the First and Second Rounds on ITV1, 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 Qualifer between Ukraine and England. Oldham Athletic vs Leeds United will be the first FA Cup match to be streamed online live.

BBC Radio Five Live provide radio coverage including several full live commentaries with additional commentaries broadcasted on BBC local radio stations.

Until the 2008–2009 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 being covered for the first time by ITV's online property, ITV Local. The first match of the season, between Wantage Town and Brading Town, was broadcast live online. Highlights of eight games of each round were being broadcast as catch up on ITV Local. Since the end of the ITV Local service, it is unknown whether or not this coverage will continue.

The FA sells overseas rights separately from the domestic contract. In Australia, FA Cup games are broadcast by Setanta Sports Australia, and the final is also shown on SBS. Meanwhile Setanta Sports North America and Fox Soccer Channel split the rights in the United States. Supersport broadcasts the tournament in Africa, and Sony Pix in India.

See also


  1. UEFA Europa League 2009/10 Competition Format
  2. record number of entries for 2008/9
  3. The Sunday Times Illustrated History Of Football Reed International Books Limited. 1996. p11. ISBN 1-856-13341-9
  4. FA announces new Cup sponsorship
  5. - Twenty to tackle answers
  6. Chasetown 1–3 Cardiff.
  7. Non league clubs reaching Round 5 since 1945
  8. FA Cup semi-final draw 2008
  9. EXCLUSIVE: E.ON opt against extending FA Cup sponsorship deal | Mail Online

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