History was made in this season’s FA Cup, time after time after time, a phenomenal achievement given this illustrious competition was running for its 136th season.
The record-breaking started way back on the evening of Friday 5th August 2016 when 10 clubs kicked off this season’s competition, the earliest the tournament had ever started, a full 296 days before the FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley on the 27th May, 2017. Extra Preliminary Round matches took place at Hinckley AFC, Ascot United, Sholing FC, Bashley FC (Lymington Town versus Hamworthy United) and at Thame United, where the home side’s Lynton Goss scored the ‘earliest in the season’ FA Cup goal ever recorded in its entire 146 year history.
Also in the Extra Preliminary Round, Cambridgeshire side Yaxley from the United Counties League Premier Division smashed their FA Cup goal-scoring record with a 12-0 demolition of their League rivals Huntingdon Town. It was the equal second highest margin of victory in the FA Cup in the 21st Century and has only been bettered 45 times in over 65,000 FA Cup matches. Bizarrely, Yaxley were then drawn against the previous club to have won 12-0 in the FA Cup, Dereham Town, in the Preliminary Round, a game that lived up to its high-scoring billing by ending four goals apiece with Dereham going on to win the replay via a solitary goal.
Another exciting, but at the time innocuous, Extra Preliminary Round tie saw Hereford based club Westfields knockout local rivals and fellow Midland Football League Premier Division side Stourport Swifts by four goals to three. It was the first time the Swifts had been knocked out of the FA Cup at such an early stage in their 25 campaigns. However, little did we know then that that match would be the launch-pad for an amazing FA Cup journey for Westfields. Twenty-five goals and six wins later, including three against higher-league opposition, the Hereford club found themselves not only in the First Round Proper (three rounds further than they’d ever been before), but also in the media spotlight as the BBC cameras, Dan Walker et al descended on their allpay.park ground.
Westfields were the first club in six years, since Tipton Town and Hythe Town in 2010-11 season, to make it all the way from the Extra Preliminary Round to the First Round Proper. Seven FA Cup ties is one more tie than the eventual winners will have actually competed in, and the club’s eventual tally of 25 goals is the highest total scored in the FA Cup this season. However, Westfields weren’t the only club in this year’s FA Cup to participate in seven ties.
Forty-three miles north-east of Westfields can be found Northern Premier League Premier Division club Stourbridge. The Glassboys had never even appeared in the First Round Proper until the club’s 105th FA Cup campaign back in 2009-10 season, but have now done so five times since then, always after beginning in the First Qualifying Round, and winning more FA Cup matches over that time period than any other club aside from Chelsea and Arsenal. Three times the club made the Second Round, but this year after a terrific 1-0 win over EFL Division One side Northampton Town (being knocked out in the Second Round for a record 31st time), the club found themselves in the Third Round for the first time ever. Their tightly contested narrow defeat at another EFL Division One side Wycombe Wanderers was the club’s seventh FA Cup tie of the season.
And then the record breaking baton was passed on to two more non-league clubs, Sutton United and Lincoln City, both competing in the National League. Both these two clubs registered personal record breaking FA Cup runs, but their combined performances had the mass media producing mass hysteria over their FA Cup achievements. Both Non–League clubs reached the last 16 of the competition, the first time that feat had been achieved since the current structure of the FA Cup was put in place in the 1925-26 season, that is from the year of introduction of when clubs from the top two divisions are exempted until the Third Round.
Prior to World War II and immediately afterwards there were only two League Divisions and clubs competing in the Southern League were considered as good as, if not better, than those classified as League teams. As a consequence now-called non-league clubs regularly appeared in the latter stages of the FA Cup (with Tottenham Hotspur famously lifting the trophy as a non-league club in 1901) and it wasn’t uncommon for at least two of them to appear in the last sixteen. The last such occurrence was in the 1919/20 season when both Cardiff City and Plymouth Argyle progressed to that stage.
But the FA Cup records this season didn’t stop being broken at the last 16 stage. Lincoln City produced a fine 1-0 win at Premier League side Burnley resulting in the Clarets becoming the first Top Flight team to lose at home to non-league opposition for the second time since the current FA Cup structure was established.
By making the Quarter Finals for the first time in the club’s 123rd FA Cup campaign, The Imps became: the first Non-League side to beat a top flight club for four seasons; the third club to compete in seven FA Cup ties this season; the first non-league Quarter Finalists since Queens Park Rangers in the 1913/14 season; and the first Non-League club to defeat four League clubs in the same FA Cup run since Telford United in the 1984/85 season (and the third club ever to achieve this feat with Tottenham Hotspur having done the same when the won the Trophy in 1901).
And still the records continued to fall. Lincoln City eventually lost to Premier League Arsenal, who had faced consecutive non-league clubs in the FA Cup for the first time in 108 years, and who subsequently reached the FA Cup Semi Finals for a record 29th time. And a semi-final win over Manchester City means the Gunners are the first club ever to appear in the FA Cup Final a total of 20 times. History of a different kind was also made in their semi-final with Manchester City when, by coming onto the field of play in extra time, Kelechi Iheanacho became the first ever fourth substitute to be used in an FA Cup match.
In the other Semi-Final, Tottenham Hotspur set an unwanted FA Cup record by losing their seventh successive FA Cup Semi-Final. When Spurs last won the FA Cup in 1991 it established them as the Top club in FA Cup history at the time. Their Semi-Final opponents this season, Chelsea, were only positioned 27th best then. If the Blues win the FA Cup this season it would be their 8th victory and they would leapfrog Spurs into 3rd place, by virtue of more Final appearances, and would be sitting only behind Arsenal and Manchester United.
A victory for Arsenal in the Final this season would set a new competition record of 13 FA Cup wins, almost 10% of all the times the famous trophy has been lifted. It would also represent a record 7th win for manager Arsene Wenger after successes in 1998, 20002, 2003, 2005, 2014 and 2015. The Frenchman would surpass the six trophies won by Aston Villa manager George Ramsay between 1887 and 1920.
That’s the real beauty of the FA Cup. Every season more football history is made, whether it is out of the spotlight in the Extra Preliminary Round amongst clubs eight and nine levels below the Premier League, or in the glaring eyes of the world’s media in the Final itself at Wembley.
And long may that continue!