The Football Association Challenge Cup, more commonly known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout football competition in men’s domestic English football. First played during the 1871-72 season, it is the oldest national football competition in the world. It is organised by and named after the Football Association (The FA). Since 2015, it has been known as The Emirates FA Cup after its headline sponsor. The competition is open to any eligible club down to level 10 of the English football league system. The tournament consists of 12 randomly drawn rounds followed by the semi-finals and the final. The first six rounds are the Qualifying Competition, from which 32 teams progress to the first round of the Competition Proper, meeting the first of the 48 professional teams from Leagues One and Two. The last entrants are the Premier League and Championship clubs, into the draw for the Third Round Proper. In the modern era, only one non-league team has ever reached the quarter-finals, and teams below Level 2 have never reached the final. As a result, significant focus is given to the smaller teams who progress furthest, especially if they achieve an unlikely “giant-killing” victory. Winners receive the FA Cup trophy, of which there have been two designs and five actual cups; the latest is a 2014 replica of the second design, introduced in 1911. Winners also qualify for the UEFA Europa League and a place in the upcoming FA Community Shield.
Beginning in August, the competition proceeds as a knockout tournament throughout, consisting of twelve rounds, a semi-final and then a final, in May. A system of byes ensures clubs above Level 9 and 10 enter the competition at later stages. There is no seeding, the fixtures in each round being determined by a random draw. Prior to the fifth round, fixtures ending in a tie are replayed once only. The first six rounds are qualifiers, with the draws organised on a regional basis. The next six rounds are the “proper” rounds where all clubs are in one draw.
Fixtures in the 12 rounds of the competition are usually played at the home ground of one of the two teams. The semi-finals and final are played at a neutral venue – the rebuilt Wembley Stadium (since 2008 and 2007 respectively).
Arsenal are the most successful club with fourteen titles and Arsène Wenger is the most successful manager in the history of the competition, having won seven finals as Arsenal’s manager. The record for most consecutive wins (3) is held by Wanderers (1876, 1877, 1878) and Blackburn Rovers (1884, 1885, 1886). Arsenal has the most appearances in a final: 21. Wanderers keep the record for most final appearances without ever losing: 5. Tottenham Hotspur & Arsenal have the joint record for most final appearances without losing (streak): 7. No man in history has as many winners medals as Ashley Cole: 7. The biggest win ever was Preston North End against Hyde: 26-0 (First round, 15 October 1887). The highest attendance ever was measured at Wembly: 126,047 (official) up to 300,000 (estimate) at the “White Horse Final” (Bolton Wanderers vs West Ham United, 28 April 1923). The fastest goal ever scored in a FA Cup match was scored by Gareth Morris: 4 seconds (for Ashton United vs Skelmersdale United, 1st Qualifying Round, 17 September 2001). Jimmy Ross scored the most goals in a single FA Cup season: 19 goals (Preston North End, 1887-1888).