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The F.A Cup Early Years


Here is Part 7 in the series '150 Years of Football'. As before there are links to previous articles for anyone who missed them or wishes to read again.

As I have explained previously, football in the mid 1800's was very haphazard and with very little organisation. Clubs were being formed all over the UK, playing games to different rules. The Football Association was founded on the 26th October 1863 and the Challenge cup which bears its name was first contested in 1871/2, proving to be very popular with clubs throughout the country. However to take part in this competition teams had to accept FA rules.This helped bring together teams playing the varying forms of football under one set of rules - Association Football.

So how did football develop and what about the teams in the 1870's. Well here goes as I try to explain.


By the 1871/2 season The FA had 50 member clubs, 15 of which entered the cup competition originally but only 12 actually played with 12 games in total.

Queen Park who were a leading Scottish club from Glasgow managed to get as far as the semi-final without actually playing a game due to opposition withdrawals and byes. At this time there was a rule allowing both teams through to the next round in the event of a draw, at the organising committees discretion. After holding Wanderers to a draw they had to withdraw themselves as they couldn't afford to travel from Glasgow to London again.


The very first FA Challenge Cup final was played at Kennington Oval 16/3/1872. The Wanderers beat The Royal Engineers 1 - 0.

The 2000 spectators who paid 1 shilling to attend this match witnessed a game considerably different to the game we know today. There were no free kicks or penalties. The goals had no cross bar or nets and there was no centre circle or half way line marked out on the pitch.

The Royal Engineers lost Lieutenant Creswell after 10 minutes with a broken collar bone, this being the first recorded accident in soccer, and no substitutes then either.

Wanderers were a team formed by old boys from prominent English public schools. They didn't have a permanent home ground but played at various venues in London and the south of England, hence their name. The team went into decline in the late 1800's when a lot of its members chose to play for the teams formed at their old schools.

A new Wanderers team was re-formed in 2009 and now play in the Surrey South Eastern Combination.


The Royal Engineers were the first team to tour,visiting Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield in 1873.

The Army FA was formed in 1888.

On 7/11/2012 Wanderers played The Royal Engineers at the oval, 140 years after the first FA cup final losing 7 - 1

Wrexham AFC, the 1st welsh soccer club was formed this year.


The 1872/3 FA cup competition had 16 entrants and Queens Park were given byes to the semi final but withdrew before their scheduled match with Oxford University. Wanderers,having been given a bye to the final triumphed again and were also allowed to choose the venue, beating Oxford University 2 - 0 in the final in front of 3000 spectators. The attendance was considered to be lower than expected due to The Boat Race taking place later the same day.

Rangers FC were formed and corner kicks introduced in this year.


In 1873/4 there were 28 entrants for the cup. The rule giving the previous winner a bye to the final was changed for this season when Oxford University beat The Royal Engineers 2 - 0

Aston Villa formed this season.

In 1874/5, with 29 teams entering, The Royal Engineers beat Old Etonians 2 - 0 after a 1 - 1 draw.

Crossbar is introduced.


1875/6 saw The Wanderers beat Old Etonians 3 - 0 again after a 1 -1 draw. 32 teams entered this year.

Duration of a match set at 90 minutes this season.

Wanderers were the winners again in 1876/7 beating Oxford University 2 - 1. 37 teams entered.

We can see a gradual increase in the number of entrants for the cup each year but the competition was dominated by teams whose members came from a privileged background and therefore had more free time and money to cover traveling costs. The entrants also came mostly from London and the surrounding counties. As the road and rail network in the UK improved and travel became more accessible to the working classes it enabled more teams from further afield to take part in the cup.


So in 1877/8 Notts County entered the FA cup for the first time. Unfortunately they were knocked out in the first round 3 - 0 after a 1 - 1 draw, losing to Sheffield FC (The worlds 2 oldest football teams).

Wanderers made it three final wins in a row this year by beating The Royal Engineers 3 - 1. The attendance for this match was 4500 and 43 teams entered.

West Bromwich Albion and Newton Heath(Manchester United) and St.Domingo's(Everton) formed this year.

1878/9 Saw Notts County lose to Nottingham Forest 1-3 in the 1st round. Forest progressed to the semi final before losing 2 - 1 to Old Etonians who went on to beat Clapham Rovers 1 - 0 in the final.

Sunderland formed this year.


