The 1923 FA Cup Final was an association football match between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United on 28 April 1923 at the original Wembley Stadium in London. The showpiece match of English football's primary cup competition, the Football Association Challenge Cup (better known as the FA Cup), it was the first football match to be played at Wembley Stadium. King George V was in attendance to present the trophy to the winning team.
Each team had progressed through five rounds to reach the final. Bolton Wanderers won 1–0 in every round from the third onwards, and David Jack scored the lone goal each time. West Ham United faced opposition from the Second Division or lower in each round, the first time this had occurred since the introduction of multiple divisions in the Football League. West Ham took three attempts to defeat Southampton in the fourth round but then easily defeated Derby County in the semi-final, scoring five goals.
The final was preceded by chaotic scenes as vast crowds surged into the stadium, far exceeding its official capacity of approximately 125,000. A crowd estimated at up to 300,000 gained entrance and the terraces overflowed, with the result that spectators found their way into the area around the pitch and even onto the playing area itself. Mounted policemen, including one on a light-coloured horse which became the defining image of the day, had to be brought in to clear the crowds from the pitch and allow the match to take place. The match began 45 minutes late as crowds stood around the perimeter of the pitch. Although West Ham started strongly, Bolton proved the dominant team for most of the match and won 2–0. David Jack scored a goal two minutes after the start of the match and Jack Smith added a controversial second goal during the second half. The pre-match events prompted discussion in the House of Commons and led to the introduction of safety measures for future finals. The match is often referred to as the "White Horse Final" and is commemorated by the White Horse Bridge at the new Wembley Stadium.
Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United were playing in the First Division and Second Division respectively, and both entered the competition at the first round stage, under the tournament format in place at the time. Bolton had appeared in the final twice before, in 1894 and 1904, but West Ham, who had only joined The Football League in 1919, had never previously progressed further than the quarter finals. In the first round, Bolton defeated Norwich City of the Third Division South, in the process recording the club's first away win in the competition since a second round victory over Manchester City in the 1904–05 season. After a home win over Leeds United in the second round, Bolton faced one of the First Division's top teams, Huddersfield Town, in the third round. The initial match at Huddersfield's Leeds Road ground ended in a draw, necessitating a replay which Bolton won 1–0. In the fourth round Bolton defeated Charlton Athletic by a single goal, and in the semi-final beat Sheffield United by the same score in a match played at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United. Although ticket prices were considered to be extremely high, a crowd of 72,000 attended the match, a new record for an FA Cup semi-final. In every match from the third round onwards, Bolton's single goal was scored by David Jack, which gave him a reputation for having single-handedly steered his team into the final.
In contrast to Bolton's defensive style, West Ham's cup run was characterised by fast-moving, attacking play, which won them many admirers. The London-based club began the competition away to fellow Second Division team Hull City and won 3–2. In the second round they were held to a draw by Brighton & Hove Albion of the Third Division South, but won the replay 1–0 at home. The "Hammers" defeated another Third Division South team, Plymouth Argyle, in the third round, but found the fourth round tough going against Southampton. The first match at West Ham's home, the Boleyn Ground, ended in a 1–1 draw, as did the replay at The Dell in Southampton. A second replay was held at Villa Park in Birmingham, home of Aston Villa, and finally produced a winner, as West Ham won 1–0 with a goal from Billy Brown. The goal came in the 70th minute, with a "clever free kick" past the "startled" Herbert Lock in the Saints' goal. In the semi-finals, West Ham took on Derby County at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea, and won 5–2. Brown scored two more goals and Billy Moore also scored twice. All five of the teams that West Ham defeated on their way to Wembley played in the Second Division or lower. This made West Ham the first team since the introduction of multiple divisions in The Football League to reach the FA Cup final without facing opposition from the top division.
The match was the first event of any kind to take place at Wembley Stadium, which had not been due to open until 1924 but was completed ahead of schedule. After sub-capacity crowds had attended the first three finals after the First World War at Stamford Bridge, The Football Association (The FA) was unconvinced that the match could fill the large capacity of the new stadium and undertook a major advertising campaign, for fans to attend. Despite these fears, the new national stadium, which had been advertised as the greatest venue of its kind and had an unprecedented capacity of 125,000, proved to be a great lure and drew a large number of casual observers. The fact that a London-based team was competing meant that many football fans from all parts of the city chose to attend. The morning newspapers on the day of the match reported that around 5,000 fans were travelling from Bolton and that they were expected to be joined by "at least 115,000 enthusiasts from London and other parts of the country". The easy accessibility of the stadium by public transport and the fine weather were also factors which contributed to the enormous crowd.
