The FA Cup is the oldest and most distinguished national cup competition in the world, with a tradition that spans some 140 years and a fame that reaches every far corner of the globe. Everton have always been one of the FA Cup’s great competitors, winning the competition five times and appearing in 13 finals and 25 semi-finals. Many of its most enduring moments – particularly the dramatic 1966 final – are the result of Everton’s participation.

The competition was created in 1871, when association football was still in its infancy. It was the idea of the FA’s Honorary Secretary, Charles Alcock, a key influence in elevating football from the pursuit of the few to the obsession of the masses. He was the principal force behind the first international matches between England and Scotland in the early 1870s, but his most enduring legacy is the creation of the FA Cup.

AT HARROW School, Alcock had played in inter-house ‘sudden death’ competitions and remembered vividly the thrill of these schoolboy encounters. Among his colleagues at the FA and the Sportsman newspaper (for which Alcock was a regular contributor) he floated the idea of initiating a knockout competition along similar lines and found it met with enthusiastic approval. The FA swiftly agreed to his proposal and on 20 July 1871 put out the announcement: ‘That it is desirable that a Challenge Cup should be established in connection with the Association for which all clubs belonging to the Association should be invited to compete.’ Thus, in a single short sentence, the FA Cup was born.

STANDING JUST 18 inches high in its original form, the FA Cup towers high in the history of football. (The original trophy was stolen in 1895 and never recovered. The second trophy was presented to Lord Kinnaird to commemorate his 21st year as FA President in 1911; the third trophy was replaced with an exact replica in 1992 – the cup that we know today.) In its first year just 15 of the Football Association’s 50 members entered, almost all London-based, and Alcock himself captained Wanderers to a 1-0 victory over Royal Engineers in the final. Although the first seven finals would each see either Alcock’s men or Royal Engineers emerge with their name inscribed across the trophy’s base, with every passing year the competition – the only national football competition at that time – increased in strength: the number of entrants rose exponentially and the level of interest it attracted changed football from being the leisure pursuit of a few former public schoolboys to a sport which attracted national attention – and participation.

The key year in the competition’s evolution was 1883, when Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians 2-1 in the final at Kennington Oval. From then on, the dominance of the old, southern-based public schoolboys and amateurs diminished and it became a genuine national competition.

In these first years Everton were content with the excitement of local cup competitions, but in the 1886/87 season entered the FA Cup for the first time. Their first match came against Glasgow Rangers – this being a time when Scottish teams still entered the FA Cup – in autumn 1886. Yet when Rangers arrived at Anfield, Everton, on discovering they had an ineligible player, forfeited the tie and a friendly was played instead, which they lost 0-1.

A year later Everton tried again in contentious circumstances. This time they were drawn away at Bolton Wanderers, but what followed was to epitomise the petty bickering that plagued local football rivalries in the period. After the first match – a 1-0 defeat – was declared null when a Bolton player was ruled ineligible, Everton played out two draws before finally seeing off the Lancastrians 2-1. They went on to be turned over 6-0 by Preston North End in the second round. But by then Bolton had launched a counter-appeal that Everton had also fielded ineligible players. The FA ruled against Everton, and, unable to kick them out of the FA Cup, ordered that Anfield be closed for a month. Everton did not appear in the competition again until January 1890, when they famously hit Derby County for 11 goals in what remains their record victory.

A FIRST FA Cup final appearance came in 1893, ending in defeat to Wolves. In 1897 Everton lost to Aston Villa in the final at Crystal Palace, but nine years later finally had their moment of glory, beating favourites Newcastle 1-0. In 1933 Everton became the first Merseyside team to appear at Wembley, beating Manchester City 3-0, to win the competition a second time. Seventy-six years later they would be the first team from Liverpool to appear at the new Wembley, when they defeated Manchester United on penalties to win the 2009 semi-final.

Between those two dates are interspersed all manner of dramas and stories. From the heroics of Dave Hickson in 1953 and the comeback kids of 1966, to the agonies of 1968 – when nothing seemed to go Everton’s way in the final against West Bromwich Albion – and 1985, via the high drama of the 4-4 derby draw in 1991, and humiliations at the hands of clubs like Shrewsbury, Oldham and Tranmere Rovers. Although it has lost some of its lustre, the FA Cup remains the premier domestic cup competition in the world, and its finals are watched by global audiences of hundreds of millions in some 200 countries.

Sponsorship was introduced to the competition in 1994/95, when Littlewoods signed a three-year deal to endorse it. Perhaps fittingly, given the late John Moores’ links to the club, Everton were the first winners of the Littlewoods-sponsored FA Cup. AXA insurance and E.ON energy company have since had sponsorship deals with the competition. Budweiser took over sponsorship for the 2012 competition with a three-year deal.

EVERTON boast a proud record in the competition. Although seven other teams have won it more times than their five wins, only Arsenal and Manchester United have made more semi-final and final appearances than Everton. In lean stretches of the club’s history – such as the 1950s and 1990s – the competition provided one of the few distractions from the mediocrity that otherwise consumed the club.