By Chris Wright
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the first FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley – or the Empire Stadium as it was then known – when Bolton Wanderers met West Ham on 28th April, 1923.
The madness began three-and-a-half hours before a ball was kicked, as thousands upon thousands of fans swarmed into the stadium and out onto the pitch. According to the FA, 125,000 supporters were expected to turn out though, such was the fervour to attend the cup final at the newly-opened stadium, it’s estimated that the actual number was closer to 300,000. That said, the attendance for the game is still officially listed as “just” 126,047.
Due to the huge numbers of fans surging onto the pitch, the police were bought in to quell the crowds – with a gargantuan white police horse named “Billy” becoming the defining image of the day. To this day the 1923 final is referred to as “The White Horse Final”, while the “White Horse Bridge” outside the new Wembley Stadium is so called to commemorate Billy’s exemplary work all those years ago…
Hundreds of thousands of fans cram into the Empire Stadium before kick-off. Billy the white police horse is just about visible in the upper-left corner of the pitch
The two captains, West Ham’s George Kay (left) and Bolton’s Joe Smith (right) pose for a photograph amid the chaos
Bolton goalkeeper Dick Pym (left) and teammate David Jack (right) turn away as police try to push back the huge crowd from the pitch and back up into the terraces
Fans shrink back from the touchline as the action threatens to spill over into the crowd
The Bolton players are engulfed by fans as they attempt to make their way back into the dressing rooms
King George V (right) surveys the madness from the Royal Box
Having eventually run out as 2-0 winners thanks to goals from David Jack and captain Joe Smith, the victorious Bolton team pose with the FA Cup.
West Ham manager (or “trainer” as they were then known) Charlie Paynter actually partially blamed Billy the horse for his side’s defeat, claiming that, “It was that white horse thumping its big feet into the pitch that made it hopeless. Our wingers were tumbling all over the place, tripping up in great ruts and holes”
One of the very few surviving match programmes from the 1923 FA Cup Final at The Empire Stadium