Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: April 28, 1923, Wembley Stadium Opens

April 28, 1923: The Empire Stadium opens, in Wembley, West London. It was renamed Wembley Stadium in 1927. The 1st event is the Football Association (FA) Cup Final. West Ham United, from the East End of London, crosses town to face Manchester-area team Bolton Wanderers.

The official capacity of the stadium was 125,000, making it the largest in the world at the time. But so many people came in that many were standing on the field -- or, as they say in Britain, the pitch -- thus threatening to make it impossible to play the game. Some sources have the total at 300,000 -- probably an exaggeration, but it may still have been the most people who ever attempted to attend a sporting event on planet Earth.

Finally, mounted policemen were brought in, to clear the crowd from the pitch. George Scorey, a London policeman, was not on duty that day, but answered a call for emergency assistance at the stadium. He mounted his horse, Billy, and drove the crowd back. Although Billy was gray, this event became known as "The White Horse Final," as most people in the British Empire saw the newsreel in black and white, and saw Scorey on Billy as a heroic "man on a white horse."

The game began 45 minutes late, with fans standing around the pitch, kept back by the mounted cops and a string fence. Bolton forward David Jack scored the stadium's 1st goal just 2 minutes into the game, and Jack Smith added another in the 53rd minute, giving the Wanderers a 2-0 win.

After the game, a tradition was born: The Bolton players climbed the 39 steps from the pitch to the royal box, and their Captain, forward Joe Smith, received the FA Cup from none other than King George V, father of the eventual King Edward VIII and King George VI and grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

The original Wembley opened 10 days after the original Yankee Stadium opened in New York, and 3 days before the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum opened. The Twin Towers at its front gate became iconic long before anyone thought to design New York's World Trade Center that way, and its roof was extended around the ends in 1963.

It hosted the FA Cup Final every year until it closed in 2000. It was the main stadium for the 1948 Summer Olympic Games. It hosted the Finals of the 1963 European Cup (AC Milan defeated Benfica), the 1966 World Cup (won by England on home soil over West Germany), the 1968 European Cup (Manchester United defeated Benfica), the 1971 European Cup (Ajax Amsterdam beat Panathinaikos), the 1978 European Cup Final (Liverpool beat Brugge), the 1992 European Cup Final (Barcelona beat Sampdoria), and the 1996 European Championship (German beat the Czech Republic).

It also hosted 9 NFL preseason exhibitions between 1983 and 1993, the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football in 1991 and '92, and home games of soccer team Arsenal in the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons, due to their North London home field, Arsenal Stadium, a.k.a. Highbury, seating only 38,000.

The last event was a match between the national soccer teams of England and Germany, a Group Stage match for qualification for the 2002 World Cup, and a restaging of the stadium's most famous event, the 1966 World Cup Final (when Germany was still West Germany). This time, the Germans emerged victorious, 1-0.

The stadium was soon demolished. A new, 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium suffered serious construction delays, finally opening on March 9, 2007.

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April 28, 1923 was a Saturday. There were regular Football League games played on the day, including Arsenal's 2-0 win over Yorkshire team Sheffield United, at the Arsenal Stadium, a.k.a. Highbury, in North London.

There was no NBA yet. The NFL was in its off-season. So was the NHL, with the Ottawa Senators having won the Stanley Cup the month before. But there were 6 Major League Baseball games played on the day:

* The New York Yankees, having defeated the Boston Red Sox in the Yankee Stadium opener 10 days before, had the tables turned at Fenway Park, as the Red Sox won, 5-3.

* The New York Giants lost to the Boston Braves, 6-4 at the Polo Grounds.

* The Brooklyn Robins lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-2 at Baker Bowl in Philadelphia. Named for their manager, Wilbert Robinson, they would go back to their former name, the Dodgers, after he was fired following the 1931 season.

* The Detroit Tigers beat the St. Louis Browns, 4-1 at Navin Field in Detroit. It was renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938, and Tiger Stadium in 1961.

* The Chicago White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 6-3 at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

* The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3 at Sportsman's Park in St. Louis.

* The Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates were scheduled to play at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, but the game was rained out. It was rescheduled for August 29, and the Cubs won, 6-2.

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