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West Ham face ‘300,000’ White Horse FA Cup final crowd on Wembley debut

PUBLISHED: 17:00 29 April 2020

The scene at Wembley Stadium for the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Waderers and West Ham United with the King (left) looking on.

The scene at Wembley Stadium for the 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Waderers and West Ham United with the King (left) looking on.

PA Archive/PA Images

West Ham played their part on the historic occasion of the first FA Cup final to be held at Wembley Stadium on April 28, 1923.

The cover of the match programme for the 1923 FA Cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham UnitedThe cover of the match programme for the 1923 FA Cup final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United

But the actual football played – as Bolton Wanderers claimed a 2-0 win – was overshadowed by matters off the pitch in what became known as the ‘White Horse Final’.

The ‘newest and most remarkable sports ground in the world’ had cost £750,000 to build, with an official capacity of 125,000. But an estimated 300,000 turned up on the day to see history in the making – and helped to write a new chapter.

Picked out by The Times as one of the 50 Greatest Football Matches, the report written at the time by Frederick Wilson makes for very interesting reading.

The fact a London club were playing on such an historic day, perfect weather and ‘the superb organisation of the many railway lines converging on the stations around the stadium’ were seen as contributory factors.

West Ham captain George Kay and Bolton's Joe Smith shake hands before the 1923 FA Cup final in a still from London's Screen ArchivesWest Ham captain George Kay and Bolton's Joe Smith shake hands before the 1923 FA Cup final in a still from London's Screen Archives

But Wilson writes: “Except on two important points – the spirit of the people and of the police, and the absolute loyalty of a very mixed congregation to the King – the day was an ugly one.”

Ticket-holders were ‘whirled away like straws on a stream’ from their seats and the pitch, having painted a ‘beautiful picture’ on Saturday morning was ‘defiled with orange peel and papers and refuse’ but stood up to the ‘trampling of the mob, the police and the hoofs of the horses of the mounted police most astonishingly well’.

A certain white horse created an iconic image during the pitch clearance and the face the game went ahead was deemed as owing to the presence of the King, kicking off at 3.41pm.

West Ham fell behind in the second minute as David Jack ‘went through the defence at a great pace and scored from close in with a hard, high shot into the right-hand corner of the net’.

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But, hoping to force their way into the League Championship the following season, the Hammers went close three minutes later when a perfectly taken corner by Jimmy Ruffell reached Vic Watson ‘who had an open goal yawning only a few yards in front of him,’ writes Wilson.

‘How he managed to kick the ball over the crossbar instead of into the net one cannot imagine; if a player tried to do it the odds against him would be generous. Watson, however, did fail to score,’ he adds.

Play was held up when part of the crowd came onto the pitch, but resumed ‘after 10 minutes’ of patient work on the part of the police’ but West Ham were never really in it after that.

Dick Richards ‘made one brilliant dribble and breakthrough’ and saw a clever shot fumbled by Bolton keeper Dick Pym, before Wanderers had a goal ruled out for offside.

‘The Press Stand is some distance in mere yards from the field of play and the angle was not easy to judge,’ noted Wilson.

Bolton were the better side before the break and ‘but for the magnificent game which Billy Henderson played at right full back’ would have added to their lead.

The teams remained on the pitch at half-time for a five-minute interval and Watson had another chance soon after the restart following a centre from captain George Kay but ‘misjudged the flight and direction of the ball and did not start for it in time’.

A decisive second Bolton goal came on 53 minutes when Ted Vizard ‘niggled the ball down the wing’ and centred for Jack Smith who shot immediately.

‘The ball hit the inside of the crossbar and bounced out again into play. It was, however, a goal and the referee had not the slightest hesitation in ruling it as such,’ writes Wilson, some 43 years before a Russian linesman was needed to confirm a similar effort for a certain Geoff Hurst in the World Cup final on the same turf!

With the tie over as a contest, the crowd began to disperse, and Wilson notes Bolton ‘were always the better side after the first 10 minutes’. He concludes: ‘At the finish of the match the King presented the Cup to Joe Smith, the captain of the Bolton Wanderers, and the medals to the different players. He drove away amidst a scene of heartfelt enthusiasm’.

West Ham United: E Hufton, W Henderson, J Young, S Bishop, G Kay, J Tresadern, R Richards, W Brown, V Watson, W Moore, J Ruffell.


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