Long Forgotten Memories

For fans of most clubs participating in the 2015/16 FA Cup it is possible to remember their team’s best ever run in the competition because it will have happened since the Year 2000 or at least in their own living memory. Some clubs do have to go back to before the last World War to find their own best ever Cup run, and it is highly likely that no-one but the oldest members of the club can recall it, but for a handful of teams even that is not possible. Because for all the teams detailed below, their best ever FA Cup campaigns actually happened in the days of Queen Victoria, more than 115 years ago.

141 Years – Uxbridge – Best Ever Cup Run – Second Round – Last time 1873/74

This was the first season that Uxbridge, formed in 1871, participated in the FA Cup and it was in only the third season of the competition’s fledgling history, in a contest that saw only 28 teams take part. Uxbridge beat a team from Battersea, with the exotic moniker of Gitanos, 3-0 in the First Round before succumbing 2-1 to Royal Engineers in The Reds one and only appearance in the Second Round. It’s probably unfair to compare the Second Round of the FA Cup in the 19th Century with the Second Round of today, but since the formation of the Football League and the introduction of Qualifying Rounds, Uxbridge has only ever made it as far as the Fourth Qualifying Round on two occasions, the last 80 years ago in 1935.

135 Years – Sheffield – Best Ever Cup Run – Fourth Round – Last time 1879/80

The ‘World’s Oldest Football Club’ entered the FA Cup for the 100th time last season, but since the Football League was formed in 1888, the club has only ever come close to reaching the ‘Proper’ rounds of the Cup on five occasions, their last visit to the Fourth Qualifying Round as recently as the 2010/11 season. However, for 15 years prior to that they had entered the competition and by default had reached at least the First Round every time, but made it as far as the Fourth Round on two occasions, the first time in 1877/78 this actually equated to reaching the Quarter Finals of the competition.

134 Years – Saffron Walden Town – Best Ever Cup Run – First Round – Last time 1880/81

Saffron Walden (the Town suffix didn’t appear until after the First World War) made three appearances in the FA Cup prior to the formation of the Football League, each time unfortunately being unable to record a victory, but nonetheless being on record as reaching the First Round of the competition. The club scratched instead of facing the mighty Wanderers club in 1876/77, lost 5-0 to Upton Park in 1878/79 season, and lost 7-0 to eventual Cup winners Old Carthusians in 1880/81. In fact the club didn’t actually win an FA Cup match until 1946/47 season when they won 4-2 against Ware, and the furthest The Bloods have ever progressed in the competition, outside of those early days, is the Second Qualifying Round.

133 Years – Maidenhead United – Best Ever Cup Run – Fourth Round – Last time 1881/82

133 Years – Marlow – Best Ever Cup Run – Semi Finals – Last time 1881/82

Maidenhead United and Marlow are intrinsically linked in the history of the FA Cup. They are the only two teams still competing in the competition that participated in the inaugural contest in 1871/72, and they hold the joint record of most appearances with the 2015/16 season being their 134th campaign. In fact each of the two sides has only failed to compete in one campaign. And 1881/82 proved to be the last season both would record their personal best Cup runs. It was the third time Maidenhead had made it to the Fourth Round, the first occasion in 1872/73 also being the equivalent of the Quarter Finals. Maidenhead has a slightly better overall average performance in the FA Cup than their close neighbours, but it is Marlow who has progressed the further, with this 1881/82 Semi Final appearance where they lost 5-0 to the eventual winners Old Etonians. Of course, all this occurred in the days before Qualifying Rounds, and since they were introduced The Magpies have made it to the First Round ‘Proper’ on seven separate occasions, most recently in 2011/12 season, whilst Marlow has made it as far as the Third Round twice, both times in the mid-nineties.

131 Years – Northwich Victoria – Best Ever Cup Run – Fifth Round – Last time 1883/84

Formed in 1874, The Vics reached the Fifth Round (and Quarter Finals) of the FA Cup just over 10 years later, although the 9-1 defeat to eventual winners Blackburn Olympic sours the achievement somewhat. This was the club’s only significant run in the competition in those pre-Football League years, but since then the closest they have come to replicating that performance was a spectacular Fourth Round appearance in 1976/77, their 11th match and eighth tie in that year’s competition, finally succumbing to Second Division Oldham Athletic after seeing off League sides Rochdale, Peterborough United and Watford.

