How many FA Cup qualifying games are there?

The FA Cup is one of the most prestigious football competitions in England. It is open to all clubs from the Premier League down to amateur level. With so many teams entering, the FA Cup has an extensive qualifying competition to determine which teams will enter the first round proper. But just how many qualifying games are there in the FA Cup each season?

Overview of the FA Cup

The Football Association Challenge Cup, better known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout football competition in England. First held in 1871-72, it is the oldest national football competition in the world. It is open to any men’s football team affiliated with The Football Association, the governing body of football in England.

Over 700 clubs enter the FA Cup each season. These include the 92 professional clubs in the top four tiers of the English football league system from the Premier League through League Two. The remaining entrants come from the vast network of amateur and semi-pro clubs that make up the National League System (NLS). This covers the 5th-10th tiers of English football.

With so many clubs vying to reach the final at Wembley and lift the famous FA Cup trophy, an extensive qualifying competition is required at the start of each season.

FA Cup Format

The FA Cup begins in August with the extra preliminary round. Clubs from Level 9 and 10 of the NLS enter at this stage. The winners progress through further qualifying rounds before the first round proper in November when League One and League Two clubs join the competition.

Premier League and Championship clubs enter in the third round in January. Rounds continue through the season with replays if matches end in a draw. Semi-finals are held at Wembley in April before the final in May.

Number of Qualifying Rounds

There are six rounds of FA Cup qualifying:

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

Winning teams progress until the Fourth Round Qualifying which is the last before the First Round Proper when Football League teams enter.

How Many Games in Each Qualifying Round?

The number of fixtures in each qualifying round depends on the number of clubs entering the competition and the results of the previous rounds.

Here is a breakdown of the number of fixtures in each of the six FA Cup qualifying rounds:

Extra Preliminary Round

The extra preliminary round sees between 160-200 clubs compete in 80-100 matches. Teams entering at this stage play in Level 9 or 10 of the NLS.

Preliminary Round

Around 320 clubs play in the preliminary round across 160 fixtures. Winners from the extra preliminary round are joined by teams from Level 8 of the NLS.

First Round Qualifying

Some 224 clubs contest 112 matches in the first qualifying round. Level 7 NLS clubs enter at this stage.

Second Round Qualifying

The second qualifying round features 160 clubs playing 80 ties.

Third Round Qualifying

Just 116 teams remain for the third qualifying round. They compete in 58 games.

Fourth Round Qualifying

The fourth qualifying round is the final stage before the First Round Proper. 64 non-league clubs play in 32 matches hoping to make it into the main FA Cup draw.

Total Number of Qualifying Matches

Adding up the fixtures across the six qualifying rounds gives us the total number of FA Cup qualifying matches:

  • Extra Preliminary Round: 80-100 matches
  • Preliminary Round: 160 matches
  • First Round Qualifying: 112 matches
  • Second Round Qualifying: 80 matches
  • Third Round Qualifying: 58 matches
  • Fourth Round Qualifying: 32 matches

So in total, there are typically between 522-542 FA Cup qualifying matches played leading up to the First Round Proper each season.

This allows over 700 clubs the chance to progress through the qualifying stages and reach the main FA Cup competition. For lower league sides, the financial rewards and prestige associated with a good FA Cup run are huge incentives. The qualifying matches often produce classic ‘giant-killing’ Cup upsets as amateur clubs look to knock out their professional opponents.

When are the FA Cup Qualifying Rounds Held?

The FA Cup qualifying schedule sees the six rounds held over a period of three and a half months through late summer and early autumn:

Round Typical Dates
Extra Preliminary Round Mid August
Preliminary Round Late August
First Round Qualifying Early September
Second Round Qualifying Late September
Third Round Qualifying Mid October
Fourth Round Qualifying Late October

The Fourth Round Qualifying typically takes place on the last weekend of October. The First Round Proper then begins in early November.

This schedule allows the qualifiers to take place before the winter weather arrives while avoiding clashes with the early stages of the English Football League season.

Qualifying Round Venues

The qualifying matches take place at the home ground of one of the competing clubs, with the venue usually alternating each round. Games are often played at modest community sports grounds that provide a quintessential grassroots cup tie experience.

However, some clubs who have fallen on hard times rent out larger stadiums for their ‘big cup match’. For example, in recent seasons fallen giants Stockport County and Wrexham have staged qualifiers at Manchester United’s Old Trafford and Everton’s Goodison Park respectively to maximize their revenue.

Notable Giant-Killing Qualifying Results

While lower ranked sides are expected to be knocked out in the qualifying rounds, the FA Cup is renowned for its ‘giant-killing’ upsets. Some of the competition’s biggest ever shocks have occurred in the qualifiers:

  • 1973 – Non-league Hereford United beat top-flight Newcastle United 2-1 in a third round replay at Edgar Street.
  • 1989 – Sutton United claimed a 2-1 second round win against reigning First Division champions Coventry City.
  • 2012 – Northern Premier League side Bradford Park Avenue defeated League Two club Crawley Town 2-1 in a preliminary round replay.

These results show why the qualifying rounds are such an exciting introduction to the FA Cup. Even the lowest-ranked entrants believe they can cause a famous upset on their way to the First Round Proper.


In summary, there are around 540 matches played across six rounds of FA Cup qualifying each season. The extra preliminary round kicks off in mid-August with clubs from Levels 9 and 10 of the NLS.

Successive rounds continue through late summer and autumn until the fourth qualifying round in late October. This final stage determines which 32 non-league clubs will join the Football League teams in the First Round Proper in November.

The qualifying competition allows over 700 clubs the chance to experience the magic of the world’s oldest football cup. And the possibility of a ‘giant-killing’ ensures the qualifying rounds deliver their fair share of classic FA Cup drama and excitement.

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