16 March 1872: Wanderers win the first FA Cup final

On this day in 1872 Wanderers FC beat the Royal Engineers 1-0 at the Kennington Oval to win the first ever contesting of the Football Association Challenge Cup.

These days, the FA Cup – the oldest cup competition in the football world – is a huge affair, with 737 teams able to enter.

It's quite a money spinner, too. In simple prize-money terms, first round winners in 2020-2021 receive £2,250, with losers taking £750. Winners of the final get £1.8m. (Because of the pandemic, this season's prize money is actually half what it was in 2019-2020.) Plus there's all the sponsorship and media money, which can dwarf the actual winnings.

But in 1871-1872, the cup's inaugural season, things were very different. There were just 15 entrants, for a start. And some of the rules would be unfamiliar to today's players, too.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Teams changed ends every time a goal was scored; when the ball went out of play, the first team to get hold of it took the throw-in; and in the earlier rounds of the competition, a draw meant both teams progressed to the next round. With so few teams, there were just four rounds.

And so it was that on this day in 1872, 2,000 spectators turned up to the Kennington Oval to watch Wanderers face the Royal Engineers in the first FA Cup final.

Wanderers lined up with eight up front – a not particularly remarkable line-up for the time. The Royal Engineers preferred a more defensive 1-2-7 formation.

Despite the Engineers' use of the radical new “combination game” which included the novel tactic of passing as well as dribbling, none of their seven forwards could manage to get the ball in the net.

After 15 minutes, Wanderers took the lead when full-back “AH Chequers” scored. Chequers was, in fact, Morton Betts playing under a pseudonym. Betts usually played for Harrow Chequers, who Wanderers were supposed to meet in the first round. As it turned out, Harrow withdrew, and Wanderers went through. (Betts also played cricket for Essex, Middlesex and Kent. And in his one appearance for England's national football team, he played in goal.)

The next year, as holders, Wanderers went straight in to the final. They would eventually win it five times – three of them in consecutive years, a feat which has only been matched by Blackburn Rovers.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.