130 Years – Chatham Town – Best Ever Cup Run – Fifth Round – Last time 1884/85

130 Years – Hoddesdon Town – Best Ever Cup Run – First Round – Last time 1884/85

Under the name Hoddesdon, this was the only 19th Century appearance in the FA Cup for the club, an 8-0 defeat at the hands of the Old Foresters club. Since returning to the competition in 1931/32, the furthest the club has gone is the Third Qualifying Round they achieved in that return season, and most recently in 1969/70. Chatham (United), on the other hand, had a few forays in the competition in the 1880s, adding two Third Round appearances to this Fifth Round effort. The number of clubs entering the competition had grown significantly since the competition’s foundation, and as a consequence this was the first season when the Fifth Round didn’t equate to the Quarter Finals. Since the introduction of the Qualifying Rounds, Chatham has made it through to the First Round ‘Proper’ a few times, with their best performance a Second Round appearance in 1926/27 where they lost 5-0 to Norwich City.

Eight other clubs have to look as far back as these Victorian days to identify their best ever Cup runs. Clitheroe, then named Clitheroe Central had four First Round appearances most latterly in 1885/86 season, 129 years ago. They did register their first FA Cup win three years later, 3-2 against Blackburn Park Road, but the Third Qualifying Round is the furthest they have progressed since then. Ashton United made the Second Round for the last time also in 1885/86, but then the club was known as Hurst, and on both occasions they reached that far in the competition, the club withdrew, both times after their initial victory had been voided. The club came close to matching their best run twice in the Fifties soon after adopting its current name, losing out to Halifax Town in 1952/53 and Southport in 1955/56.

Bournemouth (Amateurs), Gainsborough Trinity and Lincoln City all recorded their best FA Cup runs for the last time in 1886/87 season, 128 years ago. The Dorset based club, not to be confused with AFC Bournemouth, had three successive First Round appearances when known as Bournemouth Rovers, not actually winning its first competitive FA Cup match until 1913/14, a 5-0 Preliminary Round win over RGA Weymouth. Gainsborough Trinity actually made it to the Third Round in 1886/87 where they lost 1-0 to Lincoln City after a replay who, thanks to a bye in the next round, made it to the Fifth Round for their one and only time. Both former League teams have made many more appearances in the ‘Proper’ rounds of the Cup, but both have fallen at best one round short of their personal best.

The 1887/88 season saw Crewe Alexandra make it all the way to the Semi Finals, coming through six rounds before losing 4-0 to Preston North End. Since that Semi-Final 127 seasons ago, the nearest the club has ever got to repeating the feat is two Fifth Round appearance in 1990/91 and 2001/02. Winsford United also had their best ever Cup run in the 1887/88 season when, under the guise of their former name Over Wanderers, the club made the Second Round in its first appearance in the competition. The Football League was formed the following season and Qualifying Rounds were introduced into the FA Cup simultaneously, and as a consequence Winsford has only made three subsequent appearances in the First Round of the competition, a 4-1 defeat to Peterborough United in 1975/76, a 5-2 loss at Wrexham in 1991/92 and a 2-1 defeat at Chester City in 1991/98, all that separated the club from equalling their best ever performance.

Notts County also set their personal best Cup performance in the 19th Century, actually 121 years ago, but they are unique amongst this select group of clubs in the fact that their best performance was as being crowned FA Cup winners in 1893/94, the first occasion a second tier club won the competition. Since that win, the closest the club has ever come to repeating the feat was a solitary Semi-Final appearance in 1921/22 losing 3-1 to Huddersfield Town. Ironically, the club’s Ladies team has a big opportunity to lift the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley this Saturday to further rub salt into this wound.

So, in total 16 clubs competing in the 2015/16 FA Cup all registered their best ever Cup runs in the competition during the Victorian era. Another eight other clubs; Bury, Bristol City, Glossop North End, Bradford City, Barnsley, Swindon Town, Burnley and Stamford also all recorded their best ever Cup performances more than 100 years ago, before the First World War, joining this Victorian group in providing their fans with excruciatingly long waits to see their beloved club at least equal their best FA Cup record.

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Most One-Sided FA Cup Match-Ups

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When two clubs meet frequently in the FA Cup it is common that, over time, they manage to balance out the victories between them. However, that is not always the case, and the following list of one-sided FA Cup meetings show that for certain teams, listening to the draw can fill them with dread for fear that they get pitted against their FA Cup nemesis.

