So we move on, into the Edwardian era, that last golden afternoon as so many have described it, before the world it represented was destroyed in the mud and blood of Flanders fields. It was a decade of slow development, of a Cup that, halfway through the decade, took a half-hearted step towards the format we recognise today.
It was still a tournament dominated by the professional clubs of the North and Midlands. Tottenham Hotspurs’ success in the last Final of the third decade might have brought the Cup back to London after nearly twenty years, but it was an isolated success: the Final might have taken place in London, but the Cup would not rest there for another twenty years.
The Intermediate Round introduced in 1900/01 was retained for another four seasons, involving a complex combination, each year, of byes at various stages into different rounds, with not even the entire First Division getting byes into the First Round Proper, and clubs from the powerful Southern League getting preferential treatment ahead of Second Division teams.
Sheffield United were the first Cup-winners of the decade, though they made a heavy fist of it in the end, requiring three games to win the semi-final and two to win the actual Cup. Unusually, the Replay was held at the Crystal Palace, like the first match, a situation that would not recur for seventy-nine years.
Although the competition was now becoming a well-regulated, almost staid tournament, there was a flashback to the illogic of the Cup’s formative years. Second Division club, New Brighton Tower, were given a bye into the Intermediate Round, where they were drawn to play non-League qualifiers, Oxford City, and this arrangement stood, despite the fact that New Brighton Tower had folded in the summer of 1901 and been replaced in Division 2 before a single ball had been kicked in the 1901/02 Cup!
As a result, Oxford City enjoyed a nostalgic walkover into the First Round Proper. Even more bizarrely, New Brighton’s replacements, Doncaster Rovers, had to enter the Cup at the Third Qualifying Round.
If I may be allowed a personal point, the 1902/03 Cup was the first to be competed for by Manchester United, as opposed to Newton Heath. The Reds didn’t get very far, unlike their Lancashire neighbours, Bury, who reached their second Final in four seasons. They were very much the underdogs against Derby County, despite the latter losing their leading scorer, Steve Bloomer, to injury. But to everybody’s surprise, Bury not only won the Cup but recorded the record victory margin, 6-0. Derby apparently played so badly, the Bury keeper had nothing to do, and the club’s nick-name of ‘The Shakers’ derives from this game and result.
Bury – whose aggregate score in Cup Finals is 10-0 – are the only club after Wanderers to have won the Cup more than once whilst remaining undefeated in Finals.
The number of Cup entrants was still expanding, and each year the FA’s resistance to increasing the number of Proper Rounds grew more puzzling. A second preliminary Round was added in 1903/04, and a Sixth Qualifying Round the following season. Manchester City took the Cup to Manchester for the first time, beating Bolton Wanderers in what, surprisingly given the base of operations of the Football League, was the first all-Lancashire final, and Aston Villa secured their fourth win the following year.
Villa’s Final reversed an unexpected trend in Cup Final attendances. After Spurs had drawn 110,000 to the Crystal Palace in 1901, attendances had declined dramatically over the following three seasons, with Manchester City’s victory taking place before a gate of just over 61,000, but figures bounced back in 1905, with 101,000 filling the ground.
By this time, the Cup had reached a seriously imbalanced state, with nine Qualifying Rounds under various names, and a rigidly maintained three Rounds Proper. It was overdue time for a reorganisation that would better suit the number and status of the entrants. The Football League had, this season, expanded to 40 clubs, in two Divisions of 20, which needed to be taken into account.
So the Cup reduced itself to five qualifying Rounds (one Preliminary, four Qualifying) and restored the Cup Proper to four rounds. But it was not a case of the forty League clubs entering the Cup at Round One, with twenty-four survivors from the Qualifying Rounds, oh no. Twenty-nine League teams enjoyed that status,, with the rest coming in at various Qualifying Round stages. And, in order to provide sixty-four clubs at this stage, eleven non-League clubs were also given byes to the First Round.
Though the structure of the Cup was growing ever more familiar, it was still an indication of the nature of the game in the Edwardian era that 11 non-Leaguers were given preference to the equivalent number of League clubs in terms of when they entered the Cup.
