It’s hard enough trying to win FA Cup matches on the pitch without having to concern yourself with whether or not you’ve fallen foul of the latest FA Rules and Regulations. Over the 136 seasons that the FA Cup has taken place a total of (coincidentally) 136 clubs have been disqualified from the competition, an average of just one club per season. Not too bad a number given the amount of matches that have been played since the FA Cup started in the 1871-72 season, but obviously some periods in its history warranted more disqualifications than others.
Reasons for disqualifications range from refusal to play extra time at the end of a drawn match after 90 minutes (Sheffield were the first club to fall foul of this rule in 1879-80), paying players (a major digression in the 19th Century), playing an ineligible player (the most common reason for expulsion) and not having a ground meeting the FA Cup standards (Glebe fell afoul of this rule as recently as this 2015-16 season).
The FA Cup had been running for eight seasons without a single club being disqualified (although many had scratched and/or refused to travel), but the variations in rules and conflicting views on professionalism between Northern clubs and Southern clubs soon caused the FA a whole host of problems, with Southern based clubs in particular complaining that their opponents were flouting the rules. These protests often led to matches being replayed rather than to expulsions.
However, the first instance of a club being disqualified came about in a match in 1879-80 involving two Northern based clubs, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield. The two clubs drew 2-2 in their Fourth Round tie and Sheffield expected that to mean there would be a need for a replay. However, the FA rules at the time indicated that a replay would only be necessary if the two clubs were still level after extra time. Sheffield refused to play the extra 30 minutes and were subsequently booted out of the competition.
Bizarrely, Sheffield had been the beneficiary of an older rule in the 1873-74 season when after two draws with Shropshire Wanderers in the First Round of that year’s competition, Sheffield progressed on the toss of a coin, the first and only time this method of determining the winner of an FA Cup tie was ever used.
Reading was the next club to be disqualified two seasons after Sheffield following a Second Round 1-1 draw with West End, probably for the same reasons of not playing the extra half hour, but the real issues came about two further seasons on in 1883-84 as the unstoppable momentum of professionalism came more and more to the fore. Rossendale, later Rossendale United, was the first club to be disqualified for paying some or all of their players in an FA Cup match in their 6-2 First Round win over Irwell Springs.
Preston North End were notorious at the time in tempting the best players from Scotland to join them using a whole myriad of enticements designed to hoodwink the FA so as not to fall foul of their anti-professionalism stance. However, the FA became wise to their methods and Preston were disqualified from the 1883-84 competition following a 1-1 home draw with Upton Park. The Lilywhites would go on to become one of nine clubs to be expelled from the FA Cup twice by the FA, although to avoid this likely punishment the following season they just refused to enter the competition.
Another club to be kicked out due to professionalism in 1883-84 was Accrington (and again the following season). They had won their Second Round match at Blackburn Park Road 3-2 but were found by the FA to have paid some of their players. Blackburn Park Road however refused to be re-instated and withdrew from the competition. They themselves would be disqualified for the same reason in the 1887-88 season after a 2-1 First Round win over Northern Irish club Distillery.
Chaos reigned in the FA Cup throughout the next four seasons because of the FA’s stance on professionalism and clubs’ variety of attempts to disguise that they were paying players. Lots of matches would be voided following protests and 21 times the FA decided that there was enough evidence to disqualify clubs, on several occasions kicking out both sides.
This chaos eventually led to mockery in the 1887-88 season. Everton took four attempts to defeat Bolton Wanderers in the First Round before going on to lose 6-1 to Preston North End in the Second Round. However, following this Second Round match, the FA discovered Everton had paid players in more than one of their matches against Bolton and disqualified them, re-instating Bolton in the process and making Preston have to play Bolton despite already making it to the Third Round. Preston had no trouble defeating Bolton winning 9-1 to make the Third Round for the second time in the same season!
This reprieve for Bolton Wanderers was the third time the club had progressed in the FA Cup thanks to their opponents being disqualified (the other two were Rawtenstall and Preston North End both in 1885-86), and the club hold the record for most times making the next round due to opponent’s disqualifications.
Eventually the FA conceded to the inevitable and clubs were allowed to pay their players in FA Cup matches. This co-incided with the formation of the Football League, but the number of clubs being disqualified didn’t diminish too much over the next few seasons. A record high number of nine clubs had been disqualified in the 1885-86 season, but six seasons later there were still six teams disqualified, the second highest total in one season. Amongst those to be ejected from the competition that year were clubs called Royton and Spennymoor (who beat Halliwell 6-3 and Whitby 4-3 respectively), notable in that that game was both clubs’ only ever match played in the FA Cup.
As the nineteenth century became the twentieth the number of clubs per season being disqualified numbered no more than two per season, and this was the case right up until the outbreak of the First World War. Following the cessation of hostilities, however, there was a sudden spike in clubs being expelled based mainly on issues with registrations, physical availability of enough valid players, and a mix of local people and stationed / demobilised armed forces personnel. The 1920-21 season saw six clubs ejected and the 1922-23 season saw five clubs kicked out of the competition. However, things soon calmed down again; until the Second World War broke out, that is.
The problems that had dogged clubs after the Great War re-surfaced in the immediate years following World War II, with six clubs once again being removed in the 1945-46 season, but unlike the previous post war period player availabiluty issues were resolved within a season and Runcorn, in the 1953-54 season, were the last club to be disqualified (strangely ejected after losing 2-0 at Witton Albion) for 27 years when Marine were expelled in 1980-81 after a 1-0 win over Gateshead.
Since the mid-1980s it has been quite unusual for clubs to be ejected from the competition, mainly due to ineligible players, with three clubs in both 1998-99 and 2004-05 the highest single season total since then. Greenwich Borough are the only club so far to be kicked out twice in the 21st Century (2000-01 after 1-0 win over Hythe United and 2004-05 after 6-3 win over Eastbourne United Association), Calne Town became the latest club to be disqualified for a second time in 2010-11 (the first time as Calne and Harris United 80 years earlier), Droylsden became the first club in almost 120 years to be disqualified in the ‘Proper’ Rounds after fielding an ineligible player in their 2-1 2008-09 Second Round victory over Chesterfield, Kent based club Glebe were expelled from the competition in 2015-16 after the FA deemed their ground was not up to the correct standard and put Tunbridge Wells through to the Preliminary Round at their expense.
In 2016-17 season Shropshire based Shawbury United were expelled from the competition after someone switched off their floodlights with eight minutes remaining in their Extra Preliminary Round replay with Coventry United after there had been a lengthy delay awaiting for an ambulance to treat an injured player. Coventry United were 1-0 up at the time.