Burnden Park Disaster
It is a sad truth that the history of British football is peppered with avoidable disasters that have cost the lives of fans. In this tragic league table of fatality the worst is Hillsborough in 1989, when the lessons not learned at Bradford four years previously meant 96 died. Another such event in Bolton a generation earlier, though like Bradford the subject of a major enquiry, apparently likewise didn’t fully alert the authorities to the potential dangers at over-crowded and poorly designed grounds.
The game at Burnden Park, Bolton’s old stadium, on March 9 1946 would not even have taken place these days, as it was the second leg of a sixth-round FA Cup tie, Bolton already 2 – 0 up after the game at Stoke ’s Victoria Ground. These were post-war conditions: the ground itself was in poor repair, especially the Bolton End where disaster struck; and fans were eager for entertainment, Stoke’s Stanley Matthews a huge attraction, matched for Wanderers fans by their own Nat Lofthouse. Estimates of the crowd size vary, though it is thought perhaps 20,000 got in without paying, forcing their way via an open gate, or climbing over a short wall. Perhaps 85000 or more eventually filled the ground. Two barriers collapsed on the mud bank that was behind one goal, and fans slipped to the ground to be crushed underfoot. In all 33 died and around 400 were injured.
Incredibly the game though halted for a time continued, bodies covered by coats lying beside a makeshift touchline until they were carried out through the changing room area. The writer’s mother was in the Great Lever stand at the opposite end of the ground – normally she would have been in the one opposite with a friend who like many other youngsters was saved by being passed overhead out of the dangerous crush.
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