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The FA Cup

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The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, is a knockout cup competition in English football, run by and named after The Football Association.

The FA Cup is the oldest football competition in the world, commencing in 1871-72. Because it involves clubs of all standards playing against each other there is the possibility for "giant-killers" from the lower divisions to eliminate top clubs from the tournament, though lower division teams rarely reach the final. A record 731 teams were accepted into the FA Cup in 2007-2008. In comparison, the League Cup can involve only the 72 members of The Football League (which organises the competition) and the 20 teams in the Premier League. The results of the Football League War Cup are deemed to be separate from both competitions.

The name "FA Cup" usually refers to the English men's tournament. The equivalent competition for women's teams is the FA Women's Cup.

The current holders of the FA Cup are Chelsea who beat Manchester United 1-0 in extra time in the 2007 final, on 19 May 2007.

Format
The Cup involves clubs in the English football league system. In the early years other teams from Wales, Ireland and Scotland also took part in the competition with Glasgow side Queen's Park reaching the final in 1884 and 1885. Six Welsh clubs that currently play in the English football league system compete in the FA Cup: Cardiff City, Swansea City, Wrexham, Merthyr Tydfil, Newport County and Colwyn Bay.

The competition is a knockout tournament with pairings drawn completely at random - there are no seeds, and a draw takes place after the majority of fixtures have been played in each round. However the qualifying round draws are regionalised to reduce the travel costs of smaller non-league sides. Rounds One and Two were also previously split into Northern and Southern draw sections, however this practice was abandoned after the 1997-98 Cup competition. The draw also determines which team will play at home. If a match (other than the semi-final or final) is drawn, there is a replay, usually at the ground of the team who were away for the first game. Drawn replays are now settled with extra time and penalty shootouts, though in the past further replays were possible, and some ties took as many as six matches to settle; in their 1975 campaign, Fulham played 12 games over 6 rounds. This remains the most games played by a team to reach a final.[1]. Replays were traditionally played 3-4 days after the original game, but from 1991-92 they were staged at least 10 days later on police advice. This led to penalty shoot-outs being introduced.

All Premier League and Football League clubs may enter. Non-league clubs may also enter if they competed in the previous season's FA Cup, FA Trophy, or FA Vase competition and are deemed to be playing in an "acceptable" league for the current season. All clubs entering the competition must have a suitable stadium. In the 2004-05 season, 660 clubs entered the competition, beating the long-standing record of 656 from the 1921-22 season. In 2005-06 a further high point was reached, with 674 entrants, and again in 2006-07 when 687 clubs entered.

The competition begins in August with the Extra-Preliminary Round contested by clubs occupying a low position in the English football league system, and the Preliminary Round. There are then four Qualifying Rounds and six rounds of the competition proper, followed by the Semi-Finals and the Final.

Clubs higher up the league system are exempt from certain rounds. For example, clubs playing in the Conference North or Conference South are given exemption to the Second Qualifying Round, while those from the Conference National are given exemption to the Fourth Qualifying Round. Clubs from Football League One and Football League Two are given exemption into the First Round proper, and Football League Championship and Premier League teams are given exemption into the Third Round.

The FA Cup has had a very set pattern for a long time of when each round is played. Normally the first round is played in mid-November, with the second round on one of the first two Saturdays in December. The third round is played at the start of January, with the fourth round later in the month and fifth round staged in mid-February. The sixth round traditionally occurs in early or mid March, with the semi-finals a month later. The final is normally held the Saturday after the Premier League season finishes in May. The only season in modern times when a similar pattern to this has not been kept was 1999-2000, when most rounds were played a few weeks earlier than normal as an experiment.

The winning team qualifies by right for the first round of the UEFA Cup. If the winners also qualify for the Champions League by merit of league position, the runners-up qualify for the UEFA Cup in their place. If both finalists qualify for the Champions League, an extra UEFA Cup place is given on the basis of Premier League position.

Winners from outside the top flight
Since the foundation of the Football League, Tottenham Hotspur in 1901 have been the only non-league winners of the FA Cup. They were then playing in the Southern League and were only elected to the Football League in 1908. At that time the Football League consisted of only two 18-team divisions; Tottenham's victory would be comparable to a team playing at the third level of the English football pyramid (currently League One) winning today.

