WHEN the clock struck 3pm on April 28, 1923, referee DH Asson should have blown his whistle to start the first-ever FA Cup final to be played here at Wembley Stadium.

The game pitted Bolton Wanderers against West Ham United – the first London team ever to reach the final - but the chances of seeing any football at that point in time was practically impossible.

The match itself was in jeopardy because tens of thousands of people had spilled out of the stands and on to the pitch – the brand new stadium, just four days old, was fit for bursting.

By 3pm, a mounted police officer was trying to control the crowd and clear the playing surface to get the game started, and that image would endure in FA Cup folklore for the next century.

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Wembley, which was called the Empire Stadium back then, had opened its doors for the first time. It took more than 300 days of construction, £750,000 of investment and 25,000 tonnes of concrete to create the home of English sport and a venue that boasted unobstructed views for every person who came through the turnstiles.

Unfortunately, the grand opening proved problematic. Expectant fans arrived from all four corners of the country and gathered outside the stadium prior to kick-off. It became clear well before the game was about to begin that there were far too many people there for the 127,000 capacity.

Though the first half of the crowd entered without any fuss, it wasn’t long before people were clambering up walls, scaling fences and busting down the main gate to get a glimpse of the big game.

The official attendance given by the Football Association that day was 126,047 but the true figure – well that has been debated far and wide. Some say it could be as many as 300,000.

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Neither Bolton nor West Ham were used to crowds of that size. Wanderers’ average attendance at Burnden Park that season was 21,870. But there were a few different factors at play which made this gate a big one.

The Hammers were representing London for the first time in an FA Cup final and so plenty of casual football fans from North London came by to see what the fuss was all about.

Unusually, the trains ran perfectly on time, and so thousands arrived early in pleasant sunny conditions perfect for watching a bit of football.

The gates opened at 11am and allowed people to take their seats early. There were no issues until around 1pm when large crowds outside the stadium started to push inside.

Gates were locked at 1.45pm to avoid overfilling the stands but a lot of people just took that as a challenge to find alternative ways to enter the building. And many fans who had paid for their seat were still stranded outside.

It is thought most of the spectators had come from East London, but 5,000 hardy folk from Bolton had also made the trip, and with the help of the players just enough of the pitch was cleared for the game to go ahead at 3.45pm.

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King George V also arrived to watch – and nobody wanted to disappoint royalty, so with the touchlines just about visible, Bolton got play underway, even though he match itself turned out to be a stop-start affair.

Stoppages were frequent, and every corner or throw in needed police officers to wade into he crowd and push people back so there was space for a run-up.

Wanderers went ahead after just two minutes. David Jack holds the honour of scoring the first-ever goal at Wembley, firing past keeper Ted Hutton. And if you thought the West Ham marking was a little relaxed, you’d be right, in fact defender Jack Tresadern actually found himself stuck in the crowd when he went to retrieve the ball for a throw and had struggled to get back on to the pitch to halt Jack’s progress.

The game was halted again on 13 minutes to allow police to clear space and when half time arrived, the two sets of players could not get a safe route back to the dressing room, so swapped ends and had a five-minute break before restarting.

Not long into the second half, Joe Smith scored the crucial second goal, becoming the first Scotsman to score at Wembley as his volley crashed against the bar and bounced over the line.

West Ham simply couldn’t get their best players into the game, particularly wide man Jimmy Ruffell and Victor Watson, who struggled on a new-laid pitch that had been churned up by police horses and spectators.

Bolton lifted the cup in front of their own fans and began a golden age of FA Cup football, winning the competition twice more in 1926 and 1929.

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The mounted policeman and his horse would be praised in the House of Commons the following week.

PC George Scorey was offered free Wembley tickets for the rest of his life – but as someone who didn’t really like football, he never used them.

Billie the horse was also commemorated – not only in the name of the game, which will forever be known as the White Horse final – but these days in the name of a bridge that takes pedestrians over the Wembley Station tracks.

What people might not realise is that Billie was actually a grey horse, and it was only the basic photography of the day that made him appear white.

Both clubs made £6,365 from the final after all the expenses had been taken into account, which when you factor in inflation, is just over £300,000. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

The Bolton News:

The Bolton News: