The FA Cup is a special tournament in the world of soccer. This unique challenge cup allows teams from nearly every level of English football to participate in a single-elimination tournament. Due to the structure of English association football, small semi-pro and minor league teams can potentially take the pitch with Premier League phenoms, creating a memorable environment that can bring fans from all over England together.
So, what does the FA stand for in FA Cup? What is the FA Cup, and why is it a big deal for fans and players? What teams are eligible to play in FA Cup, what is the format, and what do you get for winning it?
Here is everything and more about the FA Cup in soccer.
What Does FA Stand for in Soccer?
FA stands for Football Association, the governing body of English Football. The FA has a unique role in managing and controlling football across the country, as there are several levels in English Football. The FA controls everything from the Premier League to the English Football League and National League system, which includes well over ten different levels of soccer.
What is the FA Cup?
The FA Cup (or Emirates FA Cup, as it’s been called since 2015) is a football competition that the FA hosts for the top nine levels of English football. This unique opportunity brings the entire sport together for one long tournament. The contest is an expansive, single-elimination knockout competition that welcomes everyone from the Premier League to minor league and semi-pro athletes.
Since the tournament is open to so many teams, it can take up to nine months to go from the early qualifying rounds to the final in May.
What Teams are Eligible for the FA Cup?
Teams from the top nine levels of English football are all eligible to participate in the FA Cup. The Football Association even allows some teams from the tenth level of English football to participate if needed to fill out the qualifying rounds. Teams from the top four levels, which include the Premier League, The English League Championship teams, and English League One and League Two, are all automatically eligible to join the competition.
Clubs from lower levels must apply to enter the tournament. All teams must meet certain facilities requirements to be able to enter the tournament, and they must be able to participate in other competitions like the FA Trophy during the same season.
Finally, the FA reserves the right to reject any applications as they see fit. However, even with rigorous requirements, the competition size of the FA cup is usually large, with well over 700 teams participating each year. The record for most clubs to join in an FA Cup tournament was in the 2011-2012 tournament, with 763 clubs.
Do the Top Teams Play in the FA Cup?
It’s infrequent for the upper-level clubs to miss their opportunity to play in the FA Cup, but it happens occasionally. Most notably, Manchester United opted not to play during the 1999-2000 title after coming off a win against Newcastle United during the 1998-99 tournament. The club said they already had a packed competition schedule and would disrespect the tournament’s spirit by fielding a lesser team.
Critics were skeptical of the reasons and spoke out against the club for opting out of the historic tournament. Chelsea would go on to win the title against Aston Villa that year.
What is the Format of the FA Cup?
The largest round in the FA cup is the Extra-Preliminary Round, which takes place in August. During this round, teams from Levels 8, 9, and 10 compete. This round means more than 400 teams can participate in the tournament’s opening round.
Matchups and home-field advantage are chosen randomly through a lottery system called “the draw.” After the Extra-Preliminary Round, teams move through the ranks through the preliminary and qualifying rounds, with higher-level teams joining the tournament during each new round. The fourth qualifying round ends with National League members entering the contest.
After the first six qualifying rounds, the main tournament starts with the First Round Proper. The 24 English Football League One teams and 24 English Football League Two teams are added to the tournament during this round. As teams join the contest, another draw takes place to reset the bracket and continue moving through the rounds. The 24 English Football League Championship League and 20 Premier League teams are added during the Third Round Proper, which is one of the most exciting parts of the competition.
How Do Teams Advance Through the Tournament?
During the tournament, the winners of each match advance to the next round of play. However, if there’s a tie, the game goes to a replay, which happens later. These play-off rematches will take place at the home pitch of the first game’s visiting team.
If the replay match ends in a tie, the game will go into extra time or a penalty shootout to decide the winner. Games in the Fourth Round Proper and further are also determined by extra time and penalties.
What Do Teams Get for Winning the FA Cup?
Winners of the tournament receive the FA Cup, a large chalice trophy. Members of both teams in the final also get winners and runner-up medals. First-place teams get a gold medal, while second-place teams get silver metals.
FA Cup Final winners also receive a bid for several other football tournaments. These bids include entry into the UEFA Europa League tournament during the group stage the following year. The winner also gets a berth in the UEFA Champions League and the FA Community Shield game, which is played between the Premier League winner and the FA Cup winner.
Where is the FA Cup Final Game Played?
The FA Cup Final has taken place at Wembley Stadium every since 2007. Wembley is also hosts the semi-final round. Before the final two rounds, teams play at their home stadiums as dictated by the random draws performed ahead of each round.
FA Cup History and Records
The Football Association has been hosting the FA Cup regularly since 1871, meaning there have been plenty of records and history in the tournament. Football leaders suspended the FA Cup during wartime between 1914-1919 and 1938-1946. The first FA Cup Winners were the Wanderers, who won in 1871.
Arsenal holds the record for the most FA cups with 14 wins. The club also has the record for most appearances in a final with 21.
Has Any Low-Tier Team made an Impact in the FA Cup?
The most impressive records in the FA cup usually involve lower-level clubs going deep into the tournament. In the 2020 tournament, Marine, a team from the 8th tier of English Football, faced off against the Premier League Tottenham Hotspur in a battle that proved to be the largest disparity between teams in the competition’s history.
In the 2017 championship, National League team Lincoln City made it to the quarter-finals of the FA cup, where they fell to Arsenal 5-0. The late-round push was the deepest non-league cup run by a lower-level team in over 100 years.
Conclusion: What is the FA Cup in Soccer?
There are few tournaments where semi-pro and minor league athletes can face off in a head-to-head matchup against some of the best players in the world. The FA Cup is a unique celebration of English football that allows fans from across the country to come together and cheer for their favorite sport. With so many different athletes playing in one tournament, it can feel like the Olympics or World Cup for some fans. However, while everyone wants to see their favorite Premier League stars, it’s hard not to root for a deep run by a National League team.