In this article, we will explore the FA Cup final stadiums and venues history from the first tournament back in 1872 until the present day.
The most important action taken in this era by the English Football Association was to start a Cup competition. The interest in the newly formed Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) led to a proliferation of teams, while many of them joined leagues and remain prominent in the game today.
The Oval, Kennington
This was indeed the venue of early soccer and hosted twenty FA Cup Finals. However, only a handful of amateur teams played there. i.e: the Wanderers, Oxford University, Royal Engineers, the Old Etonians, Clapham Rovers, the Old Carthusians (Charterhouse), and Queen’s Park of Scotland.
The Wanderers were the first FA Cup winners. The FA Cup final venue was moved to Lillie Bridge in 1873. After this change of venue for one year, it became a permanent fixture at the Oval (in London) until 1892.
Oxford University and the Royal Engineers had their only FA Cup final successes in 1874/75. There were some unfamiliar entrants such as Brondesbury, Farningham, Uxbridge, the Swifts, and Sheffield F.C.
The Wanderers won the FA Cup final three times in succession from 1876-78 and were presented with the FA Cup trophy to keep. Being gentlemen, they returned the trophy back to the FA.
The rules of the Football Association combined with the northern game in 1877. This hastened the arrival of professional clubs in the contest. Darwen, Notts County, Nottingham Forest, and Reading took part in 1878 and 1879. Lord Kinnaird and his team the Old Etonians won the FA Cup competition these years. But only after an epic struggle against Darwen and their ‘professional’ football players.
The big guns Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, and an early Birmingham side appeared the following year. However, amateur sides Clapham Rovers and the Old Carthusians managed to win the FA Cup final in 1880 and 1881, respectively.
The Old Etonians had the last amateur victory a year later, and the first northern success went to Blackburn Olympic in 1883. While Blackburn Rovers won three times the FA Cup final in 1884-86, twice against Queen’s Park and then against West Bromwich Albion in a replay at the Racecourse Ground, Derby.
Indeed, the following six finals were won by northern clubs who were founder members of the Football League. The attendance was 14,000 for the first game between Blackburn Rovers and Queen’s Park in 1884. It had reached 22,000 spectators when Preston North End beat Wolverhampton Wolves to win the FA Cup final and League championship in 1889. The problems of The Oval as a FA Cup venue were apparent, as the last final between West Bromwich and Aston Villa in 1892 had an attendance of 32,810.
Lillie Bridge, Fulham
The English FA arranged two test matches in this area of London, one at Beaufort House in 1867 (played at Battersea), and the other at Lillie Bridge Athletic Ground or the West London Running Grounds in 1868.
The FA Cup venue was just beside West Brompton Station and the West London Extension Railway, while some fields and orchards were nearby. Indeed, the area remained undeveloped and to the west was Beaufort House, the latter also having a path or track and a rifle range adjacent.
This venue was familiar to the Football Association. Thus it was chosen for the final on 29 March 1873. The kick-off took place in the morning so the teams and spectators could watch the Boat Race in the afternoon.
The Wanderers had a bye all the way to the FA Cup final, whereas Oxford beat Crystal Palace 3-2, Clapham Rovers 3-0, Royal Engineers 1-0, Maidenhead 4-0, and had a walkover against Queen’s Park.
A small crowd of 3,000 assembled for the FA Cup final, but Oxford was exhausted by all their efforts. The Wanderers won their second successive FA Cup 2-0. In fact, it was a bad day for the university because the Boat Race was also won by Cambridge by three lengths in good time.
This was the only time that the venue hosted an FA Cup Final. However, this significant game was not to be the end of the story.
Famous Running Race
Despite new competition from Stamford Bridge Athletic Club, established just to the south in 1877, it remained an essential football venue with important meetings. The history of sport in the area could have been different but for some dramatic events on 19 September 1887.
A running contest was arranged between Henry Gent of Darlington, who had won the Sheffield handicap at Easter, and Henry Hutchens, a noted champion short-distance runner. The latter had just returned from competing in Australia and typically trained in Leicester.
The event was a great topic of conversation. The runners were touted like derby favorites. Gent wanted a four-yard start on the 120-yard race, but fair terms were agreed, and a £100 stake was placed. The race was to take place on Monday at 5.00 pm, and a large crowd was expected.
Indeed, 1,000 people had entered the venue by 4.30 pm. This figure had doubled by 5.00 pm, with many still arriving. The spectators had come from all parts of the country (especially from Sheffield) and paid good money. Most were standing in the low-priced areas by the road, and the remainder in the main stand with its veranda and dressing rooms.