In the history of the FA Cup, only eight teams who were playing outside of the top level of English football have gone on to win the whole competition, the most recent being West Ham United, who beat Arsenal in 1980. Except Tottenham in 1901, these clubs were all playing in the old Second Division, no other Third Division or lower side having so far reached the final. Arguably, one of the most famous of these 'upsets' was when Sunderland A.F.C. beat Leeds United 1-0 in 1973. Leeds were top of what is now The Premiership and Sunderland were in the equivalent of today's Coca Cola Championship.[2] Three years later Second Division Southampton also achieved the same feat as Sunderland against First Division Manchester United by the same 1-0 scoreline.

Venues
Matches in the FA Cup are usually played at the home ground of one of the two teams. The team who plays at home is decided when the matches are drawn. In the event of a draw, the replay is played at the ground of the team who originally played away from home. In the days when multiple replays were possible, the second replay (and any further replays) were played at neutral grounds.

Traditionally, the FA Cup Final was played at London's Wembley Stadium. Early finals were played in other locations and, due to extensive redevelopment of Wembley, finals between 2001 and 2006 were played at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The final returned to Wembley in May 2007.[3] Early finals venues include Kennington Oval, in 1872 and 1874-92, the Racecourse Ground, Derby in 1886, Bramall Lane in 1912, the Crystal Palace Park, 1895-1914, Stamford Bridge 1920-22, and Lillie Bridge, Fulham, London in 1873.

The semi-finals are contested at neutral venues; in the past these have usually been the home grounds of teams not involved in that semi-final. The venues used since 1990 were Maine Road (demolished) in Manchester; Old Trafford nearby in Trafford, Greater Manchester; Hillsborough in Sheffield: Highbury (redeveloped as housing) and Wembley Stadium in London; Millennium Stadium in Cardiff; and Villa Park in Birmingham. Villa Park is the most used stadium, having been used for 54 semi-finals.

The 1991 semi-final between Arsenal and Tottenham was the first to be played at Wembley. Two years later both semi-finals were held at Wembley, which was again used for both matches in 1994 and 2000. In 2005 they were both held at the Millennium Stadium. The decision to hold the semi-finals at the same location as the final can be controversial amongst fans [4]. However, starting with the 2008 Cup, all Semi Finals will be played at Wembley; the stadium was not ready for the 2007 semi-finals. For a list of semi-final results and the venues used, see FA Cup Semi-Finals.

Trophies
t the end of the final, the winning team is presented with a trophy, also known as the "FA Cup", which they hold until the following year's final. Traditionally, at Wembley finals, the presentation was made at the Royal Box, with players, led by the captain, mounting a staircase to a gangway in front of the box and returning by a second staircase on the other side of the box. At Cardiff the presentation was made on a podium on the pitch. The cup is decorated with ribbons in the colours of the winning team; a common riddle asks, "What is always taken to the Cup Final, but never used?" (the answer is "the losing team's ribbons"). However this isn't entirely true, as during the game the cup actually has both teams sets of ribbons attached and the runners-up ribbons are removed before the presentation. Individual members of the teams playing in the final are presented with winners' and runners'-up medals.

The present FA Cup trophy is the fourth. The first, the 'little tin idol', was used from the inception of the Cup in 1871-2 until it was stolen from a Birmingham shop window belonging to William Shillcock while held by Aston Villa on September 11, 1895. It was never seen again and is presumed to have been melted down. The second trophy was a replica of the first, and was last used in 1910 before being presented to the FA's long-serving president Lord Kinnaird. It was sold at Christie's on May 19, 2005 for �420,000 (�478,400 including auction fees and taxes) to David Gold, the chairman of Birmingham City. A new, larger, trophy was bought by the FA in 1911 designed and manufactured by Fattorini's of Bradford and won by Bradford City in its first outing, the only time a team from Bradford has reached the final. This trophy still exists but is now too fragile to be used, so an exact replica was made and has been in use since the 1992 final. Therefore, though the FA Cup is the oldest domestic football competition in the world, its trophy is not the oldest; that title is claimed by the Youdan Cup.

A "backup" trophy was made alongside the existing trophy in 1992, but it has not been used so far, and will only be used if the current trophy is lost, damaged or destroyed.

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