The Football Association Challenge Cup, commonly known as the FA Cup, was proposed by Charles Alcock, the Honorary Secretary of the Football Association, in July, 1871. The first ever final was contested by Wanderers and Royal Engineers, not at the original Wembley Stadium, which wasn’t completed until 1923, but at Kennington Oval in Lambeth, South London, on March 16, 1872. On that occasion, just 2,000 spectators, each paying what ‘Bell’s Life’ described as an ‘exorbitant’ 1/- for the privilege, watched Wanderers win 1-0, courtesy of a goal by full-back Morton Betts.
Fast forward 52 years and the first FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley Stadium, the so-called ‘White Horse Final’, on April 28, 1923, was an altogether more congested affair. The official attendance figure for the match was 126,047, but various estimates suggest the actual figure was more like 200,000, or even 300,000. The gates opened at 11.30am, fully three and a half hours before the scheduled 3.00pm kick-off, but closed again at 1.45pm. Nevertheless, thousands of disappointed fans jumped over, or broke through, the turnstiles, overwhelmed police and stewards and spilled onto the pitch.
Kick-off was delayed by 45 minutes and, with postponement looking increasing likely, ten mounted policeman, assisted by others on foot, managed to manoeuvre spectators back beyond the touchlines. Constable George Scorey and his ‘white’ horse, Billie – who was actually grey, but nonetheless stood out on black-and-white photographs and newsreel footage of the day – were singled out for special praise, hence the ‘White Horse Final’.
Once underway, the match, between First Division Bolton Wanderers and Second Division West Ham, was largely unsatisfactory, due to the state of the pitch and the proximity of the crowd. After two minutes, West Ham left-back was temporarily trapped in the crowd, allowing Bolton inside forward David Jack to score the opening goal. Further controversy followed earlier in the second half, when Bolton centre forward Jack Smith scored a disputed goal, which West Ham claimed had rebounded off a goalpost, rather than a spectator behind the goal, which was the view of the referee. In any event, Bolton Wanderers won 2-0 to become the inaugural winners of the FA Cup.