These days, the FA Cup – the oldest cup competition in the football world – is a huge affair: in the current year’s competition, 736 teams entered.
It’s quite a money spinner, too. In simple prize-money terms, first round winners receive £1,925, while winners of the final take a pot of £1.8m. Plus there’s all the sponsorship and media money, which can dwarf the actual winnings.
But in 1871/2, 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.
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 formation for the time. The Royal Engineers preferred the more defensive 1-2-7.
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.