The Football Association was established in 1863 and was dominated by the old boys of the prominent public schools of the South. They believed in the amateur ethos – which they could afford to.
The F.A. Cup was established in 1871-72 and was dominated by these old boys’ clubs for its first decade. Meanwhile in the industrial towns of East Lancashire the passion for the game had taken hold and they began importing Scots, early experts of the passing game, to work in their mills and play for their football teams. Blackburn Olympic “wrenched” the F.A. Cup away from the South in 1883, then their near neighbours, Rovers, won it three years on the trot.
In the first of these three seasons the “gentlemen” of Upton Park F.C., donors of the trophy still played for in the Channel Islands today, objected to the F.A. about the alleged professionals of their opponents Preston North End after drawing with them in the F.A. Cup at Deepdale. Preston admitted they paid their players, saying many others did so too, and withdrew from the F.A. Cup rather than play the replay with Upton Park. Preston threatened a breakaway from the F.A. by 36 northern clubs so the F.A. admitted professionalism the following year, 1885.
The Southern clubs were rapidly eclipsed by those of the North and the Midlands, rarely winning the F.A. Cup for the next century. The F.A. consequently established the Amateur Cup in 1893-94 for those clubs who chose not to pay their players.
Much as amateurism might have been desirable, payment of the supposedly amateur players became an increasing problem for the authorities trying to police it. The desire to capture the trophy led to Northern, Isthmian and Athenian league teams dominating the competition with the F.A. Amateur Cup becoming only notionally “amateur” for the clubs from these stronger leagues.
In 1969 the Football Association introduced the F.A. Trophy for the strongest professional clubs outside the Football League. Five years later they abolished amateur status completely and with it the Amateur Cup. In its place they introduced the F.A. Vase for the other non-league clubs, whether they paid their players or not.
Once again the desire to capture a trophy overcame morals and Initially some clubs that really should have been entering the Trophy opted for the Vase, therefore stricter controls were introduced by the F.A. ensuring only clubs below a certain level could enter the Vase. Those above it entered the Trophy.
Criteria Today the criteria is that clubs at non-league Steps 1-4 (Levels 5-8 overall) compete for the Trophy and Steps 5-6 (Levels 9-10) go in for the Vase.
Step 7 (Level 11) clubs with grounds of a suitable level used to be allowed to compete in the Vase as well but they are now excluded as from this season.
Another change this year has been the abolition of replays and extra time in the initial match, therefore it is straight to “kicks from the penalty mark” if the scores are level after ninety minutes. Structure With Step 7 sides now excluded, the record entry of 667 last season is unlikely to be broken but with an almost “full house” of Step 5 & 6 entries there are still 612 teams competing.
442 of them set out for Wembley two weeks ago in the First Qualifying Round with Jersey Bulls being one of the 109 clubs that received a bye. The 221 winners of those matches and the 109 byes meet this weekend in the Second Qualifying Round with the Bulls travelling to Billingshurst, six miles South-West of Horsham in Sussex.
The 165 survivors will enter the First Round “Proper” to be drawn on Monday along with 31 clubs that lost in the Third Round last season that are exempted to this stage. For those of you that are mathematically minded the missing 32nd club failed the ground grading criteria and so was denied entry this season. The 98 winners of the First Round matches are then joined by the 30 clubs that reached the last 32 last season (two more failed the ground grading) to form the last 128.
Regionalisation The rounds of the competition are regionalised to save clubs travelling a long way in the early stages. There are 11 zones for the two qualifying rounds with the Bulls in zone 9 which is primarily filled with clubs from Sussex and Kent. The first three rounds of the draw “proper” sees the zones reduced to five with the one the Bulls will be hoping to be in seeing Surrey and Middlesex clubs join those from Sussex and Kent.
For Round Four (the last 32) there are just two zones, “North” and “South” and after that the draw goes “National” with both semi-finals of last seasons competition seeing round trips of nearly 600 miles.
The delayed final from last season is an all Northern League affair – Consett v Hebburn Town so the current holders are still Chertsey Town, the first winners to have come from the Combined Counties League, in which Jersey Bulls compete.
Northern League clubs have dominated the competition in recent seasons with 9 of the last 12 winners coming from there. They include Spennymoor Town who won the 2013 competition after defeating Guernsey 4-1 in the two-legged semi-final. This was Guernsey’s only year in the competition before they were “promoted” to the Trophy. They attracted 2,597 to Footes Lane for their Quarter-Final replay win v Walsall Wood and 4,290 for the first leg against Spennymoor, one of the highest Vase attendances other than for the finals themselves.