The Football Association Challenge Cup, more commonly known as the FA Cup, is an annual knockout football competition in men’s domestic English football. First played during the 1871–72 season, it is the oldest national football competition in the world. It is organised by and named after The Football Association (The FA). Since 2015, it has been known as The Emirates FA Cup after its headline sponsor. A concurrent women’s tournament is also held, the Women’s FA Cup.
The competition is open to any eligible club down to Level 10 of the English football league system – all 92 professional clubs in the Premier League (level 1) and the English Football League (levels 2 to 4), and several hundred non-League teams in steps 1 to 6 of the National League System (levels 5 to 10). A record 763 clubs competed in 2011–12. The tournament consists of 12 randomly drawn rounds followed by the semi-finals and the final. Entrants are not seeded, although a system of byes based on league level ensures higher ranked teams enter in later rounds – the minimum number of games needed to win, depending on which round a team enters the competition, ranges from six to fourteen.
The first six rounds are the Qualifying Competition, from which 32 teams progress to the first round of the Competition Proper, meeting the first of the 48 professional teams from Leagues One and Two. The last entrants are the Premier League and Championship clubs, into the draw for the Third Round Proper. In the modern era, only one non-League team has ever reached the quarter-finals, and teams below Level 2 have never reached the final. As a result, significant focus is given to the smaller teams who progress furthest, especially if they achieve an unlikely “giant-killing” victory.
Winners receive the FA Cup trophy, of which there have been two designs and five actual cups; the latest is a 2014 replica of the second design, introduced in 1911. Winners also qualify for the UEFA Europa League and a place in the upcoming FA Community Shield. Arsenal are the most successful club with 14 titles and Arsène Wenger is the most successful manager in the history of the competition, having won seven finals as Arsenal’s manager.