Known as the greatest club competition the world over before the inception of the Champions League, and still seen by many as the leading domestic competition, the FA Cup holds wonder and a storied past that other competitions just do not have. Famous for its ability to throw up a seismic shock to the system and its yearly giant killing, the Football Association Challenge Cup is encapsulated as the pinnacle of many players playing career.
The FA Cup, created in 1871, is the oldest domestic cup competition in world football, something that adds to its revered and cherished reputation. Founded by the English FA as a cup for entrants all through the league system, the FA Cup quickly became the famed prize it is today.
The growth of the game in England has seen the cup become something of a wonderful afterthought during a hectic and gruelling season. During the earlier stages, the FA Cup has been known to accommodate giant-killings and memories that last a lifetime. Yet for every David that beats a Goliath, there are murmurings of weakened teams and managers not taking the cup seriously. So what is the actual truth in the matter? It is somewhere in between.
The cup started as a way to cook up interest in the national game by a newly founded association making its way in the world of football. A good way to garner interest is to offer a shot at glory of what would become a legendary cup.
The first year of the FA Cup, in 1872, had 15 teams participate initially. With clubs from Scotland make up some of the numbers, too. The teams that reached the final in the first year were Wanderers and Royal Engineers. As is was the early stages of association football, many of the teams we know today just didn’t exist. The method of the play we see today was very different, too.
Engineers, a club from the British Army, were applauded, despite their loss, for their revolutionary way of playing football. Passing the ball and using dribbling less was their way of changing the way football was played. Up until this period, and for some time after, football was seen as a team game in all but methodology. Yet even with their new approach, Engineers lost the game 1-0. The seeds were sewn for the future of English football.
Wanderers participation is not without story either, with their entry to the final based on the fact that Scottish team Queen’s Park were unable to afford the return fee of transport back to London for the second leg of the semi-final. By default, Wanderers went through and become the first winners of the FA Cup.
It is not one story that makes up the FA Cup, but an assortment of achievements, mistakes and triumphs from across the country that allows the minds of fans from all clubs to dream that this year could be their year. One club has won it more than any other. That club is Arsenal.
Arsenal Football Club has won the FA Cup a record 11 times, the last time being a 4-0 drumming of Aston Villa last season, a game that helped them over-take their long standing rivals Manchester United as the club with the most FA Cup wins under their belt. And it was these teams that took part in one of the all-time classic matches.
1999. 14th April. FA Cup semi-final. The two best clubs in the country, Arsenal and Manchester United, are battling it out to win the FA Cup, in a year which saw both teams finish in the top two positions, undeniably the elite of the English game.
Two incredible goals by David Beckham and Dennis Bergkamp saw the tie settled evenly at 1-1. The sending off of Roy Keane, and a late, late penalty miss by Arsenal ended up being the catalyst to probably the best ever goal scored in an FA Cup game.
Arsenal, chasing a goal and a lead to take them to the final, gave the ball away midway into the United half. Ryan Giggs, intercepting the ball with space to run into, weaves and slaloms through the Arsenal defence. Passing defenders with ease, he makes it to the penalty box before unleashing a fierce, unstoppable shot into the roof of the net passed a helpless David Seaman. United, going on to win the famous treble, scored the most famous goal to ever grace the competition.
During 1966, the year most famous for England lifting their first and only World Cup, was also a year for another first. Everton, facing Sheffield Wednesday, found themselves 2-0 down with just over half an hour to go. Clawing the score back to 2-2 through two goals by Mike Trebilcock, the Toffees scored a winner on 74 minutes to become the first club to come back from 2 goals down to win the FA Cup. Sadly this fact is rarely remembered because of the World Cup months later.
The FA Cup hasn’t been without its tragedy, though. At a FA Cup semi-final in 1989, Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. Because of poor policing and over-crowded terraces, 96 Liverpool fans lost their life in what is the largest stadium disaster in English history.
The FA Cup of today is seen in a different light to the times of past. Now, the earlier rounds are seen as a way to blood youngsters and help the youth academies grow. It is only when you see bigger teams get to the latter stages that their approach begins to change. The Premier League and the prize money it offers is becoming more of an incentive to clubs than winning a trophy, something that was once seen as the lifeblood of the footballing family.
One thing hasn’t changed, though. When the two teams meet in the final for the FA Cup trophy, all the stories, the past and the early round games will mean little-to-nothing. All that will matter is what happens during the 90 minutes at Wembley. May the best team win.