We’ve written a FA Cup beginners guide to explain how the world’s oldest soccer competition works, and where you can watch the matches on US television and streaming.
Of all the soccer tournaments from all corners of the globe, none are quite as steeped in tradition as the FA Cup.
The knockout tournament was set up in the 1871-72 season of the Football League, making it the oldest association affiliated soccer tournament in the world; the inaugural edition was won by Wanderers and included 15 teams, of which Crystal Palace were one.
It’s uniqueness is based in the diversity of the teams involved, with any side in the top 10 tiers of English soccer eligible to take part and potentially make their way to the final at Wembley Stadium — which is one reason of many why we wanted to write this FA Cup beginners guide for you.
FA Cup Beginners Guide
Previously, winning the competition was a priority for the teams competing and for those who lifted the iconic trophy, a career highlight. However, in recent years the growth of the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, plus the potential riches on offer in each, have prompted the elite into placing their priorities elsewhere.
Still, the FA Cup appeals to the traditionalist. Although cliches like “romance” and “magic” have grown a little tired, there’s an authenticity to the competition that’s unrivalled. Seeing a Premier League side travel to a inferior opponent and their humble surroundings still quickens pulses among those who follow the beautiful game.
They’re the kind of matches that, given the financial benefits, can keep a lower league side going for years. Plus, the perennial prospect of potential upsets is what ensures the FA Cup remains a big favorite among supporters.
The format of the FA Cup has not deviated too much in its existence. Qualifying rounds were put in place in 1889 for those teams outside the Football League, while those in the top four tiers of hierarchy take their place in the competition proper.
The 128 teams who make it into Round 1 play off in a straight knockout format. The winner moves into the hat for the next round, where another draw will take place to determine which teams come up against each other; the tournament is not played out in a bracket.
Aside from winning your match outright, there are other ways in which you can progress. Should the two teams be tied after 90 minutes, there will be a replay staged around 10 days later, with the away side getting the chance to host the match.
Previously, as many replays would be played until a winner was determined after 90 minutes, including in the final itself. But now, if the replay is also tied after 90 minutes, then extra-time and a penalty shootout will take place to crown a winner.
The only stages of the competition where there are no replays is in the semi-final and final, both of which are played at Wembley, with a victor always declared on the day.
The most successful side in the history of the competition is Arsenal. The Gunners won the competition in 2014 and 2015 to take their overall haul to 12 titles, with Manchester United, following their victory in 2016, just one behind on 11.
No man in history has as many winners medals as Ashley Cole. The full-back won the tournament twice with Arsenal, before moving to rivals Chelsea and triumphing a further four times.
Arsenal’s iconic coach Arsene Wenger is one of two managers to have lifted the trophy six times, with his first win coming in 1998. The only other man to match that total is Aston Villa legend George Ramsay, who sampled six victories between 1887 and 1920 during his time as a coach.
Although plenty of memorable FA Cup moments have come in finals—Ricky Villa’s goal for Tottenham Hotspur against Manchester City in 1981 and Steven Gerrard’s stunning stoppage-time equalizer for Liverpool against West Ham United in 2007 stand out—goals synonymous with the competition have often been as part of upsets in the earlier rounds.
Wimbledon, then in the second tier, famously stung Liverpool in the 1988 final, with Lawrie Sanchez winning it for the “Crazy Gang” after Dave Beasant saved John Aldridge’s penalty.
Non-league Wrexham famously eliminated league champions Arsenal in 1992, with veteran Mickey Thomas scoring a brilliant free-kick in a 2-1 win. Ronnie Radford’s stunning strike for Southern League outfit Hereford Town, who no longer exist, was the catalyst for an upset win over top-flight Newcastle United in 1972.
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