|The FA Cup trophy|
A near constant in my conversations with casual soccer fans and non-fans alike is the confusion cup competitions cause when trying to understand international soccer. To most American sports fans, a cup competition is an alien concept. Most sports (baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey) in America compete against teams in their league for the league title and that's it. Other than during the preseason, when was the last time the Red Sox played the Yankees with anything other than a trip to the World Series on the line? Matches like the recent clash between Manchester United and Liverpool (check out the highlights here), or Arsenal'sstunning comeback against Aston Villa just wouldn't happen outside of the league in US sports.
In an effort to help the uninitiated begin to understand the craziness that is the soccer fixture list in other parts of the world (and America's domestic soccer scene for that matter), here's a brief history/explanation of the FA Cup:
The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly referred to as the FA Cup, is the oldest soccer competition on the planet. What do you expect from the birthplace of modern soccer? The competition began in 1871 (for some perspective, the oldest soccer club - Sheffield FC - was founded in 1857) and has been played, with the exception of the war years (1915-1919 and 1940-1945), ever since. The first edition was contested with just 15 teams, but gave the Football Association a way to organize a competition on a national level.
Originally the most prestigious competition in English soccer, the FA Cup has in recent memory been overshadowed by the Premier League. So what is the FA Cup's place in relation to the Premier League, Npower Football League, etc.? The FA Cup in its current form is a bit of a free-for-all. Open to members of the English soccer system from the Premier League through step 11 (local, amateur sides), nearly 800 teams take part annually. If an equivalent existed in baseball, it would be a competition that included all teams from Major League Baseball, the minor leagues, independent leagues (like the Frontier League or the Atlantic League) and even local beer leagues. Could you imagine your local rec league baseball team playing against a AA team, or even making it to play a game at Wrigley Field? That's what happens in the FA Cup. Almost every year there's one Cinderella team that makes a run deep into the tournament.
With money and power becoming concentrated in what is arguably the best soccer league in the world; the FA Cup remains relevant as a means for smaller clubs to prove their worth against the "haves" of English soccer. Winning and competing in the FA Cup is a cash windfall for many smaller sides (for more information on how much the FA Cup helps smaller clubs, check out this article from Sky Sports). It also remains relevant for those teams that may not have a chance to win the Premier League. If you can't win the league, go for the cup.
Cup competitions similar to the FA Cup are not localized to England. France with its Coupe de France has a competition that's even crazier than the FA Cup. This season's competition featured over 7,000 clubs, from all levels, competing for the trophy. Other countries that have similar competitions include Scotland, the Netherlands and the United States (watch this space for more information on the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup).
More information on the FA Cup:
- For a comical explanation of terms surrounding the FA Cup, check out this post by Young Goodman Browne on his blog, On the Pitch
- Visit the FA's website: http://www.thefa.com/TheFACup/More/History