by Stuart Moriarty-Patten
2 February 1889: The First Round of the FA Cup and the Invincibles become the Impregnables
The first round of the 1888/89 FA Cup took place on 2 February 1889. The tournament, which was now in its 18th year, was particularly notable as it was also the first season of the Football League and would see Preston North End claiming the first ever double.
Because it was the first time that the Cup and League had both been in existence in existence it meant that there were opportunities of upsets caused by a non-league club beating a league club. League status was no guarantee of not having to play in the qualifying rounds and so in the first qualifying round Stoke, who were to finish bottom of the league that season, suffered the indignity of being the first league side to fall to a giantkiller when they lost 2-1 at home to Warwick County on the 6 October 1888 when the league was just a few weeks old. To be fair to Stoke though it should be mentioned that they had fielded a side of reserves for the tie as they also had an away fixture at Preston on the same day. As it was the first team fared no better as they lost 7-0 and in hindsight they may have been better off concentrating on the cup.
The next giantkilling came in the perhaps unexpected location of Belfast. The FA Cup originally saw clubs from Ireland, Wales and Scotland entering and it was Bolton’s misfortune to have to travel to Linfield, who had beaten the other two Irish teams in the competition, Cliftonville and Ulster, to set up the tie on 17 November 1888 in which Bolton were soundly beaten 4-0. In the first round qualifying Everton had also been drawn to make a trip to Ireland to face Ulster but they withdrew as a protest over being disqualified from the previous year’s competition when they were found guilty of making illegal payments to players, leaving Ulster with a walkover.
The previous season’s winners West Bromwich Albion began their defence of the trophy in the First Round with a 3-2 away win at local rivals Small Heath, now Birmingham. The team they beat in that year’s final, Preston, who had managed to beat Hyde with a record 26-0 scoreline in their run to that final, beat Bootle 3-0 away from home.
The other League teams who also won their games in that first round in 1889 were, Wolverhampton Wanderers, who beat the Old Carthusians, who had won the cup in 1881, 4-3 at home; Burnley who had the same result against Old Westminsters; Aston Villa beat Witton 3-2, while it took Blackburn Rovers a replay before they finally overcome fellow league members Accrington 5-0 following a 1-1 draw. Derby County beat Derby Junction 1-0; and Notts County beat the Old Brightonians 2-0. Again the Irish team Linfield were to impress as they held the highly rated non-league Nottingham Forest to a 2-2 draw, but the cost of a replay proved too much and they sadly withdrew having made their little piece of cup history with that win over Bolton.
Another notable result in the First Round was provided by Sheffield Wednesday who had somewhat controversially been left out of the inaugural football league, to the disbelief of many. They beat Notts Rangers 3-0 in a replay after a 1-1 draw to set up a meeting with Notts County in the next round. They won this game 3-2 to become the tournament’s third giantkiller and confirm their status as the country’s leading non-league club.
With Notts County falling the league would be represented in the Quarter-Finals by Blackburn Rovers, who got a walkover against Swifts who couldn’t fulfil their fixture; Villa who beat Derby 5-3; while Wolves crushed Walsall Town Swifts 6-1, and West Brom continued their defence of the trophy with an easy 5-1 win over Burnley. Preston who by now had already wrapped up the League title won away at Grimsby 2-0. In the next round Sheffield Wednesday’s heroics were to come to an end when Wolves beat them 3-0 to set up a semi-final against Blackburn Rovers who crushed Aston Villa 8-1. Another impressive scoreline saw West Brom win 10-1 at Chatham to set up a semi-final repeat of the previous season’s final against Preston who had beaten Birmingham St. George’s 2-0.
In that semi-final this time it was to be Preston who were to be successful as they squeezed through 1-0 to reach the final without a goal conceded. There they would meet Wolves who had beaten Blackburn Rovers in a replay 3-1 after a 1-1 draw.
The final saw a crowd of 22,000 attending the Kennington Oval. This was the largest crowd yet for an FA Cup Final and many thousands of fans had travelled down to London from Lancashire and the Midlands. Among the spectators was the Prince Of Wales, although how much of the game he understood is uncertain as at one stage he was heard to announce his astonishment to the Preston Chairman that “a player had kicked the ball with his head.”
The previous season, when they had lost 2-1 to West Brom, Preston may have suffered from being too over-confident as they had posed for a picture to be taken with the FA Cup before the game. They were to make no such mistake this time as they comfortably overcame Wolves 3-0. While the thousands who had made the journey from Preston cheered their team in London, back in Preston an even greater number had congregated outside the local newspaper offices for news of the result. When it came through at 5.55, it is alleged that the cheer that erupted could be heard for miles around.
Winning the league undefeated and the FA Cup without a goal being conceded was quite a feat and one which has yet to be equaled, and Preston, who were already being called the Invincibles found themselves with the added nickname of the Impregnables. The glamour of the FA cup had been added to by Preston’s achievements, and the division of football into league and non-league clubs had proved to add extra spice to the competition.