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The FA Cup – A History of Upsets
The FA Cup, or the Football Association Challenge Cup, is the oldest association football cup in the world. Because it has teams of all different playing levels there have been many memorable moments in its history. Dating back to 1871, the cup has been played continuously since its inception save for breaks for World War I and World War II. This cup has probably more tradition then any other in the history of English football. To win it is a special award reserved normally for the top team in the United Kingdom. There have however been many surprises along the way and just because a team seems to be a complete powerhouse does not mean that they will storm their way to victory.
Unlikely Heroes In The FA Cup
When you look back on the past of the FA Cup there are several matches that stand out as being memorable. Some of these are because little teams step up and became “Giant Killers.” Others are simply great matches between powerhouses that have stayed in the memories of football fans around the world.
One of the most memorable matches of all time came on Feb 13, 1971 when little Colchester took the field against mighty Leeds. That match pitched the small fourth division club against a mighty Division One giant. Don Revie was the manager of the powerhouse team from Leeds, but the inventor of the “Revie Plan” would be dogged and haunted by this day for his entire career. The team was defeated 3-2 with two goals coming from Ray Crawford in a hard fought match, and perhaps as a sign of their greatness or resilience Leeds would go on to win the FA Cup the following year.
The following year had another classic match when Hereford defeated Newcastle 2-1 in a match that has been replayed thousands of times on British television. The blast from Ronnie Radford sent Newcastle home and hundreds of fans to storm the pitch. This shot has lived on through replays for years and will continue to be an iconic representation of what the FA Cup is all about.
Another memorable match was the 1990 Cup Final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace. Manchester United was going for their seventh title and Crystal Palace their first. They had managed to make it to the semi’s in 1976, but no farther. This match featured it all. Scoring, great tackles, amazing play, but probably most memorable was the comeback of Ian Wright. Ian had suffered a double leg fracture earlier in the season and was not expected to play. Some how he came in with 20 minutes remaining and managed to score. This tied the score up and there it stayed until the extra time where Wright managed to score again. Manchester U would not be denied and managed to score forcing a replay. The replay did not go in Crystal Palace’s favour and they were criticised for it, but the original match will go down in history as one of the greatest played.
These three matches are just small examples of everything that the FA Cup represents. This can happen because of the way the competition for the cup is set up. While this setup is not unique to football association cup matches, since the FA Cup is the longest standing competition of this type it can be said that the FA Cup innovated it.
How The FA Cup Is Run
The competition is a standard knockout tournament with the pairings in each round being drawn at random. This configuration without seeds is what leads to some of the improbably match ups and even more improbable upsets. The tournament is redrawn each round and no one knows what the matches will be until the previous round has been completed. In addition to this, the home team is also determined at random and previous FA League rank has no bearing on the draw. There can be no ties, and if after a match the score is equal a replay is played at the previous away teams home field. If this match goes to a draw, then the leg is settled by extra time then penalty shootouts. This format did not come into play until the 1990s however where previously matches would be continuously played until a winner was determined. The record for most consecutive matches is 6 and Fulham had to play a record 12 matches over six rounds on their path to the final.
In the competition there are 14 rounds of competition broken down into six qualifying then six additional rounds. After these have been played there is a semi final then the final. The competition begins each year in August. There are some exemptions into the later rounds for teams that play in the higher leagues in the FA. The teams will play each round periodically throughout the year with the FA Cup being awarded after the end of the Premier League in May. This prolonged play builds up the suspense and leads to one of the most exiting finals in all of sports.
At over 130 years the cup competition does not appear to be slowing any time soon. As a matter of fact, it still continues to generate more and more interest not only in England but around the world. The establishment of all the history and the pageantry of the award ceremony have led to the cup being famous around the world. Many football fans will go on record saying that the FA Cup is the greatest match in all of sports. Perhaps Sir Bobby Robson sums it up best in saying “The FA Cup Final is the greatest single match outside the World Cup Finals – and it’s ours.”