|Dates|| 11 November 1871|
16 March 1872
|Number of teams||15|
The 1871–72 Football Association Challenge Cup was the first staging of the Football Association Challenge Cup, usually known in the modern era as the FA Cup, the oldest association football competition in the world. Fifteen of the association's fifty member clubs entered the first competition, although three withdrew without playing a game. In the final, held at Kennington Oval in London on 16 March 1872, Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers by a single goal, scored by Morton Betts, who was playing under the pseudonym A.H. Chequer.
The leading Scottish club Queen's Park entered the competition and managed to reach the semi-finals without having to play a match, due to a combination of an inability to agree venue, opponents withdrawing from the competition and byes. After holding Wanderers to a draw in the semi-final, however, they could not afford to return to London for a replay and were themselves forced to withdraw, giving their opponents a walkover into the final. At the time the competition also employed a rule which stated that, in the event of a drawn match, both teams could be put through to the next round at the organising committee's discretion, which occurred on two occasions.
The Football Association, the governing body of the sport in England, had been formed in 1863, but for the first eight years of its existence, its member clubs played only friendly matches against each other, with no prizes at stake. In 1871, however, Charles Alcock, the association's secretary, conceived the idea for a knock-out tournament open to all member clubs, with a trophy to be awarded to the winners. Alcock's inspiration came from his days at Harrow School, where the houses which comprised the school competed each year for the title of "Cock House".Fifty clubs were eligible to enter, but only twelve chose to do so: Barnes, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Crystal Palace, Hampstead Heathens, Harrow Chequers, Harrow School, Lausanne, Royal Engineers, Upton Park, Wanderers and Windsor Home Park. Before the first round took place, however, Harrow School, Lausanne and Windsor Home Park all withdrew, reducing the number of entrants to nine. Six other clubs agreed to enter, however, including the leading club in Scotland, Queen's Park.
Most of the original entrants are now defunct. Queen's Park continued to compete in the FA Cup until 1887, when the Scottish Football Association banned its member clubs from entering the English competition. They are still active in the lower divisions of the Scottish Football League. Marlow and Maidenhead (now Maidenhead United) are still active, and each has only missed a single season in the history of the competition. A team from the Civil Service still exists, playing in Amateur Football Alliance competitions. The Crystal Palace team from 1871–72 is a defunct former amateur club not connected to the Crystal Palace professional club which exists today. The team from Hitchin in the 1870s reformed to become the modern Hitchin Town in 1928.
|Round||Main date||Number of fixtures||Clubs||New entries this round|
|First round||11 November 1871||7 (4 played)||15→10||15|
|Second round||16 December 1871||5 (4 played)||10 → 5||1|
|Third round||20–27 January 1872||2||5 → 4||none|
|Semi-finals||17 February – 5 March 1872||2||4 → 2||none|
|Final||16 March 1872||1||2 → 1||none|
Although there were seven matches scheduled in the first round, only four took place. Wanderers and Royal Engineers both won their matches by walkover when their opponents withdrew from the competition, and as Queen's Park and Donington School were unable to agree on a mutually acceptable date for the game, they were both allowed to progress to the second round without playing. Due to there being an odd number of entrants, Hampstead Heathens were awarded a bye to the second round. The first goal in FA Cup competition was scored by Jarvis Kenrick of Clapham Rovers.
| 11 November 1871||Barnes||2–0||Civil Service|| Stadium = Unknown|
| 11 November 1871||Hitchin||0–0||Crystal Palace|| Top Field, Hitchin|
| 11 November 1871||Maidenhead||2–0||Marlow|| York Road, Maidenhead|
| ||Queen's Park||vs.||Donington School|| Stadium = N/A|
| 11 November 1871||Upton Park||0–3||Clapham Rovers|| West Ham Park, London|
| Kenrick' (2)|
| ||Royal Engineers||w/o from||Reigate Priory|| Stadium = N/A|
| ||Wanderers||w/o from||Harrow Chequers|| Stadium = N/A|
| ||Hampstead Heathens||bye|| Stadium = N/A|
- Queen's Park and Donington School were both permitted to advance to the second round because they could not agree on a venue
- Hitchin and Crystal Palace were both permitted to advance to the second round without a replay being played
In the second round Queen's Park and Donington School were again drawn together. This time the school club withdrew from the competition altogether, meaning that Queen's Park progressed to the quarter-final, still without having played a match. The match between Barnes and Hampstead Heathens ended in a draw, but this time, rather than both progressing to the next round, the teams were made to play again and the Heathens emerged victorious.
| 16 December 1871||Crystal Palace||3–0||Maidenhead|| Crystal Palace Park|
| 16 December 1871||Wanderers||3–1||Clapham Rovers|| Stadium = Unknown|
| 23 December 1871||Barnes||1–1||Hampstead Heathens|| Barnes|
| 6 January 1872||Hampstead Heathens||1–0||Barnes|| Stadium = Unknown|
| 10 January 1872||Hitchin||0–5||Royal Engineers|| Stadium = Unknown|
| ||Queen's Park||w/o from||Donington School|| Stadium = N/A|
Due to there being an odd number of teams left in the competition, Queen's Park received a bye and thus reached the semi-finals without having played a match in the competition. The match between Wanderers and Crystal Palace finished in a draw and both teams were allowed through to the semi-finals. Royal Engineers completed the semi-final line-up after beating Hampstead Heathens. The Heathens never again entered the competition.
| 27 January 1872||Royal Engineers||3–0||Hampstead Heathens|| Stadium = Unknown|
| 20 January 1872||Wanderers||0–0||Crystal Palace|| Clapham Common|
| ||Queen's Park||bye|| Stadium = N/A|
All matches from this stage of the competition onwards were played at Kennington Oval in London. Both semi-finals finished in goalless draws and thus went to replays. Queen's Park, however, could not afford to make the long trip from Glasgow a second time and thus withdrew from the competition, giving Wanderers a place in the final. Royal Engineers secured the second place in the final by defeating Crystal Palace at the second attempt.
| 17 February 1872||Crystal Palace||0–0||Royal Engineers|| Kennington Oval, London|
| 5 March 1872||Queen's Park||0–0||Wanderers|| Kennington Oval, London|
| 9 March 1872||Royal Engineers||3–0||Crystal Palace|| Kennington Oval, London|
| Renny-Tailyour' (2)|
| ||Wanderers||w/o from||Queen's Park|| |
- Main article: 1872 FA Cup Final
The final took place at Kennington Oval between Wanderers and Royal Engineers. The Engineers were leading exponents of the tactic of passing the ball, which at the time was known as the "Combination Game" and considered extremely innovative at a time when most teams relied solely on dribbling. Despite this, Wanderers dominated the game and won 1–0 with a goal from Morton Betts. For unclear reasons, Betts played in the final under the pseudonym "A.H. Chequer", derived from his membership of the Harrow Chequers club.
| 16 March 1872||Wanderers||1–0||Royal Engineers|| Kennington Oval, London|
Referee: Alfred Stair (Upton Park F.C.)