On March 16, 1872, the oldest football(soccer in North America) competition in the world had taken place with its final game. It was on this day that the Wanderers Football Club played against the Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval, London, England for the Football Association(FA) Challenge Cup.
Wanderers FC was founded in 1859 as the Forest Football Club and were also founding members of the Football Association in 1863. Their home was based in Leytonstone, London and were called Wanderers because of "wandering" to Battersea Park from London. A.G. Guillemard, who was known as the "father" of the Rugby Football Union, was on this team. The rest of the team consisted mainly of ex-school players.
Charles(C.W.) Alcock, a key figure in adapting many of the styles of play including passing the ball, was captain for the Wanderers. Alcock was also secretary for the FA from 1870 until 1895 and was the main person behind the FA Cup that was established in 1872. Furthermore, Alcock was a key proponent of the first international football game in 1870 between England and Scotland. He and his brother John formed the Forest Football Club in 1859.
Under Major Marindin, the Royal Engineers were established in 1863. They were known as the Sappers before taking on the name of Engineers. The Engineers had founded a style of play that emphasized teamwork as well as knowing where teammates were at all times. In March 1871, they won a game against the powerful Wanderers team because of being organized. When they played the Wanderers again in November that year, they scored two goals against them by using strategic passing while winning that game, too.
The FA Cup is a tournament with no seedings and the draws for home-field advantage are not known until the scheduled dates for the previous round are determined. Teams draw numbered balls out of a bag that determines matchups and who plays at home. This is such a hugh interest for teams and fans that the draws are broadcasted live on television on English sets around the nation. Traditionally, famous players are there to draw the numbered balls out and this helps increase exposure as well for the tournament.
Six qualifying rounds, six further rounds, two semi-finals, and a final game is played for a total of 14 rounds of competition. The qualifying rounds are done by regions to help reduce travel costs and expenses in the early portion of the play especially for lower division teams. The tournament opens up in November and the Final is played in May. When the tournament started in November of 2008, a record 762 teams took part.
The lower division teams are referred to as "minnows" and they are also called "giant killers" when beating top clubs. However, lower division teams seldom reach the Final game.
If a tie happens between two teams, a replay is done which usually takes place at home of the team who played on the road in the first game. Replays of drawn matchups are now settled with extended time or penalty shots.
The Premier League and Football League automatically qualify to play in the tournament while English football league system on the following six levels can play provided they played the previous season for the FA Cup, FA Trophy, or FA Vase. No other football tournaments were held in 1872 and times were different.
The FA Challenge Cup(as it was known then) had only 15 teams take part in 1872. Only 30 teams existed in the FA prior to this competition being held. The road to the Final game for both the Wanderers and Engineers were easy victories early on.
The Wanderers beat the Harrow Chequers while Engineers beat Regiate Priory. The two teams drew away games next, but neither were seriously tested as the Wanderers won 3-1 over the Clapham Rovers and the Engineers beat Hitchin 5-0.
The Wanderers had a 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace, and because rules weren't established like they are today, both were allowed to move on. Meanwhile, the Engineers continued on with a 2-0 win over the Hampstead Heathens.
Queen's Park, a Scottish Club, were allowed a bye all the way to the semi-finals if they could get past the Wanderers. This was done to reduce travel costs because of having to go to southeast England all the way from Glasgow, Scotland. The two teams tied 0-0, but Queen's Park decided to return to Scotland as they forfeited the replay to the Wanderers.
Coincidentally, the Engineers also tied in their semi-final game against Crystal Park, but beat them easily 3-0 in the replay. So the first Final was set between two teams that were no strangers to one another. About 2,000 attendees watched the first FA Cup Final.
In the early going of the 90-minute matchup, Engineer mid-fielder Edmund Cresswell suffered a broken collarbone and was forced out of the game. The game itself continued to be back-and-forth as both teams tried to attack the other with precision passing in the opponent's zone.
Alcock appeared to have put the Wanderers on the scoreboard with a shot past Engineer goalkeeper William Merriman. But referee Alfred Stair ruled that Alcock was offside on the kick, and therefore, the goal didn't count.
Wanderers forward Robert Vidal, who would become known as the "prince of dribblers" because of his skill of moving the ball, sparkled and dribbled right by the tough Engineer defense in this game. His long dribble and pass to Morton Betts led to the first goal in FA Cup Final history after an easy tap-in past Merriman. Betts was playing under the pseudonym of A.H. Chequer.
Prior to the start of the tournament, Betts had signed to play with the Harrow Chequers who had withdrew from their opening round game. Under the rules of the time, no player could play with another club in the same tournament. Thus, this is why he adopted a pseudonym.
As it turned out, Chequer scored the only goal of the game. The Wanderers continued to pressure Merriman, but he kept them from scoring again. The Engineers did get the ball in the Wanderers' zone late in the game, but were unable to tie the score. The Wanderers won the first ever FA Cup with a 1-0 win.
They were presented with the FA Challenge Cup on April 11 by President E.C. Morley.
The Wanderers defended the FA Cup by winning it again in 1873 as well, and three times in a row from 1876-78. The team officially disbanded in 1883 after many schools had begun to establish their own clubs at the time. Charles Wollaston was the only one on the team for their five FA Cup wins.
The Engineers would win their only FA Cup in 1875, and played in three other Finals. They were also noted as being the first team to travel doing so in 1873 by making trips to Nottingham and Sheffield amongst other venues. They have maintained their amateur status since the 1890s and play mostly armed forces teams since that time.
The 2008 winners of the FA Cup was Portsmouth FC. They lost 2-0 in the 4th round of this year's FA Cup against Swansea City. The FA Cup Final will be held in May after the season in the Premier League is concluded. In the United States, coverage of these games are split between Setanta Sports North America and the FOX Soccer Channel because both own rights to broadcast them.
The Cup Final, as it is commonly referred to by England, will be held at world renowned Wembley Stadium on May 30, 2009. From 1923-2000, Wembley Stadium hosted the FA Cup Final. Due to reconstruction of the new Wembley Stadium, the Final was held at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff from 2001-06 until it returned to the national stadium in 2007.
Many things have changed with the FA Cup since 1872, but this marked the beginning of the oldest football competition in the world that continues every year. And for that, the FA deserves credit where it is due.
Personally, I think it is cool how the field is determined because of the uniqueness in which you have zero idea who you will be drawn against. I certainly learned quite a bit about the tradition of this tournament as well as how it started.
If anyone wants more information about the Football Association, then visit their official site: FA Cup Archive
And even though none of us were alive then, I hope you enjoyed this sports history flashback!
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