FA Cup Format

FA Cup Final: Manchester United v Chelsea Steve Bennett; Rio FerdinandThe FA Cup is a knockout tournament involving hundreds of clubs in football leagues across England and Wales. In the 2006-2007 season, 687 clubs entered the competition. Unlike the Football Leagues, where the participants tend to have similar player and financial resources, the FA Cup format gives smaller clubs the opportunity to take on the giants of English football.


Any team playing in the Premier league or the official FA football leagues is eligible for the competition. Teams playing in unofficial leagues can also enter the competition, provided they participated in the FA’s Vase or Trophy Cups in the previous season. Other than that, all entrants are expected to have access to adequate stadium and pitch facilities for home games.

The Preliminary Qualifying Rounds

There are six qualifying rounds for the FA Cup, including the extra-preliminary round and the preliminary round. Catering specifically to the clubs at the lowest levels, these rounds play host to the greatest number of games and competitors. Of the hundreds of lower league entrants, only 32 eventually make it through to the competition proper. Clubs from League Division Three upwards are exempt from the qualifying rounds.

The Competition Proper

The competition proper takes place in six stages and is contested by a total of 124 clubs. The FA Cup format dictates that clubs from League Division Two and Three join the competition only in the first round proper. Professional clubs from the Premiership and League Division One join the competition only in the third round. The remaining four rounds are used to decide the two finalists.

The Draw

A key feature of the FA Cup format is the random draw – teams are not allocated fixtures according to a seeding system. Draws for the fixtures in each round are made before the commencement of that round. Numbered balls representing each team are drawn, with the match taking place at the home ground of the team drawn first. If the first match produces a draw after extra time, the fixture is replayed at the home ground of the second team. If the replay is drawn after extra time, the result is decided with a penalty shoot-out.

The rules are changed slightly for the semi-finals and final. The venues for these games are neutral and determined by the Football Association. Semi-finals and finals drawn after extra time are decided with a penalty shoot-out.