How to qualify for the FA Cup

Bracknell Town supporters at the FA Cup tie with Barnet.
Bracknell Town supporters at the FA Cup tie with Barnet.

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Every year, 100s of football clubs from across England (and a little bit of Wales) battle it out to reach Wembley Stadium in May and play for the famous old FA Cup trophy.

You might be used to watching the FA Cup First Round Proper on television in November, or maybe you first clap your eyes on the world’s oldest cup competition when it gets to the Third Round in January, but every season, from early August, teams are vying for their moment in the spotlight.

In 2022/23 it was arguably Bracknell Town who stole the show, reaching the First Round and earning a plumb home tie with then League One Ipswich Town. Thousands descended on Sandhurst for the fixture as the Robins battled it out in the First Round for only the second time in the club’s history.

But who decides which teams are able to enter and qualify for the FA Cup?

Clubs still have to apply to enter the FA Cup each season. Teams in the Premier League, English Football League and at Steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the National League System (English Football Pyramid) are ll automatically accepted on application subject to their club’s ground conforming to a minimum standard (which at Step 5 it should do).

If you’d like to know more about the ‘Steps’ system in the English Football Pyramid, click here.

Subject to the availability of places, clubs at Step 6 (EG Combined Counties League Division One) will be accepted if the ground conforms to a minimum standard. Places will be allocated based on points per game (PPG) from the previous season.

Additionally in 2023/24, any side wishing to compete in the FA Cup must also compete in either the FA Trophy or FA Vase competitions.

How many teams play in the FA Cup?

The number of teams entered into the FA Cup varies slightly from season to season. In recent years an English Football Pyramid (National League System) restructure has seen the numbers fluctuate, but it is usually between 736 (2018/19) and 729 (2021/22). Last season – 2022/23 – 732 teams entered the competition with 640 of those in the Qualifying Rounds.

When do FA Cup games take place?

FA Cup matches almost always take place on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm, especially in the Qualifying Rounds. The tournament starts in August and finished with the FA Cup Final in May at Wembley Stadium.

There is some leeway in match days, with Friday evenings becoming more popular while some clubs in groundshares – either with football or cricket clubs – play their games on a Sunday afternoon to avoid a clash.

A full list of all the 2023/24 round dates is here.

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