This year, the world’s oldest football cup competition celebrates its 150th anniversary, and one man has taken it upon himself to follow the winner of every round right up to the final, documenting it through a personal photographic project aptly titled ‘The FA Cup Run’.

From the very first round, starting with a side in the 10th tier of English football, photographer Duncan Elliott has followed and photographed the winning teams throughout this season’s FA Cup, right up to the final this weekend. What started as a focus on the managers and captains of each club soon evolved as pandemic restrictions eased to become more and more about the fans, telling the story of each match through their eyes.

From the very beginning, when there were 736 teams, right up to this weekend’s final, when it’ll be the last two standing, Elliott’s been present at every round, travelling the land with camera in hand. A journey that started with West Didsbury & Chorlton in the extra preliminary qualifying round match way back on 7 August 2021, it has taken him all the way to Wembley with Liverpool. It’s been quite the ride, and we spoke with him all about the motivation behind it, its evolution, and the highlights of the projects.

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Extra Preliminary Qualifying Round: West Didsbury & Chorlton 1 - 3 Avro

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Tell us about the project, how did it start?

For years I’d heard about Ground Hoppers trying to get to all of the League’s 92 grounds or doing an FA Cup Run and thought I’d like to try it one year. Last season I followed the winning team through the cups and followed the results for something to do during all the lockdowns. This season I thought I’d give getting to all the games a go as a fan but it was too good an opportunity not to try and make it into a photography project.

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Preliminary Qualifying Round: Avro 1-1 Runcorn Linnets (4-1 AET to Linnets on replay)

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Undertaking a project like this during a pandemic must’ve been tough… can you tell us about any obstacles you faced?

Well the first two teams I “supported” lost, so I feared I was bad luck for the teams. It was getting quite awkward to ask the clubs if I could do the project with them. Thankfully the run of bad luck was broken with Runcorn Linnets, who went on a three round winning streak.

Unfortunately the plan to photograph people within the clubs met a huge road block when Covid restrictions returned during the winter. I was due to travel down to Charlton to do a shoot with Johnnie Jackson and his players but it was postponed, and by the time restrictions were lifted Norwich was the new club I was following and the way I was photographing the project had evolved to be fan-based, with sports photography during the game, the latter of which I hadn’t done for a long time!

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First Round Qualifying: Runcorn Linnets 2 - 0 Liversedge

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You’ve touched on it there, but tell us how the project did evolve?

Once it became difficult to photograph people within the club I decided to focus on the fans and get some photos during the games. At first (at the Charlton games) I was stopping fans on their way to the game for some photos at a makeshift studio. Then at the Wolves vs Norwich game the weather was horrific, so we were allowed to do them in the concourse at Mollineux (big thanks to Max, Comms Manager at Wolves). By the Forest game a good friend of mine, Khalil, who’s a photographer suggested I strip it all back and go for a reportage angle. I hadn’t worked in this way for a long time but I really enjoyed getting amongst the fans and being part of the atmosphere, rather than just witnessing it. I’ve continued with this method ever since. It’s been really fun capturing pure moments.

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Second Round Qualifying: Runcorn Linnets 3 - 1 Bamber Bridge

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You must have heaps of stories to tell…

Absolutely. There’s been several road trips, so a big thank you to all those who have come along on the journey. We got pretty wet on the way back from Marske in my friend Bill’s MX5 convertible when the roof wouldn’t come back up! The match-day stewards sent us in completely the wrong direction at Charlton – we obviously needed to be pitch side to take photos but some how we ended up on the gantry with the radio commentators for the first half of the game. I’ve also found out it’s quite easy to get lost once you’re inside Wembley Stadium – they should probably put some more signs up!

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Third Round Qualifying: Runcorn Linnets 2 - 3 Gateshead 

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What's been the highlight of this FA Cup journey?

Seeing how much it means to the non-league clubs. There’s a lot of chat about the top teams not giving as much respect to the cup but the fact that every club in the country takes part in it really is something special. There’s a real passion and motivation for clubs to do well, it brings in extra fans and a good run can bring in a lot of money, especially if a game is televised. It can really change the fortunes of a club that does well. The managers and players that I spoke to all felt incredibly proud to play in the competition. Hopefully this project shows that.

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Fourth Round Qualifying: Marske United 0 - 0 Gateshead (3-2 to Gateshead on replay)

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Which has been your favourite game and why?

There’s been quite a few but Forest vs Liverpool was incredible. There was such a buzz around the The City Ground in the build up to the game. Forest have been out of the top flight for so long, I think the fans and team were relishing the chance to prove themselves against one of the best clubs in the world. It was such a close game, they could have won it. It really felt like a special night in the history of The FA Cup.

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First Round: Gateshead 2 - 2 Altrincham (3-2 to Gateshead on replay)

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How do the fans usually react when they see a camera pointed at them?

A few hours before the games they’re generally a little quizzical but that all changes an hour or two before when everyone is more pumped and excited for the game, then they usually act up more to the camera. I try and get more candid photos though, when they don’t know I’m photographing them and they’re more natural in the moment.

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Second Round: Gateshead 0 - 2 Charlton Athletic

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Have you ever met any hostility?

Everyone has been really happy to be part of the project – the only person who wasn’t was a scarf seller outside of one of the grounds, who, let’s just say, probably shouldn’t have been there and didn’t want to be photographed for that reason!

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Third Round: Charlton Athletic 0 - 1 Norwich City

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What inspires you and your work?

Passion. I photograph all sorts of people in all sorts of places but when I think about the common thread between it all, it’s always that the greatest portraits show people who love what they do. I love being able to capture that emotion.

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Fourth Round: Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 - 1 Norwich City

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What's next for you? Any big plans in the near future?

I’m wondering how the project could adapt for next season. It’d be great to make a film about it. No matter the size of the team and the league that they’re in, there’s always a group of die hard fans at every game. It would be cool to do something with them at each game.

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Fifth Round: Liverpool 2 - 1 Norwich City

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You’ve mentioned some already, but there must be a lot of people who’ve helped you along the way?

There’s a lot of people who’ve helped out during this project, so I’d like to say a big thanks to them; the people who have kept me motivated and encouraged me to keep going, those who have helped me with contacts at new clubs, the photo assistants who helped out, and most of all the players and staff at the clubs that have been so welcoming and helpful to my project. It just goes to show how much team work it takes to make a success of something.

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Quarter Final: Nottingham Forest 0 - 1 Liverpool

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Finally, who do you want to see lift the trophy come 19th May?

The whole project has been about following the winning teams in each round, so that firmly makes me a Liverpool fan on the 19th May. I’ve heard ‘Jurgen is A Red’ enough times to know all the words now!

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Semi Final: Manchester City 2 - 3 Liverpool

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One more game to go... 

Photography by Duncan Elliott.

View more of the 21/22 FA Cup Run project here.