Remembering The 33 - Burnden Disaster's 70th Anniversary

  • March 09, 2016 | By Chris Mann
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March 9, 1946 - A day when 33 football supporters lost their lives at a game between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. This is the Burnden Disaster.

Six months after World War II came to an end, families were beginning to settle back into their daily routines. A favourite English pastime had been restored, with competitive football returning to Burnden Park on January 5, for the first time since September 1939.

After progressing through to the sixth round of the FA Cup, a brace of goals from Ray Westwood had given Bolton a 2-0 win over Stoke in their first-leg tie at the Victoria Ground on March 2, ensuring Wanderers had one foot in the semi-finals ahead of the return game.

Unwilling to pass up on an opportunity to see Stanley Matthews in live action, people flocked from all over the North West to catch a glimpse of the Potters midfielder, with an estimated figure of over 85,000 believed to have been in attendance.

With the Railway End clearly over capacity, the decision was made to close entry to the enbankment at 2:40pm. That didn't stop supporters from gaining access, however, with many opting to climb over barriers, adding to the swelling of numbers already inside the ground.

The situation proved too much for one father and son duo, who opened an exit gate to seek safety and unwittingly provided an alternative source of entry for several thousands of people waiting outside.

The sudden surge in numbers was then accountable for the collapse of terrace barriers, resulting in crowds pushing forwards and causing 33 supporters to be crushed to their deaths.

Those present at the time were witness to fellow fans being lofted high in their air and carried to pitchside, where initial presumptions were that the stricken bodies were those of people who had simply fainted and required medical treatment.

With play underway, referee George Dutton was forced to stop the game after a police officer informed him of the emergency situation. Players returned to the dressing rooms, before re-emerging to continue the game 30 minutes later, having agreed to avoid a potential backlash from a crowd that was largely unaware of what was happening in front of their very eyes.

The match fizzled out to a goalless draw, with Wanderers advancing on aggregate, but it was only afterwards that reality began hit hard, as families were left anxiously awaiting the safe return of their loved ones.

The tragic circumstances of that dark afternoon led to the commission of the Moelwyn Hughes report, which recommended stricter legislation on crowd sizes and also the introduction of numbers on turnstiles that recorded how many people had gained access to each area of a stadium.

The Burnden Disaster was the first tragedy of its size to hit British football, until more recent events at Ibrox Stadium, in January 1971, and Hillsborough, in April 1989, resulted in an overhaul of legislation and a move towards the all-seater stadia of the modern day.

Remembering the 33 - Who Were They?

Wilfred Addison (51)
Heath Bank Road, Manchester

Wilfred Allison (19)
Selborne Street, Leigh

Fred Battersby (31)
Argyle Street, Atherton

James Battersby (33)
Worthing Grove, Atherton

Robert Bentham (33)
Bolton Old Road, Atherton

Henry Ratcliffe Birtwistle (14)
June Street, Blackburn

John Thomas Blackshaw (50)
Norman Street, Rochdale

William Braidwood (40)
Green Lane, Heywood

Fred Campbell (33)
Garstang Avenue, Bolton

Fred Price Dearden (67)
Florence Avenue, Bolton

William Evans (33)
Glebe Street, Leigh

Winston Finch (39)
Deneside Avenue, Hazel Grove, Stockport

John Flinders (32)
Clough Terrace, Littleborough

Albert Edward Hanrahan (30)
Cambria Crescent, Winton, Eccles

Emily Hoskinson (40)
Garstang Avenue, Bolton

William Hughes (56)
Byrom Street, Poolstock, Wigan

Frank Jubb (30)
Greenbank Road, Rochdale

John Livesey (36)
Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston

John Thomas Lucas (34)
Arthur Street, Leigh

Harold McAndrew (33)
Sharp Street, Wigan

William McKenzie (31)
St Paul's Villas, Bury

Morgan Mooney (32)
Eskrick Street, Bolton

Harry Needham (30)
Bella Street, Bolton

David Pearson (67)
Brimrod Lane, Rochdale

Joseph Platt (43)
Thwaites Street, Bolton

Sidney Potter (36)
Charles Street, Tyldesley

Grenville Roberts (44)
Foy Street, Ashton-In-Makerfield

Richard Robey (38)
Longshaw Old Road, Billinge

Thomas Robey (62)
Upholland Street, Billinge, Wigan

Henry Simson (59)
Leigh Road, Leigh

Thomas Smith (65)
King Street South, Rochdale

Walter Wilmot (31)
Crescent Road, Bolton

James Wilson (60)
Ashton Old Road, Higher Openshaw, Manchester

Bolton Wanderers v Stoke City (Line-Ups & Officials)

Bolton Wanderers
  1 - Stan Hanson
  2 - John Threlfall
  3 - Harry Hubbick
  4 - Jack Hurst
  5 - Lol Hamlett
  6 - Dan Murphy
  7 - Albert Geldard
  8 - Don Howe
  9 - Nat Lofthouse
10 - Ray Westwood
11 - Tom Woodward

Stoke City
  1 - Dennis Herod
  2 - Harry Brigham
  3 - John McCue
  4 - Frank Mountford
  5 - Neil Franklin
  6 - Jock Kirton
  7 - Stanley Matthews
  8 - Syd Peppitt
  9 - Freddie Steele
10 - Tommy Sale
11 - Frank Baker

Match Officials
George Dutton (Referee)
W. S. Moore (Linesman)
F. Walton (Linesman)

How Have Bolton Wanderers Marked the Anniversary?

Now the site of a supermarket and adjoining retail park, a plaque in memory of the 33 victims has been present at Burnden Park since September 1992, when club legend Nat Lofthouse, who was in the Wanderers team on that fateful day, conducted the official unveiling.

Ahead of Tuesday's game against Ipswich Town at Macron Stadium, Bolton announced plans to commemorate the anniversary by wearing special edition third kits. On sale to supporters since the start of the season, £10 from the sale of 1,000 manufactured shirts will be donated to Bolton Young Persons Housing Scheme.

Specially produced matchday programmes also recognised the disaster, with replica copies of the original from that day included in approximately 2,000 sold in and around the proximity of the stadium.

A minute of silence was held prior to kick-off, while supporters rose to their feet to applaud the memory of the dead when the clock reached 33 minutes.

To cap a memorable week of events, the club have invited fans to a memorial service at 15:00 on Wednesday, the exact date of the anniversary, where the names of the victims will be read and a new book of remembrance will be unveiled for permanent display within the reception area at the Macron.

Sky Bet League One Standings

Pos Team Pld Pts
7 Plymouth Argyle 46 80
8 Oxford United 46 76
9 Bolton Wanderers 46 73
10 Portsmouth 46 73
11 Ipswich Town 46 70
View Full Standings >>


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