How do FA Cup rounds work?

The FA Cup is one of the most prestigious football competitions in England. It is organized by the Football Association and is open to all clubs from the Premier League down to the 10th level of the English football league system. Over 700 clubs enter the competition each season, making it the largest football tournament in the world.

How many rounds are there?

There are a total of 6 rounds in the FA Cup, not including the Final. The rounds are:

  • First Round Proper
  • Second Round Proper
  • Third Round Proper
  • Fourth Round Proper
  • Fifth Round Proper
  • Quarter-Finals
  • Semi-Finals
  • Final

The early rounds see lower ranked clubs competing. As the rounds progress, more clubs from the higher divisions enter the competition and the number of teams gets smaller.

When do the rounds take place?

The First Round Proper traditionally takes place in early November. After that, each subsequent round is usually scheduled a few weeks apart:

  • Second Round Proper: late November/early December
  • Third Round Proper: early January
  • Fourth Round Proper: late January
  • Fifth Round Proper: mid February
  • Quarter-Finals: middle of March
  • Semi-Finals: April
  • Final: May

The Final is always held at Wembley Stadium and is the last domestic match of the English football season.

What happens in each round?

First Round Proper

The First Round Proper sees the entrance of the 48 clubs from League One (third tier) and League Two (fourth tier). They join the 32 non-league clubs who came through the qualifying rounds.

A total of 80 clubs compete in 40 matches in the First Round Proper. The winners progress to the Second Round.

Second Round Proper

The 40 winners from the First Round are joined by the clubs from the Championship (second tier).

Again, 40 matches are played to determine who goes through to the next stage.

Third Round Proper

The Third Round Proper is when the Premier League clubs enter the competition. It is considered the “proper” start of the FA Cup because the big teams now take part.

A total of 64 clubs play 32 matches in the Third Round. There are usually some exciting David vs Goliath style matches as minnows are drawn against the elite clubs.

Fourth Round Proper

The 32 winners from the previous round play in 16 matches in the Fourth Round Proper. By this stage there are unlikely to be any really small clubs left. The competition starts to get serious.

Fifth Round Proper

Only 16 teams remain by the Fifth Round. They compete in 8 matches to reach the quarter-finals.


The 8 winners from Round Five play in 4 matches over one weekend. The semi-finalists are determined.


The last 4 teams play in 2 matches, hosted at neutral venues, over one weekend. The winners go through to the showpiece Final.


The Final is hosted at Wembley Stadium in London. It is one of the biggest occasions in the English football calendar and attended by around 85,000 spectators.

The Final match determines the winner of the FA Cup trophy.

How are ties decided?

In the early rounds, ties are determined by a random draw. The balls of the participating clubs are placed into a bowl and then drawn out to determine who faces who.

From the Third Round onwards, there are no restrictions on the draw so any club can face any other. This allows for exciting matches between top flight and lower league clubs.

All matches are decided on the day, with extra time and penalties used if required after a 90 minute draw.

There are no replays from the Fifth Round onwards to ensureties are completed on the day.

Who qualifies to enter the competition?

All clubs from the Premier League (Level 1) down to the National League North/South (Level 6) receive an automatic entry into the FA Cup.

Below the National Leagues, clubs have to compete in qualifying rounds in August and September to win a place in the First Round Proper.

The early qualifying rounds are organized on a regional basis to reduce travel costs for small clubs.

In total 736 clubs entered the FA Cup in the 2022-23 season.

What is the prize money?

There is substantial prize money on offer in the FA Cup, especially for smaller clubs. The further a club progresses, the larger their share of the pot.

For the 2022-23 season, the prize fund totals £16.2 million. Here is how it is distributed:

Round Prize Money
First Round Proper winners £41,000
Second Round Proper winners £67,000
Third Round Proper winners £105,000
Fourth Round Proper winners £120,000
Fifth Round Proper winners £225,000
Quarter-Final winners £450,000
Semi-Final winners £1,000,000
Semi-Final losers £500,000
Runners-Up £900,000
Winners £1,800,000

The FA Cup winners collect £1.8 million in prize money plus the famous trophy.

For lower league clubs, earning a few hundred thousand pounds from a good FA Cup run can make a huge difference financially.

Who has won the Cup the most times?

Arsenal hold the record for the most FA Cup wins, having lifted the trophy 14 times. Their last triumph came in 2020.

Manchester United have won 12 FA Cups but their last win was back in 2016.

