This Saturday (May 30th) sees the traditional end to the English football season, with the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.
In England, we like to think of it as “the most famous domestic cup competition in the world” and it’s definitely one of the key events of the British sporting calendar. This season’s match will be between Arsenal, the holders, and Aston Villa. The Gunners, managed by Arsène Wenger, will be the favourites but Villa, under new manager Tim Sherwood, will be hoping to cause an upset.
The very first cup final took place in 1872, and was won by the Wanderers, who beat the Royal Engineers 1-0. Since then, 43 different teams have won the Cup, although the record is jointly held by Arsenal and Manchester United, with 11 wins each. These two teams have also had the most appearances in the final (19 times each).
If the scores are level after 90 minutes, there is extra time, followed by a penalty shoot-out. In the past, there would be a replay instead of penalties.
Why is the Cup so special?
Starting in August, the FA Cup is open to all teams in England (and some from Wales), both league teams (92 clubs from the Premier League and Football League) and non-league teams. Most non-league teams have amateur players, but they can still manage to cause a “giant-killing” like in 2013, when non-league Luton beat Premier League Norwich City.
Giant killings don’t just happen in the early rounds, either. In 1973, Leeds United were the best team in the country, and everyone thought they would easily beat underdogs Sunderland, who were in the Second Division (today known as the Championship). Result? Leeds 0 Sunderland 1.
In the past, before the Premier League was the worldwide show it is today, the Cup Final was one of the few games shown live on TV. Players from both teams have special suits made for the day (check out these classics from Liverpool in 1996) Teams sometimes even recorded a special pop song, such as this one from 1981, featuring Tottenham Hotspur.
Losing its magic?
For many football fans in England, the FA Cup has lost some of its magic. Some teams see the competition as a distraction from what they consider the “bread and butter” of the league, and choose to field weaker teams, especially against lower-league opposition. Teams who are in the Champions League prioritise that competition because it earns them more money than a cup run. Also, the semi-finals are now played at Wembley too, which makes the final appear less special.
This year, the final is back in its rightful place, the week after the end of the Premier League season. Even if it’s not the same as it used to be, you can be sure that fans of both Arsenal and Aston Villa will be “up for the Cup” this Saturday!
And finally, did you know?
British Council have a partnership with the Premier League and have produced ‚Premier Skills English’. A great resource for football vocabulary as well as insights and features on all the league teams.
holders: the team who won the cup last season
cause an upset: when the result is not what most people expect
extra time: two periods of 15 minutes, played after the 90 minutes when the scores are level. In US sports they call it overtime (OT)
non-league team: a team from outside the top four divisions in English football
giant-killing: when a team from a lower division beats a team from a higher one
underdogs: the team which is not expected to win
bread and butter: the most basic things that a person or organisation needs