1879/80 was even worse for Notts County as they again went out in the 1st round losing 4 - 0 to Nottingham Forest. Again Forest made it to the semi finals before losing 1 - 0 to Oxford University. Clapham Rovers beat Oxford University 1 - 0 in the final.

Manchester City formed this year.

1880/81 was the 10th year of the FA Cup with 62 entrants, 4 didn't play. Notts County lost 3 - 1 to Aston Villa in the 3rd round Old Carthusians beat Old Etonians 3 - 0 in the final.

There were 73 entrants in the 1881/2 season. Notts County beat Wednesbury Strollers 11 - 1 after the FA ordered the original match to be replayed but went out in the next round 4 - 1 after two 2-2 draws to Aston Villa. Old Etonians beat Blackburn Rovers 1 -0 in the final.This was the first season a working class club and also from outside the London//South area had contested the final.


A programme from this match was sold at auction in May 2013 for a world record £35,250.

Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham Hotspur formed this year.

In 1882/3 the number of entrants for the cup rose to 84. Notts County beat Sheffield FC 4 -1 in the 1st round and after getting a bye in the 2nd round went on to beat Phoenix Bessemer in the 3rd round. In the 4th round Notts won away to Sheffield Wednesday 4 - 1 and then beat Aston Villa 4 -3 in the 5th round before losing in the semi final 2 -1 to Old Etonians .In the final, Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians 2 -1,becoming the first working class team to win the final and also ending the domination of amateur/upper class teams

Coventry City formed this year.


The1883/4 competition saw 100 entrants Notts had another good run beating Sheffield Heeley 3 - 1 in the 1st round. In the 2nd round they beat Nottingham Forest 3 - 0 and in the 3rd round won away at Grantham 4 -1. The 4th round saw Notts win 2 -1 away at Bolton after drawing 1 -1 at home before going on to beat Swifts(Slough) away 1 - 0 again after drawing at home(1 -1) Notts eventually went out in the semi final, losing 1 -0 to Blackburn Rovers who went on to beat Queens Park 2 - 1 in the final, which had an attendance of 12,000.

Derby County formed this year.

Leicester City formed as Leicester Fosse this year.


In the 1884/5 season 114 teams entered the cup. Here are a few of the results - In the 1st round Notts County beat Notts Olympic 2 - 0, Nottingham Forest 5- Rotherham Town(Not United) 0, Staveley 4 - Notts Rangers 1, Sheffield Heeley 1 - Notts Wanderers 0, Derby County 0 - Walsall Town 7, Derby Junction 1 - West Bromwich Albion 7, Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 - Derby St.Lukes 4 after a 0 - 0 draw, Derby Midland 1 - Wednesbury Old Athletic 2, Note the number of Nottingham and Derby teams.

Here's a few 2nd round results - Nottingham Forest 4 - Sheffield Heeley 1, Staveley 0 - Notts County 2, Derby St. Lukes 0 - Walsall Swifts 1

and round 3 - Notts County 5 -Sheffield FC 0, Sheffield Wednesday 1 - Nottingham Forest 2

and round 4 Swifts(Slough) 0 - Nottingham Forest 1, Walsall Swifts 1 - Notts County 4

Both Notts and Forest had byes in the 5th round.

6th round Notts County lost 2 - 1 after a 2 - 2 draw to Queens Park, Old Etonians lost 2 - 0 to Forest

In the semi final Forest lost 3 - 0, after a 1 - 1 draw to Queens park.

he final was a repeat of the previous season, with Blackburn Rovers beating Queens Park, this time 2 - 0-Attendance 12500.

In the summer of 1885 The FA legalised professionalism(This has been covered in Part 5 - How it came together)

The balance of power had now moved north but soon football would really take off.


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It's interesting to see how many opposition fans these piece connects with, we have Walsall, Rotherham etc.

Really enjoyed this one, it's a good great piece.

Thanks for writing them Dad. :)

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Nicely done rammy! This really is full of detail, which makes reading all the more fun. It must take some time to write this and gather the information.

Super feature here! I look forward to them. :)

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Glad you like it joe and upthepies.I try to add local/site interest.Yes it does take a lot of time.I can write a lot in10 minutes and then get stuck trying to get to the next part and I get side tracked easily.As Granny says,it keeps me quiet.

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Good read @Super_Ram, I'm sorry I haven't read it so far, I tend to see these articles and think to myself I'll read it later when I've got time and then promptly forget.


I'm looking forward to getting to 1894. :-)

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