How is the FA Cup structure?

The FA Cup is one of the most prestigious football competitions in England and the world. It is the oldest national football competition in the world, having been contested for the first time in the 1871-72 season. Over 750 clubs enter the FA Cup each season, but only one can lift the famous trophy at Wembley Stadium.

What is the FA Cup?

The FA Cup is an annual knockout football competition in men’s domestic English football, run by and named after The Football Association (The FA). It is open to any club down to Level 10 of the English football league system, which is the tenth tier. This allows over 700 clubs to enter each season.

It is the oldest national football competition in the world, having commenced in the 1871-72 season. It was originally known as the Football Association Challenge Cup until the name was changed to the FA Cup at the beginning of the 1921-22 season.

When and Where is the FA Cup Played?

The FA Cup takes place every year, beginning in August with the extra preliminary round and concluding in May with the final at Wembley Stadium in London.

Here is an overview of the timeline and key dates:

August Extra Preliminary Round
September Preliminary Round
October First Round Proper
November Second Round Proper
December Third Round Proper
January Fourth Round Proper
February Fifth Round Proper
March Quarter Finals
April Semi Finals
May Final at Wembley Stadium

The early rounds are played on a geographical basis to minimize travel costs, with clubs from the lower tiers entering at this stage. The rounds progress until the semi-finals and final which are contested at Wembley Stadium in London.

What is the FA Cup Format and Structure?

The FA Cup has a straightforward knockout format. This means clubs are randomly drawn against each other in each round, with the winner progressing and the loser being eliminated. There are no group stages or aggregates – it is a simple case of win the match on the day or you are out!

There are 6 rounds prior to the quarter-finals:

  • Extra Preliminary Round
  • Preliminary Round
  • First Round Proper
  • Second Round Proper
  • Third Round Proper
  • Fourth Round Proper

The quarter-finals see 8 teams remaining, reduced to 4 for the semi-finals. The semi-finals and final take place at Wembley Stadium.

In the early qualifying rounds, fixtures are organized on geographical grounds to reduce travel costs for smaller non-league sides entering the competition.

The First Round Proper sees the entry of the 48 clubs from League One and League Two. The Second Round Proper brings in the clubs from the Championship.

The Third Round Proper marks the introduction of the Premier League clubs plus the 20 highest placed sides from the previous season’s FA Cup. This is considered the proper start of the FA Cup by many.

Who Enters the FA Cup?

There are 736 clubs accepted into the 2022-23 FA Cup:

  • 20 clubs from the Premier League (Level 1)
  • 24 clubs from the Championship (Level 2)
  • 48 clubs from League One (Level 3)
  • 48 clubs from League Two (Level 4)
  • 80 clubs from National League (Level 5 & 6)
  • 670 clubs from Steps 1-6 of the National League System (Levels 7-10)

This demonstrates the truly inclusive nature of the famous cup competition. In theory, any club in England that plays in a Saturday league can enter the FA Cup.

Who are the Most Successful Teams in FA Cup History?

Arsenal hold the record for the most FA Cup wins with 14 victories. Manchester United have won 12 FA Cups, while Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have 8 FA Cup wins each.

Here is a summary of the most successful teams:

Team Wins
Arsenal 14
Manchester United 12
Tottenham Hotspur 8
Chelsea 8
Liverpool 7

Arsenal hold the record for the most FA Cup final wins with 21. Manchester United have appeared in 20 finals, while Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have reached 16 FA Cup finals.

In the modern era, Arsenal has won the cup 4 times in the last decade while Chelsea has won 5 times since 2000. Manchester United most recently lifted the trophy in 2016.

Why is the FA Cup so Prestigious?

There are several key factors that contribute to the FA Cup’s prestige and status as one of the most famous domestic cup competitions in football:

History and Tradition

The long, rich history and tradition of the FA Cup is a huge contributor to its allure. Having commenced in 1871-72, it is by far the oldest football competition in the world and its legacy is unmatched. Several famous moments have occurred through the decades such as giant-killings, shocks, and outstanding goals.


The inclusive nature of the FA Cup adds to its charm as over 700 teams compete. At the outset, amateur, non-league and semi-pro teams get the chance to play against pros from the Football League. It provides the opportunity for “minnows” to become “giant-killers” by knocking out bigger sides.


It retains an air of prestige as the pinnacle of domestic cup football in England. The final is traditionally held at Wembley Stadium, adding to the sense of occasion. Winning the FA Cup is still seen as a major achievement.


The random draw and single knockout tie format makes it notoriously difficult to predict winners. This unpredictability adds drama and excitement to the competition. Anything can happen – big upsets and surprise outcomes are always possible.

Why Does the Winner Qualify for the Europa League?

The FA Cup winners are awarded a place in the following season’s Europa League. This spot is granted to the Cup winners to provide additional European qualification as reward for winning the prestigious competition.

