On this day in history : 9th March 1946 – Barriers collapse at an overcrowded football match at Burnden Park, home to Bolton Wanderers…. 33 fans are killed and hundreds more are injured….

The match was between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City…. At 2.40pm the decision was taken to close the turnstiles as the ground had already filled to over-capacity…. But still the crowds came in, climbing over the turnstiles…. Then somebody – wanting to escape the crush – pricked the lock of a gate….as it opened more and more people poured in…. It is estimated 85,000 were packed into the ground – which should have had no more than 70,000….

A quarter of an hour after the game had started the crowd began to spill onto the pitch – play was temporarily stopped whilst the pitch was cleared…. It was just after then that two barriers collapsed and the crowd surged forwards….those knocked to the ground were crushed….

Women and children being passed over the heads of the crowd during the crush – Fair use

The game had restarted – but a police officer went to speak to the referee, George Dutton, to explain there had been fatalities…. At that point the players returned to the dressing rooms….

The injured were removed from the crowd and the dead were lain along the touch-line and covered with coats…. A new touch-line was marked out with sawdust – and less than half an hour after leaving the pitch the players returned to restart the game! Just a line of sawdust separating them from the bodies….

At the end of the first half the teams swapped ends and immediately started the second half…. The match ended goalless…. Stanley Matthews, who was on the Stoke team, later said he was sickened that the game was allowed to continue….

Until the Ibrox Park disaster in 1971 Burnden Park was the deadliest stadium disaster in British history…. 33 dead, including one woman and over 400 injured…. Bolton played their last game there in 1997, before moving to a new stadium…. It was demolished in 1999 and the site is now occupied by a supermarket….


Image credit: Bradford Timeline via Flickr

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