9-2 Manchester United v Southampton – Eleven meetings, nine won by Man Utd (although Southampton won when it mattered), with five draws, one a replay won by Southampton on penalties – Goals 29-13

8-1 Weymouth v Poole Town – Nine meetings, eight won by Weymouth, with three draws – Goals 27 v 13

8-1 West Bromwich Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers – Nine meetings, eight won by West Brom, with two draws – Goals 19 v 7

8-0 Poole Town v Bridport – Eight meetings all won by Poole, no draws – Goals 34 v 7

8-0 Great Yarmouth Town v Bungay Town – Eight meetings all won by Great Yarmouth, with one draw – Goals 26 v 11

8-0 Kettering Town v Stamford – Eight meetings all won by Kettering, with one draw – Goals 39 v 10

8-0 Lowestoft Town v Sheringham – Eight meetings all won by Lowestoft, with one draw – Goals 37 v 10

8-0 Spennymoor Town v Stockton – Eight meetings all won by Spennymoor, with three draws – Goals 28 v 11 (Nb. Technically this is against two different sides called Stockton, one game was against the Stockton club that became Thornaby)

9-0 Trowbridge Town v Westbury United – Nine meetings all won by Trowbridge, with one draw – Goals 40 v 9

10-1 Kettering Town v Rushden Town – 11 meetings, 10 won by Kettering, with three draws – Goals 31 v 12

11-1 Trowbridge Town v Devizes Town – 12 meetings, 11 won by Trowbridge, with two draws – Goals 54 v 19

Love of the Common Cup

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!

FA Cup 2015/16 Extra Preliminary Round Facts and Stats

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There are 184 ties and 368 clubs in this year’s FA Cup EP Round, a recent standard format established by the FA based upon qualifying criteria of league position and facilities, enabling that organisation to better manage the 14 rounds required to syphon 736 clubs down to just one winner next May.

Twenty-one of the 736 clubs are entering the competition for the very first time with several clubs having to wait over 100 years since their formation before being able to taste FA Cup football. Wincanton Town has waited the longest having been formed in 1890, but Sun Postal Sports (117 years), Seven Acre and Sidcup (115) and Penistone Church (109) have all also had to wait many years.

Thirty-two clubs are returning to FA Cup action. Many have only been absent for 1-3 years due to their league finishing position during those years, but others have had to wait an age to return, with one team in particular not immediately realising they had played FA Cup football before. Peterborough Sports last participated in the competition in the 1922/23 season, the year of the White Horse final at Wembley, but played under a different name, Brotherhoods Engineering Works. That’s a 92 year wait, a hiatus that could well have been a record but for further investigation that identified that Holwell Sports had had a 94 year gap between FA Cup matches when returning in 2009. That club had previously entered the competition as Holwell Works in the final season before the First World War.

This means 53 clubs who competed in last season’s FA Cup will not be doing so this year. Many will be back, but for some it will have been their last foray due to the fact they have folded. This group includes Hereford United and Salisbury City, two clubs with long histories and a large enough fan base to elicit new phoenix clubs to be set up by those fans, namely Hereford and Salisbury respectively. No doubt both of these clubs will appear in future seasons, but the likes of Celtic Nation, Woodstock Sports and arguably the ‘team of 2014/15 FA Cup’ Norton United are unlikely to grace it ever again.

In this year’s EP Round there are six clubs who have made it at least as far as the glamorous Third Round in the past. Alvechurch (1973/74), Ashington (26/27), Clapton (25/26), Whitley Bay (89/90) and Worksop Town (55/56) all made it to the 3rd Round, but going one round further in 1954/55 season is Bishop Auckland who lost 3-1 to York City in the last 32 that year.

Bishop Auckland is also involved in the most common match-up in this year’s EP Round being drawn for the tenth time against Shildon who hold a five to four advantage in previous encounters. It’s a widely held belief that because of regionalisation in these early FA Cup rounds then clubs tend to meet each other over and over again. However, this year’s competition would suggest that is not necessarily the case with only 27 of the ties pitting teams against each other that have met in the competition in the past, and only five of those ties involve two clubs who have met more than once.

Regionalisation also suggests teams will face other clubs from their own league in these early rounds. Of the 184 EP Round ties, just 47 sees encounters between divisional opponents whilst 28 matches involve two teams from the same League but playing in different divisions, and 109 ties actually give clubs the chance to benchmark themselves with clubs from different leagues altogether.

Finally, there are 14 clubs in this season’s EP Round which have actually never been knocked out of the competition at such an early stage. Of these clubs, Brigg Town stand out the most having entered the competition 78 times since 1919/20. The club will want to avoid the fate of fellow Northern Counties East Premier League side Worksop Town who were eliminated at the Extra Preliminary stage of the competition last season for the first time in 107 campaigns.

Addendum: This blog has been translated into Russian – see link below

http://www.sports.ru/tribuna/blogs/nonleague/819077.html

What’s Another Year?

Among the twenty or so clubs entering the FA Cup for the first time is a team from United Counties League Division One called Peterborough Sports. However, is the club really entering this historic competition for the first time or have they played in it before? My records suggest the latter, and if correct would establish a brand new record in the competition for Peterborough Sports: the longest gap between FA Cup matches of almost 93 years, a gap unlikely to be surpassed unless Amateur Football clubs such as Old Etonians make a remarkable return.

