By A. J. FRAIN.
The Football Association Challenge Cup was first competed for in 1872, fully sixteen years before the Football League came into existence. In the first Final a famous London team, Wanderers, beat Royal Engineers at Kennington Oval, before 3,000 spectators. At least one man who played in that Final is still alive. He tells us that there was no referee in those days and no penalty–kicks. During the game nearly every member of the winning side took a turn in goal—as that position was considered too boring and inactive for one man to occupy for 90 minutes.
Shorts were unknown then, as also were coloured jerseys. If the teams were distinguished from each other at all it was by wearing different coloured caps—hence the International Cap which still survives.
Wanderers though like all the clubs of that period they were strictly amateur, of course, must have been the Arsenal of their day. They appeared in the Cup Final five times during its first seven yealts and were never on the losing side. By their last success in 1876 (their third in succession) they won the Cup outright. But they sportingly returned it to the F.A. for further competition and they themselves retired from Cup warfare.
Other teams prominent in those early Finals were Oxford University and Royal Engineers (each of whom appeared in four and were victorious once), Old Donjons and Old Carthusians. The Cup first went North in 1883, when Blackburn Olympic defeated Old Etonians 2-1, after extra time. Professionalism had crept into the game then and for some years Blackburn " farmed " the Cup. Rovers succeeded the Olympic, and carried it off for three years in succession. For this feat they received not the Cup itself but a special commemorative trophy.
From Old Carthusians winning it in 1882 until Tottenham Hotspur were successful in 1921 the Cup was never won by a Southern club, Aston Villa, who with Blackburn Rovers share the distinction of having won the Cup the greatest number of times, namely six, were first successful in 1887 when they defeated their near neighbours, West Bromwich. They scored their third victory in 1905. Taking the Cup home theyplaced it on show in a Birmingham shop window. One night the window was broken and the Cup stolen. It was never recovered. The present trophy which replaced it cost so guineas.
For exactly twenty years the Cup Final was played at the famous Surrey cricket ground. In these years the event changed from a purely amateur ' one to a purely professional one, and the " gate " grevv from 3,000 to over 30,000. When football said goodbye to the Oval in 1892 the Final was played in the provinces twice—first at Fallowfield, Manchester, and then at Goodison Park, Liverpool. In 1894, however, it settled down again at the Crystal Palace, where it continued to be held for another twenty years, until the War stopped big football. Fully 120,000 people often watched the Final at the old " Glass House " venue, and in those pre-war days it was essentially a provincial beano.
Now it becomes more and more a fashionable London event. The Ticket Only admission arrangement, which came into existence after the first Wembley Final in 1923, when over 140,000 crowded into the Stadium, and a big disaster was narrowly averted, is a big factor in this. The competing clubs each receive only to,000 of the 92,000 tickets, and most of their -supporters have to stay at home and listen-in.
Teams in the Final
'I'his year's Final has been played by two famous " classic " teams.
Preston North End in their heyday had a name to conjure with in the football world and were called " Proud Preston." They won the Cup in 1888 without having a goal scored against them, and the same season carried off the League Championship without losing a match.
Sunderland formerly fielded the famous " Team of All the Talents." They are the only club which has always been in the First Division, of which they have been champions six times. They have never won the Cup before, though they nearly did in 1913, when Aston Villa defeated them 1-0 at the Palace.