Chelsea are the current holders having beaten Liverpool on penalties in the 2022 final. It was their 9th FA Cup success.

Here are the teams with the most FA Cup wins:

Club Wins
Arsenal 14
Manchester United 12
Chelsea 9
Tottenham Hotspur 8
Liverpool 7
Aston Villa 7

Which club has appeared in the most finals?

Arsenal and Manchester United are again the stand outs here. Arsenal have appeared in 21 FA Cup finals, while Manchester United have reached 20.

Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton make up the top 5 most final appearances:

Club Finals Reached
Arsenal 21
Manchester United 20
Chelsea 16
Tottenham Hotspur 9
Everton 9

Biggest FA Cup shocks

The FA Cup is renowned for producing upsets or “giant killings” as lower ranked teams knock out those from the top flight. Here are some of the biggest shocks:

  • Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 – 1992: The non-league side came from behind to dump out the reigning league champions.
  • Hereford 2 Newcastle 1 – 1972: Hereford of the Southern League shocked Newcastle of the First Division.
  • Sutton United 2 Coventry 1 – 1989: The non-league outfit beat top-flight Coventry thanks to two late goals.
  • Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 0 – 1988: The famous “Crazy Gang” upset the mighty Liverpool who were league champions at the time.
  • Shrewsbury 2 Everton 1 – 2003: Division One Shrewsbury defeated Premier League Everton who had both Wayne Rooney and Duncan Ferguson playing.

Most FA Cup wins as a manager

Arsène Wenger enjoyed tremendous success in the FA Cup during his 22 seasons as Arsenal manager. He guided them to victory 7 times.

Alex Ferguson won the Cup 5 times with Manchester United.

George Ramsey is the manager with the most FA Cup wins overall, securing 6 trophies with Aston Villa in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Manager FA Cup Wins
Arsène Wenger 7
Alex Ferguson 5
George Ramsey 6
Joe Mercer 5
Thomas Mitchell 5

Most goals scored

Ian Rush scored 39 FA Cup goals during his career, more than any other player. He won the competition twice with Liverpool.

Other top scorers include:

  • Frank Lampard – 26 goals
  • Alan Shearer – 24 goals
  • Wayne Rooney – 23 goals
  • Andy Cole – 21 goals

Shearer has the record for most goals scored in a single FA Cup campaign, notching 9 on the way to helping Blackburn win it in 1995.

Highest attendances

The record attendance for an FA Cup Final is 126,047 at Wembley Stadium for the White Horse Final in 1923 between Bolton and West Ham. It was the first FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley.

The highest ever attendance at a club ground for an FA Cup tie is 83,260 at Maine Road for Manchester City vs Stoke City in 1934.

The largest modern attendance is 79,871 at Old Trafford to watch Manchester United defeat Arsenal in the 1999 semi-final replay.

Match Attendance
Bolton vs West Ham – 1923 FA Cup Final 126,047
Man City vs Stoke City – 1934 6th Round 83,260
Man Utd vs Arsenal – 1999 Semi-Final Replay 79,871

Youngest and oldest winners

The youngest player to ever appear in an FA Cup Final was Curtis Weston. He was 17 years and 119 days old when he came on as a substitute for Millwall in 2004.

The youngest captain in a Final was Billy Garraty. He was 20 years, 160 days old when he captained Old Etonians in 1882.

The oldest player to win the FA Cup is Billy Hampson. He was 41 years and 257 days old when he won it with Newcastle United in 1924.

The oldest goalscorer in a final is Bob Chatt from Barnsley. He scored the winner for Barnsley in the 1912 FA Cup Final at the age of 36 years, 293 days.


The FA Cup has a magical appeal and a rich history spanning over 150 years. It remains one of the most famous domestic cup competitions in world football due to its “giant killing” ethos and David vs Goliath intrigue.

While the biggest Premier League clubs now field weakened teams in the early rounds, the FA Cup is still hugely important for lower league teams. The financial windfall and prestige associated with a good Cup run can sustain a small club for many seasons.

The extensive qualification process allows minnows from all levels to dare to dream of reaching Wembley Stadium. And the random unseeded draws throw up exciting, unusual and unpredictable matches from the early rounds all the way to the Final.

Arsenal hold numerous FA Cup records, but there is no dominant force. Pre-match underdogs still consistently find a way to topple the giants of English football. This is precisely the magic that makes the FA Cup so special.

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