FA Cup

The Football Association Challenge Cup or FA Cup is one of the oldest football competitions in the world dating back to 1871-72. All Premier League and Football League clubs may enter, as can non-league clubs if they competed in the previous season’s FA Cup, FA Trophy, or FA Vase competition and are deemed to be playing in an “acceptable” league for the current season, though all clubs that enter the competition must have a suitable stadium.

Because the competition allows clubs of all standards to compete against one another in a knockout format, elimination of top clubs from the tournament – “giant killing” – is a possibility, although lower division teams rarely reach the final; Tottenham Hotspur are the only non-league team to have won the FA Cup football tournament (1901), and only eight teams outside the top level of English football have gone on to win the whole competition.

FA Cup Format

The pairings for the knockout matches are drawn completely at random by a public drawing of numbered balls from a bag, although the qualifying regional draws are kept local to minimize costs for the non-league teams. Which team will play at home is also decided by the draw.

Drawn matches are replayed, usually at the ground of the team who were away for the first game, with drawn replays settled with extra time and penalty shootouts. There are four qualifying rounds and six competition rounds, followed by the semi-finals and the final. The first round is played in mid-November, with the second round on one of the first two Saturdays in December.

The third round is played at the start of January, followed by the fourth round later in the month and the fifth round in mid-February. The sixth round traditionally occurs in early or mid March, with the semi-finals held in April. The final is normally held the Saturday after the Premier League season finishes in May.

Clubs higher up in the league system like the Football League One and Football League Two clubs are given exemption into the first round proper, while Football League Championship and Premier League teams are given exemption into the third round.

A record 762 teams have been accepted into the cup for the 2008-2009 season, topping the 2007-08 record of 731 teams. The winning team qualifies for the first round of the UEFA Cup, though this position goes to the runners-up or to the highest placed Premier League side without European qualification if the winning team has already qualified for Europe.