The FA Cup was a popular competition at the end of World War Two, but sadly it didn't all go to plan in Bolton

Thoughts of wars and lives lost are all too much in the news at the moment and it was only three weeks ago today that we had soldiers parading around at Brunton Park before the FA Cup tie against Morecambe. Sadly wars aren't a new thing, and going back 70 and a bit years now we find the start of World War Two. A global conflict that cost the lives of between 60 and 80 million depending on which estimates you choose to rely on, a good 60% of those deaths being civilians.

Talking about football when you reflect on those figures seems rather trivial if you think about it, but even between 1939 and 1945 the game was still played in this country, albeit at a much less organised level. The FA Cup being one competition that bit the dust as in the 1939-40 version just the extra preliminary round, minus one replay, was completed before things closed down.

After the war 1945-46 was the first year the FA Cup got going again, the format though changing with the Football League keen to give every team a home game to get finances spread evenly at such a difficult time. The competition now being a two-legged affair from round one to the quarter-finals, with the semis and then the final just being single matches.

Another change seeing ten minutes each way extra time in the event of an aggregate draw, and if matters were still level at that point then it was on to a golden goal situation. Not a timed golden goal like it is these days though but a scenario where play went on and on until a goal was scored or until daylight ended - sounds like those days of playing football in the park on a summer evening when you were a kid.

Guest players were not permitted in the competition but numerous teams played them, some escaping punishment and others not, Welsh trio Bangor city, Aberaman & Aberdare and Ebbw Vale all turfed out following investigation. Another Welsh club in Barry Town did get through the system though despite hammering Clevedon Town 10-0, Barry's side featuring Charlton Athletic full back Bert Turner, Welsh international Turner going on to play for the Addicks in the final against Derby County, a game they lost 4-1.

With the need for players to be registered 14 days before a tie there were also problems with that rule. Leiston progressing through after complaining about the make up of a Lowestoft side they had drawn 2-2 with, the Lowestoft eleven apparently containing seven players from HMS Martello, a minesweeping vessel, and four from local teams in the area. Letchworth weren't so lucky in their protest against Bedford Avenue though as Bedford stayed in the FA Cup and Letchworth only had their fee refunded.

These problems tended to be restricted to the early stages of the competition however and in the end they paled into insignificance when 33 people were killed and hundreds were injured at Burnden Park during a quarter-final second leg tie between Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City. Before the match a 50,000 gate was predicted, the official attendance was then 65,419 but unofficially was thought to have been about 85,000, with an enormous 28,137 supporters officially allowed onto the "Embankment".

With the Burnden Stand still closed after it had been used as storage space during the war and the turnstiles at the east end of the railway embankment shut since 1940, all the spectators had to enter that area of the ground at the west end. With large crowds forming at the turnstiles people began to gain improper entry to the ground by breaking through the fences, making congestion on the embankment even worse.

As kick off came the weight of the crowd surged forward and the pitch barriers collapsed, people falling on top of each other like a pack of dominoes as many were trodden underfoot. Hundreds of spectators were already on the side of the pitch before the referee was told at 3.12pm during a break in play that there had been deaths. The dead and injured were quickly taken away before, fearing disorder in the rest of the crowd, the Chief Constable present remarkably urged the match to continue around ten minutes later.

Incredibly, after the game had finished 0-0, and Bolton had reached the semi-finals 2-0 on aggregate, many supporters went home without knowing about the tragedy, until they read the final edition of the Bolton Evening News or got home and listened to the radio, or wireless as it was then. Three weeks ago at Brunton Park we remembered fallen war heroes, so perhaps today it's worth taking a quick moment of reflection to remember the 33 lives lost on that fateful day in Bolton, March 9th 1946.