The years immediately following World War II saw vast crowds flocking to football games in Britain, as entertainment-starved working men (yes, soccer was a male preserve back then) in flat caps flocked to see their sporting heroes in action. Professional dubs were deeply rooted in their communities in the era before blanket television coverage and stratospheric wage bills, enabling small-town clubs to compete on equal terms with big-city boys. Many professionals still played for their local team – often travelling home on the bus with fans after a home game.
As a founder member of England’s Football League in 1888, Bolton Wanderers had an honorable history that included victory in the first-ever Football Association Challenge Cup Final at Wembley – the famous ‘White Horse Final’ of 1923. ‘The Trotters’ played at Burnden Park, a stadium completed in 1895 adjacent to a railway embankment, on Manchester Road, close to Bolton town center.
The record attendance was 69,912, but a much greater number – estimates go as high as 85,000 – entered the ground in March 1946 for the second leg of an FA Cup Sixth Round tie against Stoke City. The official figure was 65,419, but turnstiles closed 20 minutes before kick-off with 15,000 fans locked out and more arriving. Frustrated would-be spectators simply climbed over turnstiles and walls, entered via the railway embankment or rushed a gate opened from the inside by a father who wanted to escape the crush with his small son.
When the teams emerged just before three o’clock the packed crowd in one corner of the ground surged forward. Two barriers collapsed and the sheer weight of numbers caused a deadly crush that killed and injured a large number of helpless victims.
When was the Burnden Park Disaster: March 9 1946
Where was the Burnden Park Disaster: Bolton, Lancashire, UK
What was the Burnden Park Disaster death toll: 33 spectators died of compressive asphyxia, with over 400 injured.
You should know: Incredibly by modern safety standards, the game began and continued for 12 minutes before the seriousness of the situation was realized and the two teams left the pitch. The danger area was swiftly cleared and after just 13 minutes play resumed. The match ended in a 0-0 draw that sent Wanderers to the FA Cup semi-final, where the club lost to Charlton Athletic.