Wednesday, 12 Jun 2024

The Tragic Incident at Burnden Park Stadium

Football is known to evoke strong emotions in fans, from expressing disappointment to taking to the streets in protest. However, at its core, football is just a game, a hobby that should never result in tragedy. Unfortunately, there are moments in history when this line is crossed. One such incident occurred on that fateful day in 1946 at Burnden Park, when 33 people lost their lives in a heartbreaking disaster. In this article, we will delve into the events leading up to the incident, the crush itself, and the aftermath that followed.

The Lead-Up to the Disaster

It was March 9, 1946, and Bolton Wanderers were playing against Stoke City at their home ground, Burnden Park. This was the second-leg of the sixth round tie in the prestigious cup competition. With more people turning up than expected, the excitement was palpable. Supporters were eager to witness the legendary Sir Stanley Matthews in action for Stoke. Over 85,000 people flooded into the stadium that day.

Due to the requisition of part of the ground by the army, some stands were closed off, causing a bottleneck as fans from both clubs had to enter through the same turnstiles. Furthermore, the turnstiles at the Railway Embankment had not been in operation since 1940. These factors, coupled with fans buying tickets on the turnstiles, led to overcrowding at one end of the ground. As a result, the decision was made to close the turnstiles at 2.40pm, preventing any further entry into the stadium.

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Unfortunately, this did not deter some fans from finding their way in through unauthorized means. Climbing over turnstiles, coming in from the nearby railway line, and entering through an unlocked gate, many supporters found themselves pushed to the far end of the ground and eventually into the car park.

The Tragic Crush

Shortly after the game began, a surge of people spilled onto the pitch, causing a temporary halt in play. It was during this chaos that two crash barriers collapsed, resulting in the crowd behind them pushing forward, unaware that people were trapped underneath. As more people rushed onto the pitch from the Embankment End, those in the crush were tragically crushed underfoot.

The referee, George Dutton, was informed by a police officer of the situation. He called the captains of both teams into the center circle and relayed the devastating news. The captains, Harry Hubbick of Bolton and Neil Franklin of Stoke, led their players off the pitch.

The bodies of those who perished were respectfully laid along the touchline, with available coats placed over them as a sign of tribute. Astonishingly, the game resumed within half an hour. To separate the bodies from the players, a new line was made using sawdust. Instead of leaving the pitch for halftime, the players simply changed ends and continued the match.

Simon Marland, a club historian from Bolton, believes that the decision to continue playing was due to communication issues. He suggests that those on the other side of the ground might have assumed that the people lying on the pitch had fainted, as the thought of fatalities at a football match seemed unthinkable. Stanley Matthews, reflecting on the incident, later expressed his shock and donated money to a charity established for the victims. Marland believes that, despite Matthews’ disgust, continuing the game may have prevented further unrest caused by the inability to communicate with the crowd.

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The Aftermath

Tragically, 33 people lost their lives in the disaster, with many more suffering severe injuries. At the time, it was the deadliest stadium disaster in British history, although later overshadowed by the Ibrox Disaster in 1971 and Hillsborough in 1989.

In response to the incident, a report commissioned by Moelwyn Hughes recommended stricter control of crowd sizes, with local authorities inspecting grounds with capacities over 10,000. Safety limits were to be enforced at stadiums with capacities over 25,000 and turnstiles should be able to mechanically record spectators entering the grounds. The report also called for the installation of internal telephone systems in all stadiums.

The Burnden Park Stadium Disaster is a somber chapter in British football history, often overlooked. We must never forget the lives lost on that tragic day, as it serves as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing safety in the world of sports.


Q: How many people lost their lives in the Burnden Park Stadium Disaster?
A: 33 people tragically lost their lives during the incident.

Q: What were some of the recommendations made after the disaster?
A: The report suggested stricter control of crowd sizes, safety limits at stadiums, mechanized turnstile systems, and internal telephone systems in all stadiums.

Q: What are some other stadium disasters in British history?
A: The Ibrox Disaster in 1971 and Hillsborough in 1989 are two other significant stadium disasters in British history.


The Burnden Park Stadium Disaster remains a poignant reminder of the potential dangers associated with overcrowding and inadequate safety measures in sports stadiums. While football is a game that brings joy and passion to millions, it is essential to prioritize the well-being and safety of fans above all else. Let us honor the memory of those who lost their lives on that tragic day and strive to create a future where such incidents are never repeated.

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