The FA Cup is the oldest football tournament in the world and today attracts global television audiences of 600 million.
Such is the interest in the coveted trophy that the auction house Christie's yesterday predicted that the sale of the oldest surviving FA Cup was likely to set a new world record for football memorabilia when it is sold in London on 19 May, two days before the cup final.
It is not the original FA Cup, which was stolen in 1895 and never recovered, but the lost trophy's replacement which has been put up for sale by heirs of Lord Kinnaird, the sportsman and FA president. It is expected to fetch up to £300,000, dwarfing the previous world record of about £158,000 for Pele's shirt from the 1970 World Cup final.
David Convery, the head of sporting memorabilia at Christie's, said: "I've been doing the sporting job at Christie's for 17 years now and we've sold some fantastic items in the past - and will do in the future, but this is the most historical piece I've ever sold. Being a football fan myself, to hold this trophy aloft and think of everyone who has won it, is wonderful. In terms of provenance and history, nothing comes close to it."
The FA Cup, which reaches its third-round stage this weekend when the big clubs join the competition, was founded in 1872. The original trophy was stolen in 1895 from the shop window of William Shillcock, a football and boot manufacturer in Birmingham, which had been proudly displaying it after Aston Villa won the final against West Bromwich Albion.
Although a £10 reward was offered for the recovery of the trophy, it was never seen again. Instead, Aston Villa was fined £25, which covered the cost of a replacement as close in design to the old cup as possible.
From 1896 to 1910, the replacement was awarded to teams including Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United, Everton, Nottingham Forest and Manchester City. It was presented to Lord Kinnaird in 1911 to mark his 21st anniversary as president of the Football Association, which he had helped develop after a long playing career. He remains the only footballer to have played in nine FA Cup finals, between 1873 and 1883, playing in a number of positions, from goalkeeper to forward.
Such was his popularity, that before one final members of the crowd released the horses from his carriage and pulled him the last few hundred yards to the ground at the Kennington Oval in London themselves. He spent 33 years as president of the FA until his death 1923 at the age of 75 and the trophy has been in his family since.
Mr Convery said it was a good time for the heirs to sell, as the market for football memorabilia was very strong. Golf memorabilia used to attract the most interest but key Japanese buyers disappeared after the Japanese economic collapse of the late 1990s.
Mr Convery said footballing memorabilia had taken over as the most sought-after. "Football is on everybody's television screens around the world. We are finding lots of new buyers and new vendors," he said.
As to who would buy such a famous trophy, Mr Convery noted that all the clubs who once held it high in victory might be interested. But there was bound to be interest from private individuals for such an unusual and rare item.
The trophy will go on show in Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester at the beginning of February before being displayed at Christie's in London until May's auction.