The FA Cup is the oldest football competition currently being played in the world. First held during the 1871/72 season, the 2015 FA Cup is the 134th time that the tournament has been played.
The great thing about the FA Cup and the reason it so popular around the world, is because it is open to all of the football teams that play in the FA National League system. What this means, is that it’s possible for amateur football clubs in England and Wales, who enter at the preliminary stages, to progress in the competition and have a chance of drawing a huge club, such as Manchester United or Liverpool.
Despite the fact that football clubs in England’s top division are by far the richest and best supported, teams from much lower down the league system have managed to defeat them. This is often referred to as being ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ and there have been shocks in this season’s competition.
Premier League and European giants Manchester United, only managed to draw 0-0 away to Cambridge United, a team playing at the fourth level of the Football League system. Chelsea, who have been crowned the 2014/15 Premier League champions, lost 4-2 at home to Bradford City, a team from the third level of the Football League system. Last season’s Premier League winners, Manchester City, lost 2-0 at home to Middlesbrough, who currently play in the second level of English football.
These results, have led many commentators to believe that the FA Cup has become popular again amongst fans. However, it’s the amount of effort that the top teams are putting in to win the FA Cup, that has caused the most concern. This is because, over the last 10 years, many people have considered the FA Cup to be a secondary competition to that of the league. A look back at the FA Cup final from 2007/08 onwards, has seen teams such as Millwall, Portsmouth, Cardiff City, Stoke City, Wigan Athletic and Hull City make the final. Some of the teams were playing outside of the Premier League at the time and the seriousness that some of the top clubs were taking the competition, was brought in to question.
In 1999/2000, Manchester United were invited to miss the FA Cup that season, in order for the team to go and play in the World Club Championship, which was being held in Brazil. Sir Alex Ferguson, has since admitted that it was a mistake.
Further examples of smaller clubs doing well, was when Luton Town, playing in the fifth level of English football, defeated Premier League Norwich in the 2012/13 season. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1989 to see a team outside the top four divisions defeat a team from what is now the Premier League. That year, Sutton United went down in FA Cup history, when they defeated Coventry City.
The FA Cup is rich in history, mainly due to the fact that it affords smaller teams and players the opportunity to play against their heroes. However, it is not very often that a team outside the top division go on to win the trophy. The last time this happened was back in 1980, when West Ham defeated Arsenal in the final. A look at the most successful teams in the history of the FA Cup, highlights how, at least one top team, always has a way of making it through to the final.
Interestingly, there has only ever been one team outside of England to win the FA Cup and that was Cardiff City, when they defeated Arsenal in 1927.
Prior to the 2014/15 FA Cup final, both Arsenal and Manchester United are the most successful clubs in the history of the competition, winning 11 times each. These teams also hold the record for the most appearances in the FA Cup final, having done so 18 times apiece. Since 1923, the final of the FA Cup has always been held at Wembley Stadium, London. However, there has been two exceptions to this.
Firstly, in 1971, the FA Cup final went to a replay, which was held at Old Trafford, Manchester. The second time, was between the period 2000 and 2006, when 6 FA Cup finals were held at the Millennium Stadium, in Cardiff, Wales. This was to allow the new Wembley Stadium to be built on the same site as the old one. Following the tradition of playing the finals at Wembley Stadium, on only two occasions has there been an attendance lower than 70,000 people and both of those matches were when the final had to be replayed, following a draw in the first match.
With football becoming popular all over the world, major television companies have sought to gain on it’s popularity by charging subscriptions to watch matches. With that being the case, it may be surprising that the FA Cup final is actually free to watch in the United Kingdom. This is due to the fact that it is one of just eleven sporting events, which must be shown live to all in the UK, free of charge by law.
The 2014/15 FA Cup final will be contested between Arsenal and Aston Villa. Despite Aston Villa playing superbly to beat Liverpool in the semi-final, Arsenal are clear favourites to win the game. If Arsene Wenger’s team do lift the FA Cup trophy this season, they will become the most successful club in the history of the competition.