However, there was a large amount of betting involved, and the scene soon turned rather ugly. Henry Gent had favorable odds of 3-1, but this fell to 10-1, and some wagers were made that the race would not be run.
Henry Hutchens came out and circled the ground with his trainer, followed by Gent, who seemed promising. However, Henry Gent’s people were sure their man would lose and decided to forfeit their stake, thereby saving the money previously betted. A fight between the two parties was narrowly averted, but an agreement was reached, and they retired.
The runners left the arena of Lillie Bridge, and most spectators were unaware of events until 6.30 pm. Once it became known, the crowd of 3,000 demanded their entrance money back, but it was already removed for safe-keeping.
Initially, some men and lads broke down the railings before the pavilion, pulled down the flagpole, and smashed chairs. Indeed, only three or four police officers were on duty, and once the mob realized this, they took more drastic action. One group attacked the refreshment and dressing-rooms on the Seagrove Roadside, a second tackled the railings by the railway, and a third threw missiles at the Lillie Bridge pavilion.
Many not involved in the altercation attempted to escape but were blocked by those looking for money at the turnstiles. Consequently, they tried another route on the embankment but were stopped by railway employees. In the ensuing dispute, a rail worker died of a heart attack.
The rioters set fire to the buildings, and some people were only saved due to a brick wall. Those parts of the pavilion not burnt were ransacked for money and compensation. Indeed, the private lockers of club members were all torn open, and a dozen bicycles were smashed up. Both the police and firefighters were pelted with stones. Several large fires blazed around the ground with flames 30-40 feet high in the air.
One report stated that some 10,000 people were involved, many were bruised or crushed, and several police officers were severely injured. However, the riot was quelled once reinforcements arrived. The fire brigade extinguished the flames by 10.30 pm and handed the ground over to the police.
The Lillie Bridge Ground with grandstand, refreshment room, dressing rooms, and the gymnasium was destroyed and never recovered. The demise of the venue paved the way for the growth of Stamford Bridge in 1905. Without the riot, there might have been a completely different story for Chelsea Football Club.
Fallowfield and Goodison Park Stadium
The 1893 Cup Final took place at Manchester University Athletic Ground, just behind Owens Park in the Fallowfield district south of the city center. This was the only time the FA Cup final was played in Manchester itself, as Old Trafford was situated outside the city boundaries. Wolverhampton Wolves beat Everton 1-0 in front of a record crowd of 45,000.
Meanwhile, Everton played at Anfield Road in 1884-92, but their backer John Boulding was unhappy with the arrangement. When they joined the football league, he raised the rent from £100 to £250, and the club refused to pay. So Everton transferred to the other side of Stanley Park.
Goodison Park was the association football’s first significant stadium and had tall covered stands on three sides and a large bank on the other. The touchline was a distance from the stands avoiding the cramped situation at Anfield. Lord Kinnaird and Frederick Wall were at the opening ceremony, including an athletics meeting, concert, and fireworks on 24 August 1892.
John Boulding was most unhappy and tried to start another Everton Football Club, but the FA would not allow it. However, he had support from John McKenna (the club chairman and Football League president). Thus Liverpool Football Club was formed at Anfield stadium with an initial ground capacity of about 20,000.
The venue for the 1894 FA Cup Final stadium was then an easy choice. Notts County beat Bolton 4-1 in front of 37,000 at Goodison Park and became the first Second Division club to win the FA Cup final. James Logan scored the second hat trick in a FA Cup final (William Townley of Blackburn scored the first in 1890).
The Crystal Palace
After leaving the Oval, the Football Association wanted to find a more permanent venue in London despite such indecision. So the FA Cup final was taken to Anerley and remained there for a further twenty years.
The Great Exhibition was staged in the Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, designed by Joseph Paxton in 1851. The glass building was 1,500 feet long and covered 26 acres. Within six months, there were 6 million visitors. The profits helped fund the new museums at South Kensington, while the Crystal Palace was moved to Anerley Hill and re-opened as part of the Victorian pleasure grounds in 1856.
Indeed, with such a prominent profile, the amateur team Crystal Palace Football Club was formed in 1861. They soon joined the FA and took part in the first FA Cup contest.
Meanwhile, the Crystal Palace was the area’s hub and attracted thousands of people annually, bringing great prosperity to local shops. The transport network converged in all directions on the concourse with two rail routes, buses, and trams. There were large circular towers at each end, and below were terraced gardens and lakes.
A grand central walk ran through the site, and at the lower end were two gigantic fountains, each of them a staggering 800 feet wide. However, these were uneconomic from the start, and the cascades were removed in 1880, and the fountains filled in by 1894. The site was then a sports arena with an athletic ground to the north and a football ground to the south.
