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Bolton Wanderers 50-year high in EFL final v Plymouth?

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse

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Sunday's Papa Johns Trophy final could end up being the biggest congregation of Wanderers fans for nearly 50 years.

Current ticket sales for Wembley are believed to be close to the 34,000 mark, with fans still able to purchase their seat up to Friday morning.

That number already eclipses the total capacity of the University of Bolton Stadium but the discounted prices for the Papa Johns Trophy may have ensured a larger following than the club has had for any major event since the seventies.

Estimates for the 1995 League Cup final against Liverpool range from 33,000 – as reported by the Bolton Evening News at the time – to 34,000, the number carried by some national newspapers. It is also highly probable, given the allocations, that some Liverpool supporters did get tickets for the Wanderers end.

Bolton took 30,000 fans for the Carling Cup final against Middlesbrough in 2004 and the 1999 play-off final against Watford, 27,000 for the Sherpa Van Trophy in 1989, 25,000 for the FA Cup semi-finals of 2000 and 2011 and around 24,000 at the Millennium Stadium for the 2001 play-off final.

Going back in time, Wanderers’ last official attendance of 35,000-plus was a home game against Liverpool in May 1979, which finished up 4-1 to the eventual Division One champions. Exact numbers on the away following were not included in any of the available reports, but Ian Greaves was so impressed by the Reds, he said after the game: “Liverpool are the finest team I have ever seen, better even than Manchester United in their hey-day.”

A strong contender would be the visit of Fulham on the last day of the 1977/78 season, which saw Greaves’s side secure the title alongside promotion to the top division.

The official attendance was 34,110 but few Fulham supporters had made the journey to Lancashire and demand for home tickets was high with top spot hanging in the balance.

It is perhaps, however, more likely that the last time 34,000-plus Bolton supporters gathered in the same stadium was the League Cup semi-final against Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals Everton in February 1977.

An incredible 50,413 packed into Burnden Park that day after Neil Whatmore’s goal had given Bolton a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park but Bob Latchford’s well-taken goal proved the difference in the second leg – a night that will go down as one of the most dramatic in the famous old ground’s history.

In the league, 35,603 watched Wanderers lose 1-0 to Wolves in the penultimate game of the 1976/77 season, and 42,680 saw Sam Allardyce score a famous goal against Sunderland on December 27, 1975, in a 2-1 victory. That same year, Newcastle United came to Burnden for a classic televised FA Cup tie, which ended three apiece, and would eventually require two more games to separate the two sides and find a winner.

Of course, it is all a far cry from the game that opened Wembley Stadium – then the Empire Stadium – 100 years ago.

The official capacity was 125,000 but the actual attendance has become a much-debated statistic over the last century and has been pitched at anywhere between 150,000 and just under 300,000.

Known as ‘The White Horse Final’ Wanderers beat West Ham 2-0 but only after huge swathes of people who had spilled on to the pitch and delayed kick-off were cleared. One of the enduring images of that operation was a horse called Billie, ridden by PC George Scorey, who was actually grey – but the saturation on old photos made him appear lighter.

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