World’s Oldest Football Competition

On this day in 1872, the very first FA Cup final was won by the Wanderers FC, with a final score of 1-0 over the Royal Engineers AFC. The oldest football cup competition in the world was organised by the English FA (Football Association), which until then had only organised friendlies between clubs.

It all started in the London offices of The Sportsman newspaper on 20 July 1871, when footballer and sports administrator Charles William Alcock proposed that every team in the Association was invited to compete in a knockout cup competition. Only a few months later, in November, the first FA Cup kicked off with South London’s Clapham Rovers beating East London’s Upton Park by a score of 3-0.

Only 15 clubs entered the inaugural tournament, and only 12 actually played the total 13 matches in the end. At The Oval cricket ground, Wanderers FC won 1-0 over Royal Engineers AFC—the winning goal scored by one Morton Peto Betts, who played under the pseudonym of A. H. Chequer (in much the same way that Brazilian players perform under pseudonyms such as Robinho, Ronaldo or Ronaldinho). The next year, Wanderers FC defended their title, beating Oxford University in the final.

Needless to say, football was very different in late 19th century Victorian England than it is today. The teams were all amateur and composed of players who worked together, like Royal Engineers FC, or went to the same university, like Oxford University, or were alumni of Old English public schools, like Wanderers FC. Nowadays the FA Cup is still going strong, but none of these three teams are still playing, and The Oval is only used for cricket matches.

The most interesting figure from the early days of the FA Cup is surely its founder, Charles William Alcock. As well as working as FA Secretary from 1870 to 1895, he was also the centre-forward, captain, and founder of Wanderers FC, captain of the national team against Scotland (he scored in a 2-2 draw), and the first player to ever be ruled offside. Ironically, considering this last point, Alcock went on to referee subsequent FA Cup finals in 1875 and 1879, and in 1895 he was named FA Vice President. Nowadays he is often celebrated as the “father of modern sport.”