No. 9 in an occasional series.
Epsom & Ewell were the runners-up in the first ever FA Vase Cup Final in 1975, losing 2-1 to Hoddesdon Town, but the club’s one and only appearance in the FA Cup First Round happened over 40 years earlier when they were still known as Epsom Town.
The club formed towards the end of the First World War in 1918 under the name Epsom Juniors converting to the Town moniker five years later when members of the Sutton and District League and the Southern Suburban League. Epsom Town made the step up and joined the Surrey Senior League in 1924 and by virtue of being in that league were also able to make their debut in the FA Cup. A narrow 1-0 defeat at Athenian League side West Norwood in the Preliminary Round ended the club’s first Cup run as soon as it had begun. This was followed a season later by a home loss by the odd goal in seven to Tooting Town from the London League, a league Epsom Town were promoted to the following season after winning the Surrey Senior League title.
That move to the London League coincided with the club’s first FA Cup win, a 3-2 home victory over Tooting’s future merge partner Mitcham Wanderers from the same Division. This was followed up with a revenge 4-1 win at West Norwood in the First Qualifying Round who were now playing in the Surrey Senior League, and a 2-0 home win over Sutton United playing in the Athenian League. The Cup run came to an abrupt halt in the Third Qualifying Round with a 3-2 defeat at Isthmian League side Wimbledon.
The Third Qualifying Round would not be surpassed until the club’s record breaking run to the First Round six years later, although they did match it in 1929/30 when the yet again lost to Wimbledon but this time by a heavy 7-1 margin, and in 1932/33 when losing 3-1 to Metropolitan Police who had made the First Round for the first time themselves the previous season.
By the 1933/34 season Epsom Town had established themselves as one of the top London League clubs having won the League in their first season and finished runners-up in each of the previous two seasons, so a good Cup run was overdue. First up was a trip to Woking in the Preliminary Round. Woking were members of the higher Isthmian League and Epsom Town did well to secure a 1-1 draw. Nothing could separate the two sides after 90 minutes in the replay either, with the scores locked at two each, but Epsom ran riot in the extra 30 minutes to run out 5-2 winners. Up next was another Isthmian League side in the shape of Nunhead who had gone as far as the Second Round of the FA Cup seven years previously. Epsom had no trouble despatching another higher league side, this time by three goals to nil. The Second Qualifying Round saw the club go up against the now merged Tooting & Mitcham United competing with Epsom Town in the London League Premier Division. Epsom scraped through 1-0 to reach the Third Qualifying Round for the fourth time.
In the Third Qualifying Round they faced Beddington Corner from the Surrey Senior League. Their higher league standing paid off and Epsom won the tie 4-2 to set a new personal best for the club in the competition. Their Fourth Round visitors would be Leytonstone, another Isthmian League club, but a club like Epsom yet to taste FA Cup ‘Proper’ Round football. Leytonstone were no match for Epsom on the day and became the club’s third Isthmian League victims losing 3-1, a result that would send Epsom into uncharted territory and the opportunity to meet a well-known League team.
The draw sent Epsom to face another Leyton based club in the shape of Clapton Orient, a Third Division South side who had been competing in League football since 1905 and who had made the FA Cup Quarter Finals just eight years previously. Clapton Orient stormed into a three goal lead, but two quick goals by Epsom Town from Marlow and Graves with just under 30 minutes remaining gave the London League side hope of causing an upset, only for Orient to grab a fourth before the end.
Epsom Town changed its name to just Epsom soon after and continued using that name until the end of the 1960 season when it changed once again to Epsom and Ewell. The club had failed to come close to repeating its appearance in the First Round of the FA Cup with just one Third Qualifying Round game prior to 1960, and has only ever come close on one other occasion, a run to the Fourth Qualifying Round in 1980/81 season when members of Isthmian League Division One. A 1-0 home win over Eastbourne Town (Sussex County League Division One) followed by a 3-1 home win over Margate (Southern League South), and then a 1-0 home win over Ashford Town (Southern League South) saw the club just one step away from emulating its 1933/34 performance. Unfortunately Epsom and Ewell was drawn away at Enfield, a club with decent recent FA Cup form and about to become a founder member of the new Alliance Premier League. Epsom and Ewell crashed out with a heavy 5-0 defeat and aside from two Third Qualifying Round appearances within the next four seasons, the club has not come close to re-appearing in the ‘Proper’ Rounds again.
However, that 1933/34 First Round match in front of nearly 10,000 spectators will long be cherished by the Epsom and Ewell faithful alongside that memorable appearance at Wembley Stadium 41 years later.