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Yarn Of The Month (some Great Stories)

04. Played at Bradford's Odsal Stadium before a then (and still is) world record crowd of over 102,000 spectators

Posted by... quigs eraofthebiff - on ... Saturday, May 05, 2012

YARN OF THE MONTH #04 ..... (original entry date) 30/04/2005


Get some more beers, or make another
coffee, take your time and have some fun.

Just a quick note here. This is where Quigs selects the best "Your Story" received for the month or a selection of a favorite older yarn - no correspondence will be entered into and the winner gets bugger all.
All yarns are unsubstantiated and are posted in good faith. Its just meant to be a fun thing, share some of our great memories from the Greatest Era of the Greatest Game of All.



5th May 1954, Played at Bradford's Odsal Stadium before a then (and still is)
world record crowd of over 102,000 spectators

The 1954 Wembley Challenge Cup Replay which was played before 103,000 spectators, a then world record.

(In my mind it is still a record- not thousands of freebies as with our Aussie claim - these guys just stopped counting back in 1954)


The Era has received a brilliant recollection of this game from Prof. John Shepherd, who as a 15 year old was part of the crowd on that day......it is a great read....see your stories for link or just click here

Odsal History
World Record Crowd

A still of a newsreel from the record crowd match-
a view from the Rooley Ave end.

Odsal has been at the forefront of many aspects of rugby league and holds many records relating to the sport and its supporters. When many people think of Odsal one image springs to mind. The picture of the world record breaking crowd for a rugby league match. Now officially held by Stadium Australia when in 1999 they had a crowd of 107, 558 for the 1999 NRL Grand Final. The crowd at Odsal on 5th May 1954 for the Warrington v Halifax Challenge Cup Final replay was officially announced as 102,569 however it is widely acknowledged that the correct figure should have been in the region of 120,000.
When it was decided the replay of the final was to be at Odsal nobody realised that the capacity of the stadium would ever be under jeopardy. They had planned it to be an evening kick off, but it was changed to 7.00pm to avoid the rush hour traffic and the match was on a Wednesday night. As the original game had been thought by many to be a let down and the fact that Laurel & Hardy were playing at the Alhambra on the same night nobody realised what the extent of the crowd would actually be.

A set of shuttle buses were put on from town starting at 4:25pm, and at the same time 20 trains that had been specially laid on from Warrington were turning up at the nearby (now unused) Low Moor railway station.

People sat several deep on the pitch up to the edge of the playing area due to the vast amount spectators at the match

The Trains carried an estimated 12,000 passengers. On the day there were 100 gatemen and 150 policemen on duty, more than enough for the expected crowd of 70,000. The gates opened at 5.00 pm by which time some people had already been queuing an hour and a half. At an hour before kick off there were already an estimated 60,000 in the ground.

As the picture shows people were even sat on the pitch because of the vast size of the crowd, however despite the numbers that turned up and the primitive nature of the ground no untoward incidents were recorded. There were some casualties but these were only from people fainting because people who realised they were not going to be able to see the match tried to leave which resulted in some people being slightly crushed and fainting.

The reason many people today still say the actual crowd figure was around 120,000 is that many fences were found flat after the match giving the appearance many had found their way into the ground without paying. Due to the nature of the old stadium there were also many places young children could sneak through and men could climb over. Since Stadium Australia took the record there has been talk of the crowd figure being re-calculated to what many people believe it should be. However this could prove difficult.

Program from Halifax v Warrington Replay.

This attracted a crowd of 64,453. You can tell it isn't the World Record crowd as there is no-one on the pitch which is clearly shown in the other photo. However it does make you wonder where the other 60,000 spectators fitted into at the World Record game.

If only a fifth of a crowd of that size turned up at Odsal today the traffic chaos would be enormous. But 45 years ago few families owned one car let alone two. It was reported that by 10pm - an hour or so after the final whistle - all traffic had been dispersed from the Odsal area. It takes longer than that nowadays to get away from some grounds and there's nowhere near the 102,000 crowd they had at Odsal.

The final score on the night was 8-4 to Warrington, with the match winning try being scored by Gerry Helme.


(See Favorite Moments Page - I have an entry about my wonderful experience when I visited Bradford and the Odsal Stadium)



Prof. John Shepherd
Professor of Geophysics
The University of the West Indies
St. Augustine
West Indies

I am JBS from the P and B website. In 1954 I was fifteen years old and lived in Warrington but I am a long way from there now. Bradford is about 40 miles from Warrington and there is now a 6-lane motorway called the M-62 that passes both towns so you can drive it in not much more than half an hour. The kid on the P and B website probably thought the Romans built it but it didn't open until 1970. In 1954 the main road from south Lancashire to Yorkshire was a narrow winding road over the Pennines. The railway was a much better way of doing the trip because you could catch the train directly from Warrington to Odsal. That was the way me and my mates went. That day there was a stream of special trains leaving at 15-minute intervals. There were also hundreds of coaches from Warrington and the nearby RL towns – Wigan, Widnes, St. Helens, Leigh etc.- doing the trip by road and they all converged on that single road.

