As the oldest football competition in the world, the FA Cup is England’s premier knockout football tournament. It creates the opportunity for teams from every level of English and Welsh football to vie against one another for the right to be called the best of the best. Although the super clubs of the Premier League dominate, the very chance of a lower league club going far is enough to raise the standard of play and catch the imagination of the betting public.
The Football Association (FA) first met in a tavern in 1863 to establish the rules of the sport. In 1871, it inaugurated the FA Cup, which was contested primarily by amateur teams until 1888, when the Football League was founded. For more than a century, much went unchanged until 22 First Division clubs broke away from the Football League to form the Premiership under the auspices of the FA in 1992. Three years later, the Premier League solidified its claim to the top tier of football with a reduction to 20 teams, and the FA Challenge Cup serves as its ultimate prize.
Today, the FA Cup competition is conducted a knockout tournament with 14 rounds, including six qualifying rounds. Pairings for the early rounds are drawn entirely at random, without seeds, although match-ups are regionalised to some degree so that clubs do not incur heavy travel costs.
Only after the majority of fixtures have been played in each round does a draw take place, involving the 32 winners through the Fourth Qualifying Round, plus the 48 clubs from League One and League Two. The draw determines which sides play at home to start the six “proper” rounds of the tournament in November.
Teams from the Premier League and Football League Championship do not enter the tournament until the Third Round Proper, when 64 teams remain in competition. The quarter-finals are held in March. The semi-finals are conducted on neutral ground in April. And the championship event is played at London’s Wembley Stadium in May, typically on the Saturday after the Premier League season ends.
All of the stages of the FA Cup are covered by U.K. sportsbooks, from the earliest qualifiers when hundreds of teams are competing right through to the finals. International interest in the competition picks up when the better known clubs of the top divisions join the fray, but attractive odds are most common in the fall, when upstarts and underdogs are making their way up the brackets. There are literally dozens of markets to bet on during each game, too.
The heaviest betting is on the final match, of course, when the FA Cup winner is decided, but ante post betting on who will emerge victorious starts as early as a year prior and continue right through the season. Taking long odds early allows for the possibility of hedging in the later rounds.
Match betting is popular, too, especially when hometown favourites are involved. Apart from betting on a side to win outright, Asian Handicaps are available, offering a goal or two to the lesser club in a match to yield better odds and payouts.
Asian Handicaps are particularly attractive in the later rounds, when the big clubs are drawn at home and a few extra goals given to the visiting side adds real value to a wager. By the same token, when Premier League or Champions League teams are drawn away from home against teams in lower divisions, anything is possible and a point or two for the home team can easily spell victory.