Early FA Cup History: 1871 – 1945

FA Cup Trophy 1985The inaugural Football Association Challenge Cup was launched in 1871. Contested by 12 teams, it was the first official competition contested by the members of the newly formed Football Association.<

Early FA Cup history began at the Kennington Oval cricket ground with the first FA Cup final on March 16, 1872. Two thousand spectators paid a shilling each for the privilege of watching Wanderers take on Royal Engineers. The pitch would have looked strange to a modern football fan – the goals had no nets or crossbars, and no center circle or halfway line had been painted onto the turf.

Morton Betts, playing under the pseudonym of A.H. Chequer, scored the only goal of the match for Wanderers as they became the first-ever team to lift the brand-new, £20, FA Cup.

For the next decade, the FA Cup remained a small competition, contested by only a handful of teams. Wanderers dominated early FA Cup history up until the 1880s, when Blackburn Rovers came to the fore. The rise of Blackburn Rovers as a force in football was matched by an increase in public interest in the event. By the turn of the century, crowds of over 50,000 were regularly attending FA Cup Finals – now held mostly at Crystal Palace.

Early FA Cup History: 1900s

By the early 1900s, hundreds of clubs were entering the competition each year. In this highly competitive era of early FA Cup history, no fewer than twenty different clubs lifted the trophy between 1901 and 1939. Between 1920 and 1939, not one club managed to hold the trophy for two consecutive years.

As the crowds grew, so did the demand for a bigger stadium and a permanent home for English football. In 1923, the new Empire Stadium at Wembley opened and promptly played host to its first FA Cup Final.

The game between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United was almost abandoned when a massive crowd of over 200,000 people arrived to watch the event. The mass of people flowed over onto the pitch, and it was only with some careful crowd management and the assistance of a police horse named “Billy” that the situation was brought under control and the game played.

Early FA Cup History and the Second World War

The FA Cup was suspended for the duration of World War II, but play didn’t stop. Instead, the Football League War Cup kept football lovers happy. This tournament was designed to counter the risk of civilian casualties in bombing raids by limiting travel by teams and the size of crowds attending football matches.