First Touch

Has the FA cup lost a bit of it’s magic?

The FA Cup is one of the biggest prizes in English football. It is one of the longest and most respected domestic cup competitions in the world, and over 700 teams from around the country enter each year with a chance to win a historic piece of silverware.

fa cup logo

The format often pits minnows against giants, non-league vs professional, leading to the ‘magic of the cup’ where lower league teams have their moment in the spotlight to defeat the giants of English football.

But, in recent years, the magic has dwindled. Lower league teams are being eliminated more easily, especially in the latter stages, and the same teams are winning the tournament with more regularity.


Since the FA Cup began in 1871, 23 different teams have won the prestigious competition, with just eight teams outside of the top-flight lifting the trophy in the competition’s history, the last of which was West Ham in 1980 when the Hammers played in the First Division.

But, year after year, it becomes more difficult for the lower league teams to progress into the knockout stages. Larger teams in the Premier League often have high levels of investment, which must be returned by the managers and players in the form of silverware. Therefore, the FA Cup presents a good opportunity for the larger, more financially lucrative teams to win a major trophy.

Big Games

One of the greatest spectacles of the FA Cup is the potential for an upset. In the third round of this year’s competition, League Two side Crawley shocked Premier League Leeds, beating the Yorkshire side 3-0. Sixth-tier Chorley FC also caused an upset, eliminating Derby 2-0, while Blackpool saw off top-flight side West Brom after extra time.

In past competitions, big upsets have also come in the latter stages of the competition. One of the most notable includes Wigan’s 2013 cup final over Manchester City, where the Latics beat the Manchester giants 1-0 late in the game. Other shock final defeats came in 1988, when Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang beat a notoriously strong Liverpool side 1-0.

Generally, however, smaller teams struggle to get past the fifth round or quarter finals of the FA Cup. Lincoln City became the first non-league side to reach the quarter final stages for 103 years in 2017, when they stunned Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor. But no other non-league team has matched this feat since.

What’s Changed?

In modern football, success is measured by trophies for the top teams. This is reflected by the lack of diversity in teams winning major tournaments, including the FA Cup. Since 1991, only Everton (1995), Portsmouth (2008) and Wigan (2013) have won the FA Cup outside of the ‘Top 5’ teams – Arsenal, Manchester United, Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea. Making the odds from sites like reflect the difficult task the smaller clubs have of toppling the Top 5.

Even in the last five years, only Crystal Palace and Watford have reached the FA Cup final outside of the top five, and both lost. The pattern looks set to repeat in the 2020/21 competition, with just one team from the lower leagues left in the FA Cup quarter final (AFC Bournemouth), while United, City and Chelsea are still involved and look favourites to go all the way this season.

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