Two Games, 300,000 Fans: The Heyday of Hampden Park

In one week in April 1937, close to 300,000 supporters crammed into Hampden Park for two memorable matches. Archibald Leitch was a Scottish architect that had a hand in the construction of many stadiums, including Hampden Park. Following the completion of the North Stand in 1937, Leitch calculated the capacity of Hampden as 183,724. Many official capacities from this era cannot take in to account any fans who entered the ground without tickets, therefore some statistics may be lower than the actual attendance. This was certainly the case for the two matches under analysis.

The British Championship

The first game played at the newly renovated Hampden Park was a British Championship match between Scotland and England on the 17th of April 1937. The relationship between England and Scotland was a lot less intense in the 1930’s than it is today. One fan from the game described the relationship; “in those days it was fun and banter, no viciousness or any animosity whatsoever, it was a party time”. A party is perhaps the best description of what turned out to be the biggest football party in history. Scotland and England matches have always and will always draw a large crowd, this is evident by the fact that this game in 1937 was the first all ticketed sporting event in British history. 150,000 tickets were available for the game and an astonishing 149,414 were sold, there were also many that climbed walls to gain entrance to the ground which is said to have certainly boosted the reported attendance to a figure closer to 185,000.

The ground was now holding a larger capacity and so this was the first opportunity for so many fans to come to the match. The era of the British Championship has passed, but during this era these matches were very important. This was exemplified by the Scottish FA’s refusal to participate in the 1950 World Cup as they had not won the British Championship. Also, this was an age before television, and the working man had no other form of entertainment and escapism from working life. It was customary for 50 to 70,000 fans to attend Celtic Park, Ibrox or any games in Edinburgh. This was a pioneering time for football in Scotland.

A Period of Scottish Dominance

This too was a period of Scottish dominance, Stanley Matthews described it as “Scotland expected, and England did not”. The Tartan Army were used to Scotland putting on a good display, particularly at the cauldron like atmosphere of Hampden Park. The game itself was as enthralling as the swirling Hampden Roar. Matthews and Sunderland’s Raich Carter were causing Scotland many problems on the wings, this proved telling and England opened the scoring through Stoke’s Freddie Steele. This was enough to carry England through to half-time ahead, although the colossal crowd did not relinquish their support for the Scots. The too often used phrase ‘twelfth man’ can certainly be attributed to the noise produced by the Scottish fans, coined the ‘Hampden Roar’. Their support proved telling and shortly after half time Preston’s Francis O’Donnell levelled the game, Scotland were much more dominant in the second half. This control proved telling and Bob McPhail headed Scotland’s second, the Rangers man turned Hampden into party mode. McPhail doubled Scotland’s lead with ten minutes to go and he provided the proverbial icing on the cake to cement an unforgettable victory at Hampden.

When Vic Woodley picked the ball out of his net following Scotland’s third goal, he turned to the Hampden crowd and shrugged his shoulders. Woodley seemed to suggest that there was no way England could stop the Scottish from performing in front of so many fans. The gate from that game remains a standing European International record, perhaps equally as impressive is that there were no deaths, injuries or arrests on the day. What did occur was a huge footballing spectacle on a scale that had never been seen before, yet in only seven days’ time it happened all over again.

A European Record for Club Football

Exactly a week later it was the Scottish Cup Final between Aberdeen and Celtic on the 24th of April 1937. This time there were a reported 147,365 supporters at the game, this means that if the official figures are taken at face value, in just seven days there were 296,779 supporters at Hampden Park. It is almost certain that many fans entered the stadia without tickets again, so it is fair to assume that the figure is comfortably over 300,000. Although there were more supporters at the international game, this Scottish Cup Final attendance remains a European record for a club match. It was reported that 30,000 were locked out due to the enormous size of the crowd and after the game it became a realisation that all-ticketed events were the future. The Glasgow Herald declared the game ‘will be remembered more for the crowd than for the play’, this is certainly true as Celtic’s 2-1 victory was overshadowed by the record-breaking crowd.

The match-up was Aberdeen’s first and Celtic’s twenty-first final appearance. Celtic were the deserved winners despite both teams missing big chances in the game. The Celts experience in matches of this magnitude told with Jimmy McGrory and Chic Geatons roles being much praised in newspaper reports the following day. However, it was Johnny Crum who put Celtic into the lead in the eleventh minute with a deflected free-kick, but Aberdeen struck back through Matt Armstrong who converted a Jackie Beynon cross just a minute later. The scores were level at half-time.

Celtic were dominant in the second half and struck the winning goal with just under twenty minutes remaining as Willie Buchan scored the winner. Aberdeen immediately contested its legitimacy after they accused McGrory of handling the ball in the build-up to the winning goal. Despite these protests, Buchan still had a lot to do when he was played through on goal and finished past the ‘keeper with a low shot that rebounded off the back post, into the net.

The effect of the volume of supporters does not seem to have had as much influence as the international fixture. Match-winner Buchan was quoted after the game as saying: “Even now I still remember the incredible volume of sound that greeted us as we ran onto the field. I had never heard anything like it and initially I found myself slightly overawed. The memory of my winning goal is still vivid in my mind too”. Buchan certainly was stimulated by the crowd, but it was perhaps easier for those playing in this match to deal with the number of supporters. They had a week to watch and read about the game the week before and could better prepare themselves for the noise and spectacle that awaited them.

A Week that will Never be Beaten

Whether the atmosphere influenced them or not, the attendances for these games are what will always be remembered. The likelihood is that many fans will have had the opportunity to watch both games that week and they, along with Jimmy Delaney who played in both games, had a week that will perhaps never be matched in terms of football attendances. This is not just an amazing statistic in Scottish football but for football throughout the globe. The 1950 World Cup group stages in Brazil attracted 199,854 fans who saw Brazil beat Uruguay 2-1, this remains the record attendance in football. The 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton and West Ham was said to have been played out in front of 300,000 fans but these statistics are estimates as only 126,047 tickets were sold. Regardless, this week in Glasgow will probably never be beaten, two record breaking attendances in the same stadium in just one week.

The attendances of these two games illustrate that football has always been a phenomenally huge sport and attracts unequalled crowds. The interwar period is often regarded as a time of economic oppression, yet the 300,000 supporters that attended matches that week illustrated that this was a time of huge love for football. Of course, no television or other distractions for working-class people plays a part in these statistics, but these figures should be respected and demonstrate the passionate relationship between Scotland and football.

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