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John Simkin

1923 Wembley Final: West Ham v Bolton

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The Empire Stadium at Wembley was built by Sir Robert McAlpine for the British Empire Exhibition of 1923, at a cost of £750,000. It was originally intended intended to be demolished at the end of the Exhibition. However, it was later decided to keep the building to host football matches. The first match at Wembley, the 1923 FA Cup Final between West Ham United United and Bolton Wanderers, took place only four days after the stadium was completed.

The Empire Stadium had a capacity of 125,000 and so the Football Association did not consider making it an all-ticket match. After all, both teams only had an average attendance of around 20,000 for league games. However, over 300,000 supporters turned up and as a result all FA Cup finals since have been all-ticket matches. Even so, in the early years it never sold out. For example, the next game, the England v Scotland match only attracted 37,250 supporters. Does anyone know why so many people wanted to watch the West Ham v Bolton game?

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Guest Gary Loughran

I would have expected myself to have got this one...no dice.

A few tries though,

1. To meet the King?

2. To test the new Stadium

3. Had considered the North/South element of the match but hadn't Spurs won a couple of times previously.

Finally I got the answer though - because West Ham were playing - blindingly obvious really.

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I would have expected myself to have got this one...no dice.

A few tries though,

1. To meet the King?

2. To test the new Stadium

3. Had considered the North/South element of the match but hadn't Spurs won a couple of times previously.

Finally I got the answer though - because West Ham were playing - blindingly obvious really.

I have just been reading Brian Belton's book, "The Lads of '23: Bolton Wanderers, West Ham United and the 1923 FA Cup Final". Over a thousand people were injured getting in and out of the stadium. Belton has carried out a study of the injured and shows that most of these people were Londoners. However, they were not in the main West Ham supporters. It was of course highly unusual for a London club to reach the final. He quotes from newspapers of the time to illustrate the North-South element of the game. Londoners saw West Ham as representing them and along with the opportunity to see the new stadium, over 300,000 people tried to see the game.

Follow-up question? Why did West Ham have a very good legal case for the game to be replayed?

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Guest Gary Loughran
I would have expected myself to have got this one...no dice.

A few tries though,

1. To meet the King?

2. To test the new Stadium

3. Had considered the North/South element of the match but hadn't Spurs won a couple of times previously.

Finally I got the answer though - because West Ham were playing - blindingly obvious really.

I have just been reading Brian Belton's book, "The Lads of '23: Bolton Wanderers, West Ham United and the 1923 FA Cup Final". Over a thousand people were injured getting in and out of the stadium. Belton has carried out a study of the injured and shows that most of these people were Londoners. However, they were not in the main West Ham supporters. It was of course highly unusual for a London club to reach the final. He quotes from newspapers of the time to illustrate the North-South element of the game. Londoners saw West Ham as representing them and along with the opportunity to see the new stadium, over 300,000 people tried to see the game.

Follow-up question? Why did West Ham have a very good legal case for the game to be replayed?

Undoubtedly the asnwer to the follow up lies in the fact the crowds mobbed players taking throw-ins, corners etc and left West Ham with 10 men for a while. Additionally the timing of the match was very poor, by all accounts. I recall that the Hammer's Captain though was quick to refute any attempt at replay and pointed to Bolton as worthy winners. (IIRC).

So the North South element is more than speculative. It makes sense but I couldn't see why Spurs didn't attract more folk when they played (googled this next bit) their 1901 and 21 finals at Crystal Palace and Stamford Bridge respectively. Then again these would be relativel small stadiums where perhaps there was a local realisation that it could get full very quickly.

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I would have expected myself to have got this one...no dice.

A few tries though,

1. To meet the King?

2. To test the new Stadium

3. Had considered the North/South element of the match but hadn't Spurs won a couple of times previously.

Finally I got the answer though - because West Ham were playing - blindingly obvious really.

I have just been reading Brian Belton's book, "The Lads of '23: Bolton Wanderers, West Ham United and the 1923 FA Cup Final". Over a thousand people were injured getting in and out of the stadium. Belton has carried out a study of the injured and shows that most of these people were Londoners. However, they were not in the main West Ham supporters. It was of course highly unusual for a London club to reach the final. He quotes from newspapers of the time to illustrate the North-South element of the game. Londoners saw West Ham as representing them and along with the opportunity to see the new stadium, over 300,000 people tried to see the game.

