The first ever FA Cup was known as ‘The Little Tin Idol’
What does the FA Cup mean to you?
Are you excited every time the draw comes around? Do you dream that this could be the year for your team to be the giant killers making the headlines in the Third Round?
Or, are you more circumspect? Do you think the romance of the FA Cup has gone? Do you see it as just another chance for one of the big six to put another trophy in their cabinet after putting out weakened sides in the early rounds? Do you think the financial decision that was made to play the semi-finals at Wembley has taken away the romance of reaching the Final and diluted the meaning of the song;
‘Wemberley, Wemberley, we’re all pi**ed up and we’re going to Wemberley, W-E-M-B-E-R-L-E-Y !!
Well, whatever your feelings, one thing is for sure, this is a tournament that has been in existence for 150 years. It is the oldest knockout Cup competition in the world, so how did it come into being?
The FA Cup was the brainchild of one Charles William Alcock, a Wearsider born in 1842, just a stone’s throw away from AFC Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. Charles was the son of a successful shipbuilder and it wasn’t long before the family business expanded into marine insurance and set up offices in London. Charles and his elder brother John were sent to Harrow School and it was here that both started to play the winter game of football.
It is commonly believed that it was because of his experiences at Harrow School, that Charles came up with the idea for the FA Cup. In 1859, the seventeen-year-old, was lucky enough to score the winning goal in the Cock House Cup final, a feat that would no doubt have won him considerable praise, as this was one of the key sporting events in the school calendar.
However, it wasn’t until the summer of 1871 that Charles made the following suggestion to the committee of the Football Association;
“It is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete.” – C. W. Alcock (July 1871)
There was some opposition to his idea from clubs who didn’t think there was enough time to organise such a tournament before the start of the season in September and also, some of them had already organised their club’s fixtures for the 1871-72 season in advance. Despite this, Charles pushed ahead with his idea for the tournament. Why was it so critical now? Why 1871-72?
To discover the answers to these questions, we have to look closely into the political landscape of football at this moment in time.
The Football Association had been formed in 1863 and after a bit of skulduggery, the members had managed to remove ‘hacking’ and ‘carrying the ball’ from the rules and therefore make a split with the ‘rugby’ version of the game. However, having created the original thirteen rules of Association Football, the FA were soon in complete disarray. At their AGM in February 1867, there were just six attendees representing four clubs. Ebenezer Cobb Morley, the FA’s newly elected President, suggested the members should consider dissolving the Association forthwith as, having created the rules of the game, it appeared that their work was done.
Charles William Alcock was having none of this. He’d only recently joined the committee and although he was only 25, he had big plans for the future of the game of football. Charles had left the family insurance business and was now working as a journalist for ‘The Sportsman’ newspaper and was aware of the success of a knockout football tournament, ‘The Youdan Cup’, which had just taken place in Sheffield in the February and March of 1867. This tournament attracted massive crowds and over 2,000 supporters witnessed the final at the Bramall Lane cricket ground. He could see how popular the game was becoming nationally in England and Scotland and he wanted the London Football Association to become ‘top dog’ went it came to administering the game. To this end, he was instrumental in arranging games between the London and Sheffield Associations and also some pseudo-internationals between England and Scotland. I say, pseudo-internationals as the Scottish sides tended to be picked from anyone who had some kind of Scottish connection, but were living close to London.
Charles William Alcock, the great administrator, sat in the offices of The Sportsman newspaper
Charles’ efforts to increase the popularity of association football were having the desired effect and by 1871, the FA could boast over 50 members. So, why the urgency to create a Challenge Cup competition in the 1871-72 season?
Was it any coincidence that the Rugby Football Union had just been created in January 1871? Not only that, but these rugby fellows had outmaneuvered
their association football counterparts by organising the first official England versus Scotland International in March of the very same year; the teams being selected from the best players in each nation. The match was played in Edinburgh and drew a crowd of over 4,000 spectators. Football needed something that would drive it back into the limelight and a Cup competition, based on the Sheffield model, was just what was required.
So, on the 11th November 1871, the first ever FA Cup kicked off. Whilst 15 teams had entered, three scratched in the First Round, meaning that just twelve clubs would play in the competition. The first ever FA Cup saw the advent of disallowed goals, late kick-offs, extra-time, replays, disputed decisions, cup-tied players and teams playing ‘ringers.’ It featured a team that got to the semi-finals without playing a game and a team from Scotland that could have won the first English FA Cup. All this drama ensured it would become the most famous domestic Cup competition in the world.
And so, exactly 150 years later, you can read the whole story in:
‘Charles Alcock & The Little Tin Idol’
Publisher : Independently published (3 Oct. 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 330 pages
ISBN-13 : 979-8479058967
Dimensions : 12.7 x 2.11 x 20.32 cm
Selling Price : £9.99
Now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. For direct orders and signed copies, please visit www.chesfoxbooks.com
About the Author
Ian Chester is an independently published author whose writing experience was developed in the world of football fanzines, local non-league football programmes and magazines about living in France. Ian is also a keen historian and has had articles published in local history magazines.
Ian’s first book was entitled ‘The Green Toothed Witch and the Yellow Canary' and told the story of his 5,560km journey around France following the 1919 Tour de France on the 100th anniversary of the yellow jersey.
His second book ‘Charles Alcock and The Little Tin Idol’ is a fitting tribute to the man who created the first-ever FA Cup 150 years ago.