S is for shield…
Whether it’s played in the name of charity or the community, the annual contest between the winners of the league and the FA Cup has come to be the seen as a traditional, ceremonial curtain raiser for the English football season.
It used to be a pre-season friendly and was shared if drawn but now the game goes to penalties and is counted by some as a genuine trophy, especially if your name happens to be D. Moyes Esq.
Yet while it may not be regarded with the greatest degree of respect as a competitive spectacle, what we now know today as the FA Community Shield has a far more meaningful history than many would suspect.
Founded in 1908 as a continuation of the Sheriff of London Charity Shield—in which a team of gentlemen amateurs faced off against another comprised of lower-class players—the new FA Charity Shield pitted the winners of the First Division and Southern League against each other. The first winners of the shield were First Division champions Manchester United who overcame Queens Park Rangers 4-0 in a replay after the initial match ended as a 1-1 draw. Both games were played at Stamford Bridge and the 1908 remains the only one to go to a replay.
The new competition’s format wasn’t set in stone however and changed over the following decades, shifting in focus to being a match between amateurs and professionals, various exhibition sides such as England versus an FA XI, and the fixtures between the league and FA Cup winners we know today.
It was confirmed as a permanent part of the game’s pre-season schedule in 1959, but a few kinks remained that needed ironing out. Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal’s double winning teams of 1961 and 1971 caused complications. The former played an FA all-star XI rather than the cup runners up as they would today, while the latter weren’t able to complete the fixture due to their pre-season tour commitments. Instead, Division Two champions Leicester City were invited to play FA Cup runners up Liverpool, and went on to win the shield despite never winning the First Division of FA Cup.
In 1972, league winners Derby County and FA Cup winners Leeds United declined to take part, leading to fourth-placed Manchester City kicking off the football calendar with a 1-0 win over Third Division champions Aston Villa.
Not taking the competition seriously is hardly a new phenomenon, and over the years plenty of officials have attempted to pump some prestige into the fixture. FA secretary Ted Croker finalised the current format in 1974, whereby the winners of the country’s two top competitions would play each other on the hallowed turf of Wembley. And his idea seemed to work a treat, as Liverpool and Leeds did battle between the famous stadium’s two towers as they took their 1974 Charity Shield showdown a little too seriously.
More recently, the competition added penalty shoot outs to decide the result in the case of a draw in 1993, which was also the first year in which the FA Cup winners fought the Premier League champions for the shield.
Since then, the fixture has spent some time on the road. While the new Wembley was being built it was transferred to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, and during the 2012 London Olympics, it was contested at Villa Park.
Now know as the FA Community Shield, the 2014 edition of this “glorified friendly” will see Arsenal play Manchester City, with last year’s league champions perhaps wary of going for the win against the Gunners. Every winner of the shield over the last three years has followed up their triumph by failing to become champions in the season proper.
But these sorts of records are only meaningful until someone breaks them, right?
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