In a few hours the 90th edition of English football’s real gristle in your meat pie tournament, the FA Cup will take place and hopefully be a humdinger.
This years contestants are a great match up that represent the ideal behind the cup; on the one hand you have the Goliath that is Man City, riding on a wave of oil with international superstars, and on the other is David (Whelan) in the form of humble Wigan – a well run club with a small fan base.
Only not today. Ever since the ancient Druids saw a large wolf fighting a smaller one, we have always loved an underdog. Minus the small light blue section of Manchester, everyone else will be cheering on the Latics.
But will the majority be celebrating? Probably not. Wigan are rife with injuries, especially in defence and are still stinging from the Swansea defeat. They can take a small beam of hope in the fact that Mancini intends to continue using his Cup squad, so who knows? Maybe Pantilimon will have a ‘mare in goal and Mcmanaman will continue to reach his potential.
Anyway, I want to take you back the best part of a century to the 1923 FA Cup final, or should I say ‘The White Horse Final’.
But first a little context:
The finalists were Bolton Wanderers vs West Ham. Since the third round Bolton had won each game 1-0, and David Jack had scored that goal each time. West Ham meanwhile got full use out of the old replay rule to get past Southampton at the third time of asking, and then thrash Derby.
The official capacity for Wembley back in these days was a mammoth 125,000, which included King George V, so you wouldn’t be surprised that in a day before electronic tickets and gates, some extra fans got in the ground. You probably wouldn’t even be surprised to learn that the official count that day was 126,047.
However, you would be surprised to know that the real number was estimated around a ginormous 300,000.
Yeah that’s right. A ridiculousness of 300,000 people really decided they were up for some footy that day. Obviously this causes a problem: where the hell do you put well over double your capacity of people?
But this being the year 1923 there was no fuss along the lines of ‘are these people safe?’ or ‘did any of them pay to get in?’ or ‘why did we bother with stewards?’. No, after a reasonable 45 minute delay the game kicked off, with supporters put wherever they could fit.
They were jammed around the edges of the pitch, even spilling onto the pitch in places. Take a look at some photos of the madness:
So how did these raucous (for the time) fans stay in check? Well if you look back up to the second photo of the game, up in the left-hand corner of the field, you’ll see a giant, magnificent white stallion. Called Billie.
Billie was one of a few horses ridden by police officers to keep the crowds at bay. And he became an iconic image of a game that become notorious in the day.
His legacy even lives on now, as the footbridge outside the modern Wembley is called ‘White Horse Bridge’ after him. George Scorey, the horse’s rider was awarded a supply of future FA Cup final tickets for his deeds on the day, but ironically he didn’t like football and never used them.
As for the game, that man David Jack popped up with a goal in the 2nd minute, a lead which Bolton doubled to win. The West Ham manager’s excuse? “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”
Ahh, the magic of the cup…Seriously though, like twenty people were hospitalised…