Follow-up question? Why did West Ham have a very good legal case for the game to be replayed?

Undoubtedly the asnwer to the follow up lies in the fact the crowds mobbed players taking throw-ins, corners etc and left West Ham with 10 men for a while. Additionally the timing of the match was very poor, by all accounts. I recall that the Hammer's Captain though was quick to refute any attempt at replay and pointed to Bolton as worthy winners. (IIRC).

So the North South element is more than speculative. It makes sense but I couldn't see why Spurs didn't attract more folk when they played (googled this next bit) their 1901 and 21 finals at Crystal Palace and Stamford Bridge respectively. Then again these would be relativel small stadiums where perhaps there was a local realisation that it could get full very quickly.

The reason that the result should not have stood was that it was not played under the rules of the FA. Rule 5 says that players should be behind the touchline when they take the throw-ins. However, the crowds were on or past the touchline throughout the match and not one of the throw-ins were legal.

West Ham would have won any legal appeal. However, it was decided that this would be unsporting and the directors of the club decided to accept the result. Not sure that the same thing would happen today.

In 1923 West Ham was in the Second Division. They are of course the last Second Division side to win the FA Cup.

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Jimmy Ruffell was interviewed by Brian Belton in 1973 about the 1923 FA Cup Final:

The 1923 Cup final was unbelievable and there has never been a game like it. I had been tripped up in a game against Fulham at Upton Park by Tom Fleming and injured my shoulder and it was still giving me trouble on the day of the final. One or two of the boys were getting over injuries...

West Ham were a good club to play for. They still are. They looked after you. Bolton Wanderers were what football was all about. If you wanted to know what football was like in the 1920s, Bolton was it. Charlie Paynter said they had no real weaknesses, but West Ham was likely to move faster as a combination on a good pitch. While West Ham's back line wasn't probably as solid as Bolton's, we could move the ball through the team and quickly get to the last quarter of the field. West Ham were a good passing team. Most of the time you had an idea where men were or men would make themselves ready to get the ball from another player. I think we were one of the few clubs to really practice that. Then, with their good forward line, Vic Watson, Bill Moore and I was okay too, West Ham always had a chance at getting a goal. But when you lost the ball Bolton would nearly always make you pay. They were a team full of skill.

There's no point in going over the result, but it was a hard game for West Ham to play as the field had been churned up so bad by horses and the crowd that had been on the pitch well before the game. West Ham made a lot of the wings and you just couldn't run them for the crowd that were right up close to the line. Bolton had to play on the same field of course, but they didn't play so wide as West Ham. But there you are. It was history though.

Syd King was a good manager. But he left a lot of the day-to-day stuff to our trainer Charlie Paynter. It was Charlie that most of us talked to about anything. Syd King was more about doing deals to get players to play for West Ham. But he was good at that. He got us to the Cup final and got West Ham promoted in 1923 so you can't ask for much more than that can you.

Bolton were a big, famous club. It took the best part of a day to get up there then. West Ham were little compared to them. They had some top players. Vizard and Jack were good, as good as anyone at that time - they had a tough defence too. But we weren't afraid of them and we had some good boys too. Vic Watson was still very young, but he was strong as an ox and Jack Tresadern was an international. Billy Moore was very skilled and Ted Hufton was one of the best goalkeepers around. So, we thought we could beat them of course we did. But they were very good.

Most of the people at Wembley seemed to be Londoners. Well, the ones I saw seemed to be. As we tried to make our way out onto the field everyone was slapping us on the back and grabbing our hands to shake them. By the time I got to the centre of the pitch my poor shoulder was aching.

But it was wonderful just to be at Wembley. It really was. We enjoyed it even though West Ham lost. And when we got back to the East End everyone was happy and telling us how well we'd done. It was as if we'd won the Cup. Just as good as if we had. I think Bolton knew they had been in a game. Joe Smith, their captain, told some of us that it could have gone either way and he was right. And I met the King and he said it was hard luck on West Ham.

But the best thing about it all was the thought years after that we had been there. People talked about that game for years after. They still do. It was a bit of a miracle that the game happened at all and certainly that people weren't killed. The thought that there could have been a disaster makes you just glad it turned out as it did. We were lucky. We deserved to be in the final, both West Ham and Bolton, but that everyone walked away from Wembley more or less in one piece was the biggest win of the day. People won the game really; more than either team.

Jimmy Ruffell playing in the 1923 FA Cup Final.

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