Burnden Park was Bolton Wanderers’ home for 102 years. It hosted an FA Cup final replay, was the subject of the L.S Lowry painting ‘Going to the match’ & was even seen in a couple films - A Kind of Loving and The Love Match. Sadly, one of the most tragic disasters in English football also took place there seventy-five years ago today.
As football fans, we can relate to how those heading to see Wanderers take on Stoke City felt that day. For the majority of us, it’s been over a year now since we’ve been able to watch a live football match. To feel the buzz and excitement of being amongst our fellow fans, seeing our team battle to win. Though our situation pales in comparison to what everyone was going through during and post the Second World War.
Back then the war had put a stop to league football & the FA Cup for over six years, though the Football League War Cup had enabled fans to still watch their teams (albeit with only a limited attendance allowed). With the war finally over, those returning from duty could finally get back to normality. The FA Cup returned in 1946 and attracted huge crowds. Earlier rounds had seen highs of 43,500 at Burnden Park, though the highly anticipated Quarter-Final second leg against Stoke City was sadly a different story.
There a few factors which meant there was a huge crowd heading to Burnden Park that day. Wanderers were ninety minutes away from their first Fa Cup semi-final since 1935, they were also the only team playing in Lancashire that day and one the games greatest talents, Sir Stanley Matthews, was the star player for the visiting Potters.
The ground was not equipped for a record breaking crowd. During the war, part of the Burnden Stand had been requisitioned by the ministry of supply for storage and had not yet been returned to normal use, which meant access to the ground was only available via the Manchester Road end.
Fans began making their way into the ground at around one. As was the case at the time, fans paid at the turnstiles as opposed to purchasing tickets beforehand, so the ground quickly filled up. At 2:40 the turnstiles were closed, though that didn’t stop fans from making their way in. They proceeded to climb in from the railway, climbed over the closed turnstiles and when a locked gate was opened, entered through it. It’s estimated that over 85,000 people were in attendance that day.
Shortly after kick-off, the crowd spilled onto the pitch. Two barriers collapsed in the Embankment end and the crowd fell forward, crushing those underneath.
Play was stopped though the game was quickly resumed. At 3.12pm, a police officer then informed referee George Dutton that there had been a fatality. The official subsequently took the teams off the pitch.
Those who had died lain along the touchline and covered in coats. A little under half an hour after leaving the pitch the game was restarted, with a new sawdust lined touchline separating the players from the corpses. Once the game had reached half time, Wanderers and Stoke immediately swapped ends and played the second half. The game ended 0-0.
Tragically, over four hundred people were injured and thirty-three sadly lost their lives in what was at that time, footballs biggest tragedy.
The players & the majority of those at the game were unaware of the severity of the disaster until long after the match was over. Stanley Matthews later spoke of the day, stating:
“In our dressing room we heard more rumours about the increasing number of casualties. Yet it was not until I was motoring home that evening that the shadow of grim disaster descended on me like a storm cloud.”
People left their homes on a Saturday excited to watch an FA Cup quarter-final match featuring one of the games brightest talents. Thirty-three of those people never made it back. Those thirty-three shall forever be remembered.
WILFRED ADDISON Moss Side, Manchester.
WILFRED ALLISON (19) Leigh.
FRED BATTERSBY (31) Atherton.
JAMES BATTERSBY (33) Atherton.
ROBERT BENTHAM (33) Atherton.
HENRY BIMSON (59) Leigh.
HENRY RATCLIFFE BIRTWISTLE (14) Blackburn.
JOHN T BLACKSHAW Rochdale.
W BRAIDWOOD (40) Hindley.
FRED CAMPBELL (33) Bolton.
FRED PRICE DEARDEN (67) Bolton.
WILLIAM EVANS (33) Leigh.
WINSTON FINCH Hazel Grove, Stockport.
JOHN FLINDERS (32) Littleborough.
ALBERT EDWARD HANRAHAN Winton, Eccles.
EMILY HOSKINSON (40) Bolton.
WILLIAM HUGHES (56) Poolstock, Wigan.
FRANK JUBB Rochdale.
JOHN LIVESEY (37) Bamber Bridge, Preston.
JOHN THOMAS LUCAS (35) Leigh.
HAROLD MCANDREW Wigan.
WILLIAM MCKENZIE Bury.
MORGAN MOONEY (32) Bolton.
HARRY NEEDHAM (30) Bolton.
DAVID PEARSON Rochdale.
JOSEPH PLATT (43) Bolton.
SIDNEY POTTER (36) Tyldesley.
GRENVILLE ROBERTS Ashton-in-Makerfield.
RICHARD ROBEY (35) Barnoldswick.
THOMAS ROBEY (65) Billinge, Wigan.
T SMITH (65) Rochdale.
WALTER WILMOT (31) Bolton.
JAMES WILSON Higher Openshaw, Manchester