16th March 1872 - 1st Football Association Challenge Cup Final at the Kennington Oval - Wanderers 1, Royal Engineers 0.
At a meeting in the offices of the Sportsman in London on 20th July 1871 a proposal by Charles Alcock, the honorary secretary, that “It is desirable that a challenge cup should be established”, was passed and accepted. The F.A. Cup, as it is now known, was born. The cup, made at a cost of £20 by Messrs Martin, Hal and Co. was to be played for by all teams in the association.
15 teams entered the competition. In the first round the Wanderers were drawn against Harrow Chequers (a group of ex-Harrow School boys) and The Royal Engineers against Reigate Priory. Neither match took place as both the away sides withdrew. In the second round Wanderers defeated Clapham Rovers 3-1 in December 1871 and the Engineers beat Hitchin 5-0 in January the following year.
The quarter finals were to prove closer affairs. Wanderers played Crystal Palace (no relation to the team today) and drew 0-0. The competition rules said that either there would be a replay or both teams could go through to the semi-finals. Both were put through. The Engineers defeated Hampstead Heathens 2-0.
It was agreed, a little like today, that the semi-finals should be played at a neutral venue and the same venue as the final. Thus they took place at the Kennington Oval, now the home of Surrey County Cricket Club. The Wanderers drew 0-0 with the Scottish club Queen’s Park and the Engineers also drew with Crystal Palace with the same score line. Thus both games were set for replays. The Engineers won theirs 3-0 but unfortunately Queen’ Park was unable to afford the return fare back to London and had to forfeit the match.
Thus the final, to be played out in front of 2000 spectators each paying 1 shilling for the privilege, was back at the Oval. The Wanderers were known for their fine dribbling skills but the Engineers were famous for their “Combination” football – a mixture of the dribble and the passing game. They played with 8 up front, whereas the Wanderers played in a 7-2-1 formation. The game was played at a furious pace. The newspaper The Field reported that it was “The fastest and hardest match that has ever been seen at The Oval”. Edmund Cresswell for the Engineers broke his collarbone and had to play the rest of the match out on the wing and out of the way. It was after 15 minutes that the deadlock was broken by Morton Betts (playing under the pseudonym of A.H. Chequers – for reasons never fully explained and agreed) who finished off a lovely move after a long dribble by Robert Vidal. The Wanderers captain, the above mentioned C.W. Alcock, had a goal disallowed for handball.
The cup itself was awarded the following month at a reception at the Pall Mall restaurant. The winning players received a silk badge and the Wanderers committee awarded their players an inscribed gold medal. The winning side was also given a straight bye into the final the following year as it was a “Challenge Cup”. The cup, smaller than the modern one, was stolen from a football outfitter’s window in Birmingham in 1895 after Aston Villa had won it. It was never recovered.
The Wanderers went on to win the cup 5 times, including 3 in a row, a feat matched only by Blackburn Rovers between 1883 – 1886. The Royal Engineers went on to win in 1875 defeating the Old Etonians 2-0 in a replay, also at the Kennington Oval.