Burnden Park disaster

When you hear about football tragedies, you might think about something like Manchester United being beaten 7-0 by Liverpool, but not about a great number of casualties among supporters.

Yet there have been dozens of football disasters with a great number of deaths. One I hadn’t heard of before is the Burnden Park disaster. Thirty-three people were crushed to death at Bolton Wanderers’ Burnden Park on March 9, 1946. The match, an FA Cup Sixth Round second-leg tie between Bolton and Stoke City

Bolton took a 2-0 lead from the first leg back to Burnden Park where it was estimated that 85,000 spectators attended – 15,000 over the capacity.

It was estimated that the crowd was in excess of 85,000 people. The entrance to the Bolton end of the ground, which had no roof, was from the Manchester Road end only. The disaster happened at the Railway End of the ground where, in common with many other post-war grounds, facilities were rudimentary.

As the Railway End of the ground filled, a decision was taken at approximately 2.40 pm to close the turnstiles. However, the pressure inside the stand caused a crush.

Phyllis Robb was among them. As the crush began to be felt, she was photographed being lifted to safety and passed over the heads of the rest of the fans.

Now aged 101, she remembers it well. “I can remember barriers breaking down and they were all rushing out – and they put me like that”. She said she was not scared of the crush, adding: “I was more bothered about my father because he was still on the ground.”

The disaster was the result of a perfect storm. In 1946, the FA Cup was the first competitive football played since the end of World War Two.

After a six-year absence from top-flight football, the fans were eager to flock to games especially as Bolton was the only team playing in Lancashire that day. An added attraction was Sir Stanley Matthews, one of the game’s greatest stars, who was lining up for Stoke. Fans from opposite ends had to use the same turnstiles because parts of the ground that had been requisitioned for wartime storage were not returned to full use.

Other supporters had to pass the same area on their way to a separate terrace creating a bottleneck. The gates were shut 20 minutes before the kick-off as fans crammed into the ground but things got worse behind a goal when a gate at the rear of the stand was opened.

Some accounts say it was forced open by fans trying to get in while others say a father picked open a lock from within to escape the crush with his son. Whatever the truth, shortly after kick-off two barriers gave way at the Embankment End and the huge crowd fell forward crushing those in front.

The play was initially stopped but resumed with bodies laid out behind the goal. With the game ending goalless. The disaster brought about the Moelwyn Hughes report, which recommended more rigorous control of crowd sizes.






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