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History of the FA Cup

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The oldest professional football knockout competition in the world, The FA Cup pits the giants of the top division against the minnows of the lower leagues, as all the Association clubs from England and Wales fight it out for the top honors. The competition, with its rich history and tradition, is one of England's greatest sporting institutions. If the grand scale of the tournament in itself generates tremendous interest, facup1931.jpgthe Cup finals provide a grandeur spectacle. Since its inception 138 years ago, it has had football enthusiasts, not only from England, but from all over the world, sit back and revel season after season. A Brief History

The FA Cup as we know it now was an 1871 proposal from the then-FA Honorary Secretary, Charles Alcock, "that it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association, for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete"; this proposal was met with favour on 20th July 1871, and was finally approved three months later. In its inaugural year, Wanderers, a team formed by ex-public school and university players, won the final 1-0 against Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval on March 16th, 1872. The competition that year saw a participation of 15 teams.

For majority of the next couple of decades, the FA Cup attracted a small number of participants in terms of teams, but its popularity was ever-growing amongst the football-crazy Englishmen. Wanderers dominated the early part of this competition, winning five times in the first seven-year period. Blackburn Rovers took over the mantle from them as they lifted the cup four times in the following decade. The turn of the 19th century proved very fruitful, as hundreds of clubs joined each year, thus enhancing the reputation of the cup. This was perhaps the most competitive phase of the FA Cup, as no fewer than twenty different clubs carved their names on the trophy between 1901 and 1939. The fact that none of the clubs managed to defend their title between 1920 and 1939 emphasizes the point further.

Until the year 1923, the FA Cup final had no permanent home, with as many as seven different grounds playing host to this pageant. Owing to the increasing popularity of the beautiful game, a permanent home for English football was built in 1923 at Wembley. The Empire Stadium, as it was called back then, hosted its first FA Cup Final that year, which saw Bolton Wanderers defeat West Ham United 2-0.

The FA Cup was cancelled during the two World Wars. However, during the Second World War, the popularity of FA Cup football had grown to such an extent that provisions had to be made for a replacement tournament when the FA Cup was cancelled, and it was called The Football League War Cup. Post World War era was perhaps the period that best represents what this prestigious competition epitomizes. 1950s were characterized by a number of upsets, as teams from the lower leagues gave the more established sides a run for their money. Most notably, in the 1947-48 season, Manchester United had to overcome top division clubs in each of their rounds before eventually defeating Blackpool 4-2 in a thrilling final. Spurs emerged as the big winners during the 1960s, as they secured the FA Cup thrice during that time in 1961, 1962 and 1967. The London club was going through its best phase as it became the first club to secure "the double" in 1961.

In the year 1972, 100 years of FA Cup history were celebrated, though not in terms of number of seasons (due to the breaks during the World Wars). Leeds United defeated the Gunners by a solitary goal in the final that year. The following year produced the first FA Cup winner from outside the top league in four decades, when Sunderland beat the defending champions, Leeds United 1-0.

Then came the period when English football was going through its worst times. Hooliganism and a series of stadium disasters resulted in English teams being banned from European competition. Its effects were evident on the FA Cup as well, as crowds stayed away from the football field.

The following decade saw some highly entertaining FA Cup finals. In the year 1990, Red Devils won their first FA Cup with Sir Alex Fergusson at their helm. They were the team to beat, as they won the cup four times, including the historical "treble" during the 1998-99 season. In 2000, the old Wembley Stadium hosted its last FA Cup Final. For the next five years, the finals were held at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff while Wembley was demolished and rebuilt to meet the requirements of modern stadium construction. The new venue proved to be a happy hunting ground for Arsenal, as they won the FA Cup thrice there.