Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A History of World Football in 100 Games - Part 7

  Bolton Wanderers 2-0 West Ham United (28 April 1923) Wembley, London

In its early years the FA Cup led a nomadic life. From the first final of 1872 between the Wanderers and the Royal Engineers until 1893 the climax of the tournament was hosted at the Oval. However, Surrey Cricket Club, the owners of the Oval refused permission for the ground to be used as the venue of the 1893 Cup final for fear of damage to the cricket squares.

At short notice the game was held in Fallowfield in Manchester (today the home of the University of Manchester sports teams), but it was not a success. A crowd of 45,000 gathered for the match between Everton and Wolves, double that which had been at the Oval the year before, and more than the ground could cope with. Such was the crush of bodies that spectators flooded on to the pitch to avoid a catastrophe and the ground was not used again for such a high-profile occasion.

The following year Goodison Park, the newly acquired home of Everton, was the choice for the final. Mercifully it passed without incident, with a reduced crowd of 37,000 seeing Notts County defeat Bolton 4-1 to become the first team from the second division to lift the Cup. The FA remained though a London-centric organisation and as such were keen for the showpiece event of their competition to be hosted in the capital.

Between 1895 and 1914 the Cup final was held at Crystal Palace in London (though replays were held in the North at Goodison Park, Old Trafford and Bramall Lane) as the competition seemed to have found a suitable home. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 put the importance of football into perspective. During the conflict Crystal Palace became a service depot to assist in the war efforts and the FA were forced to find a new location again. The 1915 final, the last before the war forced a halt to the game, was held at Old Trafford and came to be known as the “khaki Cup Final” as the majority of spectators were servicemen either home on leave or due to set off for the war.

When the war ended in 1918 it took some time for the competition to restart. With Crystal Palace still not available for use for the 1919-20 tournament the FA looked for another venue in London to host the Cup. The only venue in the capital with sufficient capacity at the time was Stamford Bridge, the home of Chelsea, and the ground played host to the Cup final from 1920 to 1922. At this point though the FA were tired of the constant search for a new home for the tournament and the idea of a permanent site became more and more attractive.

On 8 May 1921 the FA Ground Committee visited Wembley and signed an agreement to host the FA Cup final there for the next 21 years. What emerged there was the finest stadium in the world. At a cost of £750,000 and composed of 25,000 tons of concrete with a further 2,000 tons of steel, the Empire Stadium at Wembley was the envy of the world. The official capacity of 127,000 spectators would end any chance of such a crush as was seen in Fallowfield in 1892, or so the organisers hoped.

The first final to be played at the newly opened ground was the 1923 final between Bolton and West Ham. The level of anticipation of the game was feverish. With a London club involved and the promise to see the magnificent new stadium between 250-300,000 fans turned up to take their place. What ensued was pandemonium.

Fans swarm the pitch

In an era before all-ticket matches thousands more were admitted to the ground than it could possibly hope to hold. The numbers within the stadium were simply far too great, and the crowd spilled on to the field to avoid a possible crush. At this point King George V arrived to take his position in the Royal Box, and his presence changed the mood of a restless crowd. When the band struck up the national anthem the crowd turned in unison to sing.

With some calm restored to the scene, the police set about clearing the pitch of spectators. In this crowd of bodies one figure stood out. Billy, a 13 year old white horse, ridden by George Scorey became the emblem of the restoration of order to the situation. Such was the iconic role of the horse in the clearing of the pitch and thus allowing the match to be played at all that the game would forever be known as “the White Horse final”.

Formations of Bolton (below) and West Ham

When the game got underway, 45 minutes later than originally scheduled, it got off to an incredible start. Tresadern, the West Ham left-half, went into the crowd to retrieve the ball for a throw in and was trapped off the pitch when David Jack opened the scoring. Jack, one of the leading forwards of the day, demonstrated great skill as he feinted to pass to Butler before dribbling through the West Ham defence and firing a fierce shot past Hufton from close range. West Ham came close to equalising minutes later when Pym, the Bolton goalkeeper, misjudged a corner and left the goal wide open only for Watson to blaze his shot over the bar.

Bolton came close to extending their advantage before half-time when J.R. Smith headed narrowly wide from Vizard’s cross, an effort that Hufton would have had no chance in saving. Soon after Bolton had a goal disallowed when Butler crossed for J.R. Smith and the striker blasted past Hufton. The referee D.H. Asson ruled out the goal for offside, though it appeared a close decision.

The players did not leave the field at half-time for fear the crowd would return to the pitch, but changed ends after a brief moment of respite. When they did restart West Ham again came close with Watson failing to convert a chance crafted by Kay, and Pym saved easily from some tame West Ham shots. Eight minutes after half-time Bolton extended their lead with a ferocious shot from J.R. Smith which cannoned off the mass of spectators huddled behind the net and flew back into play. Some believed that the ball had not gone in but the referee had no doubt and that goal secured victory for Bolton.     

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