One Third Qualifying Round tie provides an odd foretaste of the Cup’s future, and led to a rule change. In the Third Qualifying Round, Chelsea were drawn to play Crystal Palace. The same day, however, they were required to play Burnley in the Second Division. That neither game was to be postponed, that Chelsea were seriously required to play two matches simultaneously, foreshadowed the long years of rivalry between the Football Association and the Football League over control of the game.
And, foreshadowing today’s sad reality, Chelsea opted to prioritise their promotion battle, choosing the first team to meet Burnley and sending out the Reserves to be humiliated 7-1 by Palace. As a consequence, the FA introduced a new Law, requiring clubs to field their strongest teams in the Cup. A rule far more honoured in the breach than the observance in the Twenty-First Century.
The eventual winners were Everton, their first victory after two previous defeats.
The Cup’s new format only lasted one season, with a Fifth Qualifying Round being reintroduced the following season. The number of non-League teams given byes into Round One was increased to sixteen, and the Round required no less than thirteen replays (four going to second replays). The Wednesday joined their Sheffield rivals, United, in winning a second Cup.
The 1907/08 season set a record that stands to the present day, with thirteen First Division teams going out to lover level clubs. Unsurprisingly, three of the semi-final places were occupied by Second Division clubs, a situation not repeated until exactly a century later, in 2008. The only First Division survivors, Newcastle United (who finished fourth), won their semi-final against Fulham 6-0, still a record at this stage, but were comfortably beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers, only the second Second Division winners.
By this time, Newcastle United had reached three Finals in four years and lost them all. They were spared further potential embarrassment the following season by Manchester United in the semi-final, with the Reds going on to claim their first Cup win. But neither Manchester club would feature prominently in the Cup’s history for many years, and decades, yet.
United’s opponents, Bristol City, have not returned to the Cup Final, placing them alongside Queen’s Park among clubs who have never won the Cup. It would be forty years before another team would reach the Final yet never, to date, lift the Cup.
Newcastle’s time would come in 1910, though not at Crystal Palace but at Goodison Park in a replay, winning the Cup at the fourth time of asking. It’s an odd quirk of the FA Cup’s history that only one club has failed to win the Cup after losing on its first three appearances in the Final.
This was the last year for the second FA Cup. When Newcastle returned the trophy, it was retired and presented, as a retirement gift, to the FA President Lord Kinnaird. The trophy is still in existence today. It was bought at auction in 2005 by then-Birmingham City, now West Ham United co-Chairman, David Gold, and is on permanent display at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
To replace it, the FA ordered a new, larger, re-designed trophy, the F.A. Cup as we recognise it today, though the 1911 trophy is no longer in use itself. It was designed by Fattorini’s of Bradford and, fittingly, was won in its first season by Bradford City, beating Newcastle United (again!) in a replay at Old Trafford. The replay was by far the most successful in terms of attendance to date, with 69,000 at the Crystal Palace, and an impressive 58,000 coming to Manchester.
The Edwardian decade, when football, and the Cup, was still played in an atmosphere of innocence. The Cup was now forty years old, yet it was still developing. Another decade would see it achieve its half-century. No-one could foresee how the middle years of that approaching decade would be ripped out.
(all Finals played at Crystal Palace unless otherwise stated)
1901/02 Sheffield United 1 Southampton 1
R: Sheffield United 2 Southampton 1
1902/03 Bury 6 Derby County 0
1903/04 Manchester City 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
1904/05 Aston Villa 2 Newcastle United 0
1905/6 Everton 1 Newcastle United 0
1906/07 The Wednesday 2 Everton 1
1907/08 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3 Newcastle United 1
1908/09 Manchester United 1 Bristol City 0
1909/10 Newcastle United 1 Barnsley 1
R: Newcastle United 2 Barnsley 0 (Goodison Park, Liverpool)
1910/11 Bradford City 0 Newcastle United 0 (aet)
R Bradford City 1 Newcastle United 0 (Old Trafford, Manchester)
The fourth decade saw another new record of fifteen different finalists, with Newcastle United the most prolific, appearing in five Finals, albeit losing four of them. Everton were the only other club to appear in two Finals. There were ten different winners in the fourth decade, a different holder every year, with five clubs winning their first Cup, including both Manchester clubs. Of the losers, only Bristol City did not have Cup success ahead or behind them. Three Finals required replays, as many as the three decades prior to that, one of which took place at the same venue as the Final itself, an anomaly that would take eighty years to become the rule.