UEFA grants Europa League spots to the FA Cup winners in the following circumstances:

  • If the Cup winners have already qualified for Europe through other means (e.g. league position), their Europa League place goes to the FA Cup runners-up
  • If the Cup winners (and runners-up) have already qualified for the Champions League, their Europa League spot is granted to the next-highest ranked team in the Premier League

This system provides incentive for English clubs to take the FA Cup seriously. It offers a potential route into European competition and the chance for silverware.

FA Cup Final Venue and Tickets

The FA Cup Final takes place every year in May at Wembley Stadium in London. It is the highlight of the English domestic football calendar and concludes the FA Cup competition.

Wembley Stadium has a capacity of 90,000 spectators. Ticket allocation is split between the two finalists. Season ticket holders and members of each club receive priority, followed by the general public if availability allows.

Ticket prices vary from year to year but expect to pay around £150-£300 per ticket depending on the area of the stadium. Hospitality packages are also available at premium rates.

The famous venue of Wembley Stadium adds prestige and history to the occasion. Walking up Wembley Way and into the stadium on FA Cup Final day is considered a lifelong dream for many football fans.

FA Cup Prize Money

Substantial prize money is on offer to clubs competing in the FA Cup, especially those that progress to the latter stages. The further a team advances, the greater their financial reward is.

For the 2022-23 season, these are the prize funds on offer at each stage:

Round Prize Money
Extra Preliminary £1,125
Preliminary £1,444
First Round Proper £9,375
Second Round Proper £18,750
Third Round Proper £105,000
Fourth Round Proper £120,000
Fifth Round Proper £225,000
Quarter Finals £450,000
Semi Finals £1 million
Winners £2 million

This prize money can make a major financial difference, especially to smaller clubs from the lower leagues. The FA Cup therefore provides the added incentive of a monetary windfall for progressing through the rounds.

Reaching the Quarter Finals guarantees a club at least £525,000 in prize money. Getting to the Semi Finals nets £1.5 million. The winners receive a £2 million bonus on top of earlier round earnings.

Giant Killings and Memorable FA Cup Shocks

The FA Cup is renowned for its giant killings and memorable shock results throughout history. The random single elimination format means minnows always have a chance of defeating giants.

Some of the most famous giant killings include:

  • Wrexham 2–1 Arsenal (1992): Non-league side Wrexham stunned reigning champions Arsenal.
  • Wimbledon 1–0 Liverpool (1988): “The Crazy Gang” beat one of England’s top clubs Liverpool.
  • Hereford 2–1 Newcastle (1972): Non-league Hereford famously knocked out top flight Newcastle.
  • Sutton United 2–1 Coventry City (1989): Another non-league side Sutton sent Coventry packing.

There have been several high-profile upsets in recent editions too:

  • Wigan 1-0 Man City (2013): Underdogs Wigan shocked star-studded Man City to win the Cup.
  • Lincoln City 1-0 Burnley (2017): Non-league Lincoln knocked out Premier League side Burnley.
  • Newport County 2-1 Leeds (2019): Newport of League Two defeated Championship high-flyers Leeds.

The next giant killing could be just around the corner. This ever-present potential for cup shocks adds significant romance, drama and legacy to the FA Cup.

FA Cup Final Day Traditions

A number of traditions and quirks surround FA Cup Final day which make it a unique occasion in the football calendar:

Pre-Match Build Up

Massive media hype surrounds the event in the week leading up. There are numerous preview shows, special FA Cup magazines, and coverage analysing the tactical matchups.

Team Arrival

Both teams arrive separately at Wembley Stadium, greeted by cheering fans as they step off the coach outside the ground. Players then inspect the pitch and familiarize themselves with the surroundings.

Walk Out Music

Each team walks out onto the pitch accompanied by their chosen music. This allows an expression of identity – popular choices include club anthems or songs with local significance.

National Anthem

The pre-match national anthem provides a patriotic moment to appreciate before the serious action begins. It reminds that while two clubs are competing, they represent England as a whole.

Minute’s Silence

A minute’s silence in respect of those connected with football who died in the previous year provides an emotional note. This shared moment of quiet reflection demonstrates how the FA Cup final brings people together.

Abide With Me

The traditional FA Cup hymn “Abide With Me” is sung before kick-off by the crowd. Its lyrics evoke a sense of solace and community.

Red Arrows Flypast

The Royal Air Force’s famous aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, perform a flypast over Wembley Stadium during the pre-match build up. This visually striking moment adds patriotic flair.


The FA Cup is deeply woven into the fabric of English football. Its unique knockout format delivers consistent drama, surprise results, and legacy moments. Offering over 700 clubs the chance to achieve glory, it represents inclusivity in action. No matter what level you play at, the road to Wembley begins with a dream. For the winners, lifting the iconic trophy on FA Cup Final day can inspire generations to come. This is why it remains football’s oldest and most prestigious knockout competition.

Leave a Comment