Sometimes an innocuous question can lead to some very interesting answers.
I ran a Twitter competition asking for guesses on how many clubs had played just one FA Cup match (the answer to that question is 267 so far), and received the following question in return from Twitter handle @ChoirboyDave
“How many clubs played one match, won it, and then withdrew, thereby having a 100% record in the FA Cup?”
So, of course, I had to find out. My database of FA Cup records is vast and immense and has been cut a myriad of different ways, but I’d never attempted to determine whether or not there were any clubs with 100% FA Cup records. However, I knew I had set the database up so that with a little bit of leg work I could find out.
It turns out there are two clubs with 100% FA Cup records, but there are nine in total who have an unbeaten record, including three clubs who have won more than one match, one who made it as far as the 3rd Qualifying Round, and just one to have been unbeaten since the Second World War.
Two clubs from the 19th Century were the first to be classed as unbeaten in the FA Cup, both occurring in the 1892-93 season. Tameside based club Ashton-under-Lyne, whose League status at the time I’ve yet to establish, were drawn at home to Lancashire League outfit Higher Walton, who had eight years of FA Cup experience behind them, including a 3rd Round appearance in the season before the Football League began.
The two clubs played out what I can only presume was a very entertaining 3-3 draw in Tameside, but Ashton scratched before the replay. There’s no record of the reason why. It wouldn’t have been fear of a thrashing as Higher Walton finished bottom of the Lancashire League in 1893, but it wasn’t uncommon in the 19th Century for clubs to scratch due to either high costs of travel or through being unable to raise a side for a replay.
Whatever the reason Ashton-under-Lyne never entered the FA Cup again (unless they changed their name to Ashton North End or Ashton Town, two clubs from the same area who competed in FA Cup soon after), and so remain unbeaten in the competition.
Also competing in the FA Cup for the first time in the 1892-93 season was Cleveland Amateur League side Loftus, who actually received a ‘Bye’ in the 1st Qualifying Round, before being drawn to travel to Teesside League outfit Port Clarence in the 2nd Qualifying Round. Both sides struggled in their respective leagues that season, but Loftus triumphed in their FA Cup encounter with an exciting 3-2 win.
However, the 3rd Qualifying Round saw Loftus have to travel to the more formidable Stockton FC of the Northern League (this Stockton club merged with Norton Cricket Club in 1980 to form the recently folded Norton and Stockton Ancients). It may well have been fear of a drubbing that caused Loftus to withdraw before facing their higher league opponents, or just the usual reason of costs or player availability, but either way the withdrawal not only means the club has a 100% FA Cup record, but also means they went the furthest an unbeaten club has ever gone in the competition.
It would be 10 years before there would be another occurrence of an unbeaten FA Cup side, and once again there were two clubs. 1902-03 season saw Hemsworth draw 0-0 at fellow Sheffield Association League club Royston United in the 2nd Qualifying Round before scratching ahead of their scheduled replay. Both clubs finished in the bottom three of the League that season so that might explain their lack of goals.
Hemsworth thereby are the only unbeaten FA Cup side to have also failed to score in the competition, although my records show both clubs entering the FA Cup at this 2nd Qualifying Round stage, there could of course be some as yet undiscovered record of them playing in an earlier round as other clubs from their League did.
Also this season, but in the 1st Qualifying Round, Newhall Red Rose were drawn to travel to fellow Burton and District League club Allsops, and came away with a 2-0 victory. The 2nd Qualifying Round saw the Derbyshire club drawn to face Football League Division Two side Burton United.
In the fledgling years of the Football League it wasn’t unusual to see, especially Division Two sides, entering the FA Cup in the early qualifying rounds of the competition. Burton United were not the most formidable of opponents, but maybe to the players of Newhall Red Rose they were seen as too big a giant to slay and so they withdrew without facing them. As a consequence the club joined Loftus in becoming the only two clubs to be unbeaten in the FA Cup with a 100% record.
A couple of seasons later saw London based club Kensal Rise enter the FA Cup for the first time. The club hosted fellow FA Cup debutantes Middlesex Wanderers in the Preliminary Round and ran out convincing 5-0 winners. This was followed up with an equally convincing 3-0 home win over the more established Richmond Association club who had made the 5th Qualifying Round just four seasons previously.
This set up a 2nd Qualifying Round tie at Civil Service FC, a club who competed in the first ever FA Cup competition in 1871-72 and who were on the verge of joining the Isthmian League the following season to this Cup tie. The first game ended all square at one apiece, but the replay was an altogether more exciting goal-fest with the two sides playing out a 4-4 draw. For some reason Kensal Rise scratched before facing Civil Service for a third time so not only remain one of an elite group of unbeaten FA Cup teams, but also with 13 goals scored are the unbeaten team with the most number of goals.
In 1909/10 East Riding County League side Filey United entered the FA Cup. The club were drawn to host Northern League side Saltburn in the Preliminary Round and held their higher league opponents to a credible 1-1 draw. However, maybe the prospect of facing them again on their own territory was too much, but the Yorkshire coastal side withdrew before the replay could take place.
Two seasons later witnessed another club to win twice in the FA Cup and remain unbeaten. Shobnall Villa of the Burton and District League entered the competition in the Extra Preliminary Round where they travelled to East Derbyshire League champions New Whittington Exchange making their debut in the competition, too. Shobnall won the tie 2-1 to earn a trip to Matlock and District League outfit Ashbourne Town.
That 1st Qualifying Round tie ended in a 1-1 draw before Shobnall won the replay 2-1, but a trip to Gresley Colliery in the next round did not happen as the club withdrew from the competition with their unbeaten FA Cup record intact.
In the first couple of years following the First World War it wasn’t unusual for clubs to withdraw from the FA Cup, but one club in the 1920-21 season equalled the feat of Kensal Rise and Shobnall Villa before them by winning twice before deciding not to carry on. Gilberdyke FC of the East Riding Counties League were drawn away at North Lindsey League club Frodingham Athletic in the Extra Preliminary Round and the small village side ran out 1-0 winners.
The Preliminary Round required the club to travel to the original Cleethorpes Town, members of the Grimsby and District League. Gilberdyke once again triumphed, this time winning the match 3-1 to secure a home time in the next round against South Yorkshire side Brodsworth Main Colliery. The two clubs fought out a 2-2 draw, but for some reason Gilberdyke withdrew ahead of the scheduled replay, probably due to cost of travel. However, the club is just one of three to remain unbeaten in the FA Cup after having won two matches.
The final instance of a club remaining unbeaten in the FA Cup happened just after World War Two. Similarly to the period just after the First World War, it wasn’t unusual for clubs to scratch out of the FA Cup. Brigham and Cowan were a Hull shipyards based works team, one of many such teams that formed (and many folded) in the first ten years after the end of the Second World War. The club were drawn at home to Northern League ‘giants’ Billingham Synthonia, who had finished third in that League the previous season.
A credible 2-2 draw was achieved by the works based team, but maybe it was all too much for them to travel to Billingham for the replay, or maybe they just couldn’t raise a suitable team due to work shift patterns. Either way the club joins the eight others to go into the record books as the only unbeaten FA Cup clubs.
Clubs don’t scratch from the FA Cup as regularly as happened in the past, more often non-playing of a tie is down to a club being disqualified rather than choosing not to compete, but it is still feasibly possible, albeit unlikely, we could see a 10th team create an unbeaten FA Cup record in the future.