Why does the FA Cup have such a hold on me? Why do I have a passion for following the exploits of teams that have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever lifting the famous trophy? Why have I been obsessed with capturing the records of every club that has ever entered the competition? It’s not as if my club has any real pedigree in the competition, well not in my conscious lifetime anyway.
I’ve supported Leeds United since the early seventies, but I have only a vague recollection of watching their 1972 triumph ‘live’ on TV, even though I know I did. I have a better memory of watching the final the following year, although that might be because it is replayed ad nauseum every time Sunderland play a cup game. And since then, just two semi-finals and a spattering of quarter finals is all that the club has to show for over 40 years of effort. Given that only 15 different clubs have won the competition since 1972, there must be millions of football fans in the same boat.
I’ve not even been to Wembley to watch a Cup Final, only wanting to go to watch Leeds. I’ve seen them play there in the Charity Shield against Liverpool, and I’ve experienced Wembley old and new through attending the first FA Vase final (my home town team Epsom & Ewell were in it – lost), the FA Trophy final with Southport (a former home town team – lost), and watching several England Internationals. I’ve even seen an American Football match and Madonna there. Of course, I’ve seen all the finals over the past 40 years on TV, and watched with dismay as, what was once the crowning glory to the end of the domestic season, become ever diminished by a combination of TV scheduling, Premier League dominance and Champions League finals. Or money in other words.
In the late 90s I moved to South Oxfordshire, not an area known for being a hotbed of football, and I began to watch local games, opting to spread my attendance across many teams within the County and in the surrounding area rather than focusing on just one team. The early stages of the FA Cup were the perfect platform to get to experience as many clubs as possible. And through attending these matches, I saw a side to football that wasn’t evident in what was being served up on TV, a difference that would become more and more pronounced in line with the increasing financial support for the game at the top level. This was football by the people, for the people. Those that played the game knew those that watched the game. Those that invested in the game did so because the club, and the town it represented, meant something to them. There was a community feel, people were giving their precious time for the club, and everyone was ‘in it together’. A far cry from the ivory tower of the Premier League.
So I wanted to know more about those clubs that took part in the early stages of the FA Cup, hundreds and hundreds of clubs in the competition that the media ignore and the general football watching public are oblivious about. I discovered Tony Brown’s excellent Complete FA Cup book, The Football Club History Database on the internet and Mike Collett’s FA Cup Complete Records book, and I decided (being the completist that I am and because it didn’t exist), that I wanted to collate every possible result to determine every club’s record, no matter how insignificant. It’s not possible to get that deep into anything without it becoming etched on your heart. I already had a passion for football stats at the top level, and now I had transferred that passion for the records of thousands of clubs, current and past, and in particular how they have performed in the FA Cup.
And now I have completed my task (although it needs updating every season). I have a record of over 3,000 clubs’ FA Cup performances, and because of my inherent penchant for statistical analysis I have been able to produce unique new insights into those performances, which I now share via Twitter (@FACupFactfile), sometimes facts that only one person would be interested in, other times surprising facts that a wider audience wants to know about. I love finding new nuggets of information, I love sharing that information with those with a similar passion for the competition and I love watching clubs in those early round matches and seeing their delight at progressing to the next round. I now get more pleasure in following these clubs’ exploits than in Leeds United’s own performance (although I’d still love to see them in a final at Wembley).
In short, I just love the FA Cup!