One of the rewarding things about doing nostalgic articles for WHTID is when you find little gems in your research such as iconic photos or video clips that can relive the moments for the readers better than my words. I like to keep my nostalgia writings to the times I was actually going regularly to the games every week back from the mid sixties to 1980 but a few years ago I decided to do a piece from way before that time. The 1923 FA Cup Final is another part of football history for West Ham. It was the first final ever to be played at Wembley Stadium and we are in the history books as being the first team to lose a Cup Final there. Our opponents on the day were Bolton Wanderers and they beat us by two goals to nil. However, the football match was, in comparison, a small part of what happened on this historic day. The match has been for years remembered as the “White Horse” final. The video clip I found for this piece is a real gem from the archives.
The White Horse Cup Final was to go down as one of the most extraordinary events in sporting history. The then new Wembley, officially known as The Empire Stadium, was completed just 4 days prior to the 1923 Cup Final and was considered to be the Worlds greatest sporting arena. The capacity was believed to be 127,000 and it was considered ample as the previous year’s final had attracted a crowd of just 53,000. However, the organisers had not taken into account the lure of the new National Stadium and before you could say “make it all ticket”, nearly half a million people were converging on the ground.
By 1.45pm the gates were closed as the capacity limit had been reached. However, a quarter of a million more people were swelling outside the stadium in a tide that was not going to go away. The locked out crowd began breaking down gates and scaling the walls to get in as the surge to get in became overwhelming. Before long an estimated additional 100,000 fans had made it into the ground and the groundswell had seen spectators spill from the terraces and onto the pitch . We will never know how many people were crammed into the stadium that day, estimates range from 240,000 to 300,000, but it will go down as “unofficially” the highest non racing sports attendance in World sport.
At 2.45pm after the King had overseen the singing of the National anthem, it was unclear if a game could be played at all? The pitch was completely full of spectators and it seemed impossible to see how the chaos could be rectified. Then along came the hero’s of the day – a police constable named George Scorey and his white horse “Billy”. He carefully picked his way to the centre of the pitch and then started to circle, edging the crowd back bit by bit. The horse nudging here, nudging there, as he continued to enlarge the territory which was the green blades of grass of the playing field. George persuaded the front ranks of spectators to link arms and push backwards as the horse kept manoeuvring the crowd back until after 45 minutes the crowd had been retreated all the way back to the edge of the pitch. It was then realised that any more retreating was impossible. Well, that is how the story has been told in folklore but a look back at images available of the day shows there were many other policemen on horses helping out too -but who am I to try and ruin a good story?
The game eventually started which often saw players unable to stop themselves near the touch lines, hurtling into the crowd and struggling to get back onto the pitch amidst the mass of supporters. At half time both teams had to stay on the field and several times in the second half play was stopped as the crowd again spilled onto the playing area. Goals from David Jack and Jack Smith ensured a 2-0 win to Bolton who were one of the strongest teams of that era. In honour of Billy the white horse, the footbridge outside the new Wembley was named the “White Horse Bridge”.