It’s highly likely that the current management staff and players of Peterborough Sports are unaware that their club might have played in the FA Cup in the past, but the clues are all there in their own website. Peterborough Sports is the latest incarnation of a club founded in 1919 as Brotherhoods Engineering Works who played under that name until 1999 when they were re-branded as Bearings Direct. Two years after that the Peterborough Sports moniker was adopted. But it is in their formative years as Brotherhood Works when they seemingly participated in the FA Cup.

Brotherhoods Engineering Works entered the Northants League in their inaugural season as a club, winning the title in their first year and remaining in that league for four seasons before joining the Peterborough and District League. During these four seasons in the Northants League the club also played in the FA Cup. In 1919/20 they beat Bourne Town 1-0 in the Preliminary Round and then beat Stamford by the same scoreline in the First Qualifying Round only to be disqualified presumably for fielding an ineligible player. The club never won another FA Cup match being knocked out in the Preliminary Round in each of the next three seasons first by Irthlingborough Town (1-0), then by Wellingborough Town (3-0 after a 3-3 draw) and finally by Desborough Town (2-1 after a 2-2 draw). The last season the club played in the FA Cup coincided with the first when the final was played at Wembley.

So if Peterborough Sports is connected to Brotherhoods Engineering Works, as it suggests they are on their website, then almost 93 years will have passed since the club last played an FA Cup match. Heaton Stannington’s return to the competition after 38 years is a long wait in its own right to experience FA Cup football again, but that pales into insignificance to Peterborough Sports’ hiatus. And if the club can overcome Eynesbury Rovers on the 15th August they will record their first FA Cup victory in 96 years. It’s a couple of FA Cup records that will etch the name of Peterborough Sports into FA Cup folklore for all time. (Twitter @FACupFactfile)

Just How Refreshing is the England Women’s World Cup Team?

Notwithstanding the cruel manner of their exit, the England women’s football team has quite rightly been gaining universal plaudits from the good and the great, both in the media and in the game itself, for their wonderful achievements in the women’s World Cup. Additionally, they have also been highly commended by pundits on their refreshing approach and attitude as to how to play football matches.

However, I contend the team’s approach is only considered ‘refreshing’ by those whose usual diet of football consists of men’s Premier League, men’s Champions League and men’s Internationals. Those that watch football outside of the top echelons of the game will see this ‘refreshing’ approach and attitude at all matches (although the skill levels will vary).

When the ‘refreshing’ comments are being made they are done so in the context of comparing the attitude shown in the women’s game versus the attitude shown in a typical men’s game. However, this ‘typical men’s game’ really only refers to the top level of the men’s game, despite the inference to men’s football per se. This subtle but important distinction is critical in understanding why so many commentators of the beautiful game are in awe of the way the England women’s team play.

If one just watches the top level of the men’s game one will just see matches that are riddled with what’s laughably called professionalism, underhandedness, slyness, deceit, winning at all costs, bad sportsmanship, goading of other players, pressurising of officials, mind games and a whole host of other unsavoury traits and tactics, all played out in the name of ‘the beautiful game’. Of course there is a high quality of football, but the odd exception aside, all these undoubtedly talented footballers seem hell bent on developing the nastier sides of their characters to the same high level as their footballing talents. What that translates to is a game that is often unpalatable to watch because professional players devote as much time, if not more, to ‘getting away with something’ as they do with trying to play great football.

So anyone who only ever watches top level men’s football is going to be surprised when they see that it can be played in a different way. The England women’s team typically haven’t used those underhand tactics to win, nor have any of the nations competing in the Women’s World Cup. Rather, on the whole, they were all trying to play football, trying to play the game in the way it is supposed to be played, trying to beat the opposition by playing better football than them. There were some great examples of skill on display, but the real stand out was how the games were played. They were competitive, including a n expected fair quota of crunching tackles and late fouls, but matches were played in the true spirit of the game. Played in a style akin to how the game is usually played week-in, week-out on football pitches across the country in both men’s and women’s football, everywhere except at the top level of the men’s game.

So for me, watching the women’s World Cup matches was not too dissimilar to watching the non-league football I see every week. Both teams trying to win the match, not trying to avoid defeat. Both teams focusing on playing football (although standards and skill levels may vary) rather than trying to ‘kid’ the referee. Both teams trying to play football as it should be played: football first, everything else last. It would do all those pundits and commentators who only seem to watch top level men’s football the power of good to be exposed to more of this lower level football, and maybe then they wouldn’t be so surprised by the approach taken by teams at the Women’s World Cup.

Unfortunately, given that they hardly ever reference anything below the Premier League that is very unlikely to happen.