The FA Cup, known officially as The Football Association Challenge Cup, was first played during the 1871/72 season and is the oldest association football competition in the world. The knockout competition is open to any eligible club down to Level 10 of the English football pyramid, of which the current format sees the first six rounds as qualifiers for the first round of the Competition Proper when teams from Leagues One and Two are included.
Horsham Football Club made its debut in the competition on Saturday 3rd October 1903, when between four and five hundred spectators gathered at the Worthing Sports Ground to see Smith and Mulholland get the goals that secured the home side’s progress in to the first qualifying round. Worthing were again our victors when we were paired together the following season and our inauspicious start continued when Tunbridge Wells Rangers secured a 3-0 success at Queen Street in 1905 to make it three games, three losses, and not a single goal to our name! That record was put firmly to bed, though, with the visit of Newhaven Cement Works in October 1907 when a hat-trick by Thompson helped us to a 6-2 win.
No progress was made beyond the first qualifying round stage until season 1937/38 when the club bucked that trend in surprising style, going all the way through to the fourth and final qualifying round before being knocked out in a replay by Enfield, thus denying us a tie against Bristol City. A decade later, Horsham created history when reaching the first round of the competition proper. Victory over Redhill, in front of over 5,500 spectators, was rewarded with a trip to then Third Division side Notts County, a club that had just created shockwaves by signing former Everton, Chelsea and England striker Tommy Lawton for a then record fee of £20,000. Yet Horsham stunned the near 29,000 crowd by taking a second minute lead through Ron Smallwood, only for the professionals to stage a stunning recovery in which Lawton scored three of his new side’s nine goals. Though no disgrace, this remains Horsham’s heaviest defeat in the competition.
It would be another nineteen years before the club would appear in the first round once more, this time Queen Street playing host to Swindon Town who returned to Wiltshire with a 3-0 win under their belts, to the disappointment of a ground attendance record of 7,134. Horsham would go on to reach the final qualifying round on a further six occasions before victory over Chippenham Town, in October 2007, set up a first round clash with fellow ‘non-leaguers’ Maidenhead United. It was a particularly poignant occasion as this was to be the final season in which the club would play its home matches at Queen Street and a bumper gate saw the home side put in a memorable performance to win 4-1 to move into the second round for the first time in its history. The reward was another home tie, this time against Welsh giants Swansea City – the highest ranked side at that stage of the competition. The interest in the match wasn’t confined to supporters in the respective towns as Sky Sports elected to relay the match to their global audience, the first time that a Horsham match had been shown ‘live’ on TV. On a wretched night, in which a torrential downpour had cast doubts on the match going ahead, dogged Horsham fought back from 1-0 down to snatch a replay when Lewis Taylor smashed home a late penalty. Again the Sky cameras were at the Liberty Stadium to see the visitors twice lead their opponents before they finally succumbed 6-2.
Despite taking then Conference National (and now League Two) side Stevenage Borough to a replay in the fourth qualifying round the following season, FA Cup success has been in short supply for Horsham since then although it remains a competition that the club and its supporters have taken to its hearts, with the preliminary round draw always highly anticipated every summer.
Horsham’s FA Cup record at a glance:
Biggest win: 10-1 v Southwick (24.9.1960)
Heaviest defeat: 1-9 v Notts County (29.11.47)
Second Round (once): 2007/8 (replay)
First Round (twice): 1947/8, 1966/7
4th Qualifying Round (nine times): 1937/8 (replay), 1956/7, 1958/9, 1974/5, 1977/8, 1991/2 (replay), 2000/1 (replay), 2002/3 (replay), 2008/9 (replay)
Most regular opponents: Worthing (14)
A penalty ‘shoot-out’ has been required to decide two FA Cup ties involving Horsham. The first in 2002 when they were beaten 4-2 in a fourth qualifying round replay at Team Bath and the second in 2007, in which Horsham eliminated AFC Wimbledon 5-4 at Queen Street in a replayed third qualifying round tie.
A collection of matchday programme covers from FA Cup matches involving Horsham can be found here