|Number of teams||295 (2018-19)|
|Current champions||Hornchurch (1st title)|
|Most successful club(s)||Scarborough|
(3 titles each)
|Television broadcasters||BT Sport |
|2021-22 FA Trophy|
The Football Association Challenge Trophy, commonly known as the FA Trophy, is a men's football knockout cup competition run by and named after the English Football Association and competed for primarily by semi-professional teams. The competition was instigated in 1969 to cater for those non-league clubs that paid their players and were therefore not eligible to enter the FA Amateur Cup.
Eligibility rules have changed over time, but from 2008 onwards the competition has been open to clubs playing in Steps 1-4 of the National League System, equivalent to tiers 5-8 of the overall English football league system. This covers the National League, the Southern League, Isthmian League, and Northern Premier League.
The final of the competition was held at the original Wembley Stadium from the tournament's instigation until the stadium closed in 2000. The final has been played at the new Wembley Stadium since its opening in 2007. The record for the most FA Trophy wins is shared by Woking and two defunct clubs, Scarborough and Telford United, with three victories each.
The competition was created by the Football Association in 1969 to afford semi-professional teams an opportunity to compete for the chance to play at Wembley Stadium. Fully amateur clubs took part in the long-standing FA Amateur Cup, but most of the leading non-league clubs made at least some form of payment to their players and were therefore ineligible to enter the Amateur Cup. The first winners of the competition were Macclesfield Town of the Northern Premier League, who defeated Telford United of the Southern League in the final. Northern Premier League clubs dominated the first decade of the competition, with Telford United the only Southern League team to break the northern clubs' hold on the competition. In the early years of its existence the competition struggled to achieve the same level of prestige as the long-established Amateur Cup.
In 1974 the FA abolished the distinction between official professional and amateur status and discontinued the Amateur Cup, and the Trophy soon had 300 entrants. This figure was gradually reduced until by 1991 only around 120 clubs took part. In 1978 the FA moved the final of the Trophy to the Saturday immediately following the FA Cup Final, so as to give it a longer build-up and avoid conflict with clubs' league programmes, which had previously reduced the competition's prestige.
In 1979 the leading Southern and Northern Premier League teams formed the new Alliance Premier League, and teams from this league dominated the Trophy during the 1980s, although in the 1980-81 season Bishop's Stortford of the comparatively lowly Isthmian League First Division entered at the preliminary round and won twelve matches to reach the final, where they defeated Sutton United. Telford United's win in 1989 made them the second team to win the Trophy three times. Between 1990 and 2000 three more teams claimed multiple wins. Former Northern Ireland international Martin O'Neill, in his third managerial role, led Wycombe Wanderers to two wins, and Geoff Chapple managed Kingstonian to victory twice and Woking three times, all within the space of seven years. After Chapple's period of success, Mark Stimson became the first man to manage the Trophy-winning team in three successive seasons, when he led Grays Athletic to victory in 2005 and 2006 and repeated the feat with his new club Stevenage Borough in 2007.
The competition is a knockout tournament with pairings drawn at random. However, the qualifying round draws and the 1st Round proper draw are regionalised to reduce teams' travel costs. For the 2014-15 season this was extended to the 2nd Round proper draw as well, however this change only lasted one season. If a match (other than the semi-final or final) is drawn, there is a replay, usually at the ground of the team which played away from home for the first game. Drawn replays are now settled with extra time and penalty shootouts, though in the past further replays were possible.
Originally the competition included as many qualifying rounds as were required to reduce the number of teams to 32. In 1999 the format was amended to match that of the FA Cup, with six rounds prior to the semi-final stage, albeit without qualifying rounds. Teams from the Football Conference received byes through the early rounds, in a similar manner to the way in which the leading clubs receive byes in the FA Cup.
As of 2008-09 the competition featured four qualifying rounds and four rounds proper before the semi-finals. Teams from Step 4 enter at the preliminary round stage, those from Step 3 at the first qualifying round, those from Step 2 at the third qualifying round, and those from Step 1 at the first round proper.
The FA pays prize money to all teams which win at least one match in the Trophy competition. In the 2014-15 season the prize for the 64 preliminary round winners was £2,500, rising round-by-round to £50,000 for the winners of the final. The prize fund is cumulative, so a team that starts in the preliminary round and wins through several rounds would receive £2,500 for the preliminary round, £2,700 for the first qualifying round, £3,250 for the second qualifying round, and so on.
Scarborough (1973, 1976, 1977), Telford United (1971, 1983, 1989), and Woking (1994, 1995, 1997) share the record for the most victories (three) in the final. In 1985 Wealdstone became the first team to win the "Non-League Double" of FA Trophy and Football Conference championship (although in the pre-Conference era both Macclesfield Town and Stafford Rangers had done the double of Northern Premier League championship and FA Trophy in 1970 and 1972 respectively). Since then Colchester United in 1992 and Wycombe Wanderers in 1993 have equalled Wealdstone's achievement.
From the 2004-05 season Sky Sports had a deal to show the final of the FA Trophy. This changed in 2007 when the FA agreed a new deal with Setanta Sports to provide coverage of FA Trophy matches with effect from the 2008-09 season. In March 2013 it was announced that S4C would broadcast the 2013 Final between Wrexham and Grimsby Town.
BT Sport showed the 2015 FA Trophy Final live. BT Sport also showed the 2016 FA Trophy Final between FC Halifax Town and Grimsby Town live on 22 May as part of a double-header along with the 2016 FA Vase Final.