Moving The National Landmark
Clearly, there was massive potential with a national landmark, good transport infrastructure, catering facilities, and a site to accommodate 100,000 spectators.
John Aird & Sons were involved in the construction at Hyde Park and undertook the work. The football pitch was at the center of an oval track and to the west was a pavilion with a forward-slanting roof. The latter was flanked by two stands, angled inwards towards each end of the pitch, and clearly, the shape of the original fountain dictated this arrangement.
However, the stands were of frugal construction and only had seats for 3,000, while most spectators stood on a low curving bank with some meagre wooden terraces and poor sightlines.
The stadium then staged some exceptional FA Cup finals. Aston Villa beat West Bromwich Albion 1-0 in the first final in 1895, in front of Charles Alcock, Lord Kinnaird, and a limited crowd of 42,560.
Indeed, some new teams were soon to make their mark. Millwall and Southampton of the Southern League played a FA Cup semi-finals there in 1900. The score was 0-0 in front of 34,760, and Southampton won the replay at Elm Park to become the first non-league team to reach the FA Cup final. However, they lost the latter contest to Bury by a 4-0 scoreline.
Famous FA Cup Finals
Non-league Tottenham beat four First Division clubs on the way to the FA Cup final in 1901 and met Sheffield United with a record crowd of 114,815 (2-2). Yet, the replay at Burnden Park, Bolton attracted only 20,470, as the local railway company refused to provide cheap-day tickets.
In the replay, Tottenham Hotspurs were 1-0 behind at halftime but came back to win 3-1 and were the only non-league winners in the 20th century. The game was a commercial disaster for Bolton with severe over-catering and thus became known colloquially as “Pie Saturday.” Who ate all the pies?
Bury played Derby County in the FA Cup final of 1903 and won by a record 6-0 scoreline in front of 63,102 spectators. This was a shock as Derby County had conceded only one goal on the way to the FA Cup final, although Bury had let in none at all during the whole competition.
Indeed, the venue was a great success, and the Football Association negotiated a new five year deal (for the FA Cup Final) with the Crystal Palace Company in 1905. As a result, the three sides of the terracing were improved. Furthermore, two multi-gabled stands were erected around the pavilion, thus raising the number of seats to 5,000. In addition, the extensive banking gave the ground a vast potential capacity.
Aston Villa beat Newcastle United 2-0 in front of another six-figure crowd of 101,117 in 1905. However, Newcastle United did not enjoy their visits south as they lost three FA Cup finals in 1906, 1908, and 1911 (after a replay). They also drew the FA Cup final in 1910 but were determined to win the replay by any means. In an unattractive match, they beat “Battling” Barnsley 2-0.
The Crystal Palace venue experienced financial problems by 1911 and was beginning to show its age. It was offered up for sale, but there were no takers. Indeed the Football Association declined to purchase the FA Cup final venue for the nation in 1913.
Despite this, the stadium achieved its apex that year when Aston Villa defeated Sunderland 1-0 in front of a world-record crowd of 121,919. King George V attended the following year. Cheering crowds lined the route from Buckingham Palace to Sydenham. There was an excitable and patriotic atmosphere. Burnley (the Royalties) beat Liverpool 1-0 in front of a slightly smaller crowd of 72,778.
The modern Crystal Palace Football Club played there between 1905 and 1915, then moved to Selhurst Park. During the great war, the ground was an army depot. It became home to the Corinthians, a famous amateur club from 1922-36.
The team was successful and played some epic games there, including a FA Cup encounter against Millwall with 32,500 spectators in 1930 (which went to three games).
Old Trafford And Stamford Bridge Stadiums
The Football Association then had a familiar problem regarding the FA Cup final venues, and with war looming, they put all significant decisions on hold. Instead, they decided to use club grounds yet again. Despite the outbreak of war, the 1914-15 season continued to its conclusion. As the casualties mounted, many questioned whether these remaining games should have been played.
Old Trafford was inaugurated in 1910, and, like Goodison Park, it was the most advanced football stadium of its time. Therefore, Old Trafford was the obvious choice for the FA Cup final in 1915. Sheffield United defeated Chelsea by a 3-0 margin in front of 49,557. The atmosphere was subdued throughout the match. It was dubbed the “Khaki Cup Final” due to the many soldiers in the crowd.
The Football League restarted in 1919, and the Football Association chose Stamford Bridge stadium for the successive three FA Cup finals. A running track was laid out there in 1877. It was home to the London Athletic Club. A large arena was developed as a speculative venture in 1905, and Chelsea Football Club was formed that year.