The gates were opened at 11:30 am as advertised, three and a half hours before the match was due to begin, and until 1:00 pm the flow of people into the stadium was orderly. By 1:00 pm, however, a vast number of people were pouring into the stadium, and after an inspection by the stadium authorities, the decision was made to close the gates at 1:45 pm. Spectator William Rose said later that Olympic Way was "seething with people" and that "the nearer I got to the stadium the worse it got, by the time I got there the turnstiles had been closed". Although the information was relayed to various railway stations, thousands of people continued to arrive and mass outside the gates. Organisation within the stadium was poor, and in his report on the match the correspondent for the Daily Mail described the stewarding as "useless" and stated that officials in and around the stadium "seemed to know nothing". Fans were not directed to any specific area, and the tiers in the lower half of the stadium filled up much faster than those higher up. As the crowds outside the stadium continued to grow, local police stations were mobilised, but by the time officers arrived the crowd was too large for them to take any effective form of action. At 2:15 pm, the crowds outside the stadium rushed at the barriers and forced their way in. Spectators in the lower tiers had to climb the fences to escape the crush and overflowed onto the pitch itself. Spectator Terry Hickey said later that "To put it mildly, the whole thing was a bloody shambles". The crowd was officially reported as 126,047, but estimates of the actual number of fans in attendance range from 150,000 to over 300,000. The FA refunded 10% of the total gate money to fans who had pre-purchased tickets but were unable to reach their assigned seats. The roads around the stadium were blocked and the Bolton players were forced to abandon their coach a mile from the stadium and make their way through the crowds. The Times stated that at one point it seemed impossible that the match would ever be able to start, but that when King George V arrived, the mood of the crowd changed. After enthusiastically singing "God Save The King", the crowd began to assist the authorities in clearing the playing area.
Eventually mounted policemen were brought in to try to clear the crowds from the pitch, including PC George Scorey, who was mounted on a horse named "Billie" (some sources spell the name "Billy"). PC Scorey had not actually been on duty that day but answered a call for emergency assistance as the throng of spectators in the stadium grew. Billie the horse was actually grey, but appeared white in the primitive black and white newsreel footage of the era. Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, other horses were also involved, but the "white" horse, as the most visible in the news footage, became the defining image of the day. Officials later stated that the match would never have been able to start without the actions of PC Scorey. When asked about his actions in an interview with the BBC some years later, Scorey said:
As my horse picked his way onto the field, I saw nothing but a sea of heads. I thought, "We can't do it. It's impossible." But I happened to see an opening near one of the goals and the horse was very good – easing them back with his nose and tail until we got a goal-line cleared. I told them in front to join hands and heave and they went back step by step until we reached the line. Then they sat down and we went on like that ... it was mainly due to the horse. Perhaps because he was white he commanded more attention. But more than that, he seemed to understand what was required of him. The other helpful thing was the good nature of the crowd.
Eventually the police, assisted by appeals from the players for the crowd to calm, were able to manoeuvre the spectators to just beyond the touchline, and the game began approximately 45 minutes late, while fans stood around the perimeter of the pitch.
Both teams employed the 2-3-5 formation typical of the era: two full-backs, three half-backs, comprising one centre-half and two wing-halves, and five forwards, comprising two outside-forwards, two inside-forwards and a centre-forward. West Ham's game plan initially centred on the two fast-moving outside-forwards Dick Richards and Jimmy Ruffell, but Bolton set out from the start to keep the two players contained, rushing at them whenever they got the ball. After just two minutes West Ham half-back Jack Tresadern became entangled in the crowd after taking a throw-in and was unable to return to the pitch immediately. This gave Bolton's David Jack the opportunity to shoot for goal. His shot beat West Ham goalkeeper Ted Hufton to give Bolton the lead, and hit a spectator who was standing pressed against the goal net, knocking him unconscious. Three minutes later Vic Watson received the ball a few yards in front of the Bolton goal but his shot flew over the crossbar. Eleven minutes into the game the crowd surged forward once again and a large number of fans encroached onto the pitch, leading to the suspension of play while the mounted police again cleared the playing area. A number of fans required first aid from members of the British Red Cross while the players looked on and awaited the resumption of play. Policemen patrolled the perimeter of the pitch to keep it clear for the linesmen, after play was resumed.