At first, the FA Cup final attendances were small, but there were 67,000 for a visit of Manchester United in 1906, and a cup-tie against Swindon attracted 77,952 in 1911. However, there was almost a problem in 1920 when Chelsea reached the FA Cup semi-final but lost 3-1 to Aston Villa.
The three games were then as follows:
1920 – Aston Villa 1 Huddersfield Town 0 (50,018)
1921 – Tottenham Hotspur 1 Wolverhampton Wolves 0 (72,805)
1922 – Huddersfield Town 1 Preston North End 0 (53,000)
The low scores at these FA Cup finals resulted from the pitch, which suffered when used for other events such as athletics and baseball. The low attendance was due to the use of a club ground and high prices. These were deliberately raised to keep the numbers down.
The Football Association was not idle during the years at Chelsea, and they soon opened a football stadium far grander than any that went before.
Watkin’s Tower or Folly was built at Wembley Park in 1894 to emulate the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but it hardly got off the ground and was removed in 1907. This was the site chosen for the new football stadium.
The initial development was a part of the British Empire Exhibition, and Robert McAlpine (contractors) carried out the work in a remarkable 300 days – at the cost of just £750,000. An ‘army’ of workers and soldiers tested the safety of the ground by marching up and down upon the terraces. It was passed ready just in time for the FA Cup final in April 1923.
The Old Wembley was initially designated as the Empire Stadium. It later received the encomium the Venue of Legends, while for many years playing at Wembley was the ultimate goal of football clubs and their players.
Most Famous Stadium In The World
Indeed, it was undoubtedly the most famous and finest stadium globally, with its two distinctive towers linked by a balcony. Inside was a dazzling white interior, while terraces curved around the pitch and were reached through arched entrances. Two sides of the football stadium were seated and covered, and the FA Cup trophy was presented from the Royal Box at the top of the famous stairs.
Bolton Wanderers played West Ham United in the first FA Cup final. It was nearly abandoned when an estimated 250,000 spectators descended on the ground. The official attendance was much lower at 127,000. However, this new FA Cup final venue was completely overcrowded.
The vast crowd spilled onto the football pitch before the kick-off, and a single policeman rode forth to settle them down. Thus, it was dubbed “The White Horse Final.” During the game, the ball bounced off the wall of spectators and remained in play. The FA Cup final was completed, and Bolton Wanderers won 2-0 to receive the Cup from King George V.
Due to such problems, all future FA Cup finals were made ticket only, and the crowds were initially 93,000. Indeed, after the Empire Exhibition, there were doubts over its future. The first soccer international was against Scotland in 1924 (1-1).
Meanwhile, any questions were settled when Wembley Arena was built in 1934, and the complex was then further developed, raising the stadium capacity to 100,000.
There were no matches in 1940-45. However, the Old Wembley Stadium staged the Summer Olympic Games in 1948 and was the venue for Sir Stanley Matthew’s FA Cup Final in 1953 when Blackpool came back to defeat Bolton Wanderers 4-3. This was followed by Spurs victory over Leicester in 1961 to secure the first modern “double.”
There were few later developments, and the terraces were covered in 1963. Wembley Way replaced the former Olympic Way. The most iconic event was the 1966 World Cup Finals when England beat West Germany 4-2 to take the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Several terrific contests took place, with many highs and lows, none more remarkable than Arsenal’s Cup FA Cup victory in 1979 and Wimbledon’s in 1988.
The FA Cup final venue was converted to an all-seated stadium in 1990 with an Olympic Gallery, reducing the capacity to 79,000. In addition, a new walkway was erected leading up to the entrance. This prepared the ground for the European Football Championships in 1996 when England came close to emulating their success thirty years earlier.
There was a brief sojourn to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in 2001-06. The game had grown way beyond any founders’ dreams, and Wembley stadium needed to be demolished and rebuilt. The FA Cup final returned under the arch at the cost of nearly £800 million in 2007.
FA Cup Final Venues
1872 The Oval
1873 Lillie Bridge
1874-1892 The Oval
1886 The Racecourse Ground, Derby (The replay of the 1886 FA Cup Final)
1894 Goodison Park
1895-1914 Crystal Palace
1901 Burnden Park (Replay)
1902 Crystal Palace
1910 Goodison Park
1911 Old Trafford
1912 Bramall Lane
1915 Old Trafford
1920-1922 Stamford Bridge
1970 Old Trafford (Replay)
2001-06 Millennium Stadium
2007- ‘New’ Wembley
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!