Soon after play restarted, West Ham's Dick Richards eluded two Bolton defenders and shot for goal. Bolton goalkeeper Dick Pym fumbled the ball but managed to kick it clear before it crossed the goal-line. Bolton continued to dominate the match, and were only prevented from scoring again by a strong performance from West Ham full-back Billy Henderson. When West Ham attacked, however, Bolton were able to quickly switch to a strongly defensive formation, as players changed positions to form a line of five half-backs. This stifled West Ham's attacking style of play and ensured that the Bolton goal was not seriously threatened, and the score remained 1–0 to Bolton until half-time. Due to the crowds that surrounded the pitch, the players were unable to reach the dressing-rooms and instead remained on the pitch for five minutes before starting the second half.
West Ham began the second half as the stronger team, and Vic Watson received the ball in a good goalscoring position but mis-hit his shot. Eight minutes into the second half, Bolton added a second goal in controversial circumstances. Outside-forward Ted Vizard played the ball into a central position and Jack Smith hit the ball past Hufton. West Ham's players claimed that the ball had not entered the goal but rebounded into play from the goalpost, but referee D. H. Asson overruled them, stating that in his view the ball had entered the goal but then rebounded off a spectator. West Ham also claimed that Bolton had received an unfair advantage, as a Bolton fan at pitchside had kicked the ball towards Vizard, but Asson disregarded these claims as well and confirmed Bolton's second goal. At this point the crowd began to sense that Bolton would emerge victorious and many began heading towards the exits. Neither team had any more serious chances to score, and the remainder of the match was largely a stalemate with little inspired play. Late in the game, West Ham captain George Kay attempted to persuade Asson to abandon the match, but Bolton captain Joe Smith reportedly replied "We're doing fine, ref, we'll play until dark to finish the match if necessary". The score remained 2–0 to Bolton until the final whistle. The King presented the FA Cup trophy to Joe Smith and then left the stadium to cheers from the crowd. West Ham trainer Charlie Paynter attributed his team's defeat to the damage the pitch had suffered before kick-off, saying "It was that white horse thumping its big feet into the pitch that made it hopeless. Our wingers were tumbling all over the place, tripping up in great ruts and holes".
Although around 900 spectators were treated for slight injuries, only 22 were taken to hospital and ten of those were quickly discharged. Two policemen were also injured during the match. The chaotic scenes at the match prompted discussion in the House of Commons, where Home Secretary William Bridgeman paid tribute to the actions of the police and the general behaviour of the crowd. During the debate Oswald Mosley was chastised by the Speaker of the House for characterising the fans present at the stadium as hooligans. Bridgeman was asked to consider opening a public inquiry, but ultimately concluded that the police had dealt successfully with the incident, and that he was happy for the stadium authorities and the police to decide on a plan to prevent similar events from happening again.
A committee examined the stadium a month after the match, and made several recommendations to the stadium authorities. Their proposals included the replacement of the turnstiles with more up-to-date models, the erection of extra gates and railings, and the division of the terraces into self-contained sections, each with its own entrance. In addition, the pre-purchasing of tickets was made compulsory for all future finals, eliminating the possibility that excessive numbers of fans would arrive in the hope of being able to pay at the turnstile. The gross gate money for the match was £27,776. After the deduction of the stadium authorities' costs, the Football Association and each of the two clubs took £6,365, although the refunds to fans unable to reach their assigned seats were deducted from the FA's share.
After the match the players and officials attended a dinner at which former Prime Minister David Lloyd George proposed the toast. The Bolton players returned home by train and were greeted at Moses Gate railway station by the chairman of Farnworth District Council before going on to a reception hosted by the Mayor. The club presented each of the victorious players with a gold watch. The players from both teams received gold commemorative medals. In 2005 the medal presented to West Ham's George Kay was sold at auction for £4,560, and tickets and programmes from the match have also been star lots at auctions.
The image of Billie the white horse remains famous within English football lore, and the match is often referred to as "The White Horse Final". Billie's rider, George Scorey, was rewarded by the Football Association with free tickets to subsequent finals, but he had no interest in football and chose not to attend.
In 2005, a public poll chose that the new footbridge near the rebuilt Wembley Stadium would be named the White Horse Bridge. The executive director of the London Development Agency, which organised the poll, stated that the choice of name was appropriate given that the bridge, like the horse, would improve safety for fans at Wembley. Scottish newspaper the Daily Record claimed that fans of the national team of Scotland had voted in large numbers so as to prevent a former England player or manager being honoured, and also because "White Horse" is also the name of a brand of whisky. In 2007 a play drawn from the reactions of a group of Bolton residents to the events of the final was staged at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.