We didn’t think the crowd would be all that big. We had drawn 4-4 with Halifax at Wembley the previous Saturday and the crowd there was only around 60-70,000. There were only four days between match and replay so there was no time to print tickets. At one point the railway ran alongside the road. That was when we realized that something big was on. There were coaches nose-to-tail all the way up to the top and down the other side with no movement at all. We got to Bradford about half an hour before the kick off and walked to the ground. Odsal then was not really a stadium. It was just a big natural hole in the ground with a football pitch at the bottom and one grandstand close to the touchline and another opposite at the top of the slope.

(see http://www.thisisbradford.co.uk/bradford__district/bradford/news/jim56.html for a picture).

The standing area was bare hillside with crush barriers scattered about. It rose up in two or three huge steps and the flat bits were dead ground where you couldn’t see the pitch. You can see one of these down the left hand side of the picture. Nobody really knew what the capacity of the ground was. The turnstiles were behind the stand at the top where it says ODSAL STADIUM and at the bottom right where it says BRADFORD NORTHERN RLFC. There were so many people outside the ground that we couldn’t get to the turnstiles but the crowd pushed a long section of the fence down flat and we simply walked in. I would guess that at least 10,000 people came in that way but were not counted in the official attendance. There were other holes in the fence too.

I don’t remember much of the actual match I’m afraid. Jim Challinor used the great Brian Bevan as a foil to score the first try early on. Scrum half Gerry Helme scored the second late on and Harry Bath converted one of them but I can’t remember which one. The trains on the way back were even more tightly packed than the ones going because most of the people who had managed to reach the ground by coach hopped the train to come back. As we ran along the roadside again it was a complete mess. Many of the coaches were still facing towards Bradford and were tangled up with the ones coming back. We got home on time and the whole town was rocking. Great days!!!

DOES ANYONE HAVE ANY MORE.....?????? Quigs..

Gary Kitchen
Club supported by the author Leeds
Year of Story 1954
Date of submission 28/12/2003

Just read the stories on the 1954 Odsal CC replay.

It was two years before I was born but my dad and my uncle went to that match on the bus from Leeds, and although neither of them are with us any more they both used to tell me when I was a kid of how they got in the ground but couldn't see the pitch and couldn't move to a better place, they stood there in the crowd listening to the game via messages being passed along the supporters, a sort of worlds biggest chinese whispers game, and the one thing that my dad always used to finish off with was that they didn't get home until 2am and got a right royal bollocking off their wives, remember this was in the days when few houses had telephones so they couldn't ring home and explain their transport problems, mind you knowing my dad and my uncle they probably stopped for a few beers on the way home as well.

I now make the trip to Odsal from home in about 20 minutes, its my favourite away ground as Leeds/Bradford games can pull crowds of up to 24,000 and in todays health and safety concious ground licences, thats pretty much a full house - gods knows how 103,000 got in there, but my dad also told me that there were many thousands who were not counted in the official figure.

George of Widnes, Cheshire. UK
Year of Story 1954
Date of submission 09/09/2004

My favorite Moment is: Maybe not my Favourite moment, but certainly one that I still remember 50 years on.

The 1954 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium between Halifax & Warrington resulted in a Draw & the replay was arranged to be played midweek at Odsal Stadium Bradford.

My Mate had just taken delivery of a new Austin Somerset Car so we thought it would be a good excuse to try it out with a trip over the Pennine Hills to Bradford for the Game, a slow & tedious journey in those days before Motorways.We allowed ourselves plenty of time for the trip .

Our intention was to park the car near the Stadium & then go into the centre of Bradford by Bus or taxi for a meal & a few drinks & return to the ground in time for kickoff.

We had a good journey to Odsal arriving about 21/2 hours before kickoff, parked the car opposite the Stadium in a designated car park,& became aware of the crowds of people Milling around the area with a small queue starting to form outside the entrance, it was at this stage that we made the decision to abandon the meal & drinks plan and get inside the ground.

It soon became apparent that thousands of other people had also decided to see the game and before long it was a case of trying to secure a good vantage point to watch the game.

My lasting memory of the game itself was seeing Gerry Helme the Warrington halfback duck under the Halifax fullbacks attempted tackle near the try line to score a wonderful & vital try.

At the end of the game we returned to the car park to find that the Police had closed the exit so that no vehicles could leave. The traffic was in absolute chaos with all roads around Bradford gridlocked for hours. We didnt move off the carpark for 2 hours & then it was a slow crawl for many a mile, all the eating & drinking places had closed.

We arrived back home in the early hours very hungry & thirsty.

It was only next day in the press that we learned that we had been part of a World record Rugby League crowd.

From Laurie Hopkinson
Club supported by the author Bradford Northern
Year of Story 1954
Date of submission 20/04/2004

Back in the 1950`s, "male bonding" and "spending quality time together" hadn`t been invented, but for "me and my Dad", going to Odsal was a wonderful substitute. Two particular examples of the Odsal experience in those days are still prominent memories.

On the 31st October 1951, Bradford Northern was scheduled to play against a Kiwi touring team, the first ever RL game to be played under floodlights. Me and my Dad arrived at Odsal with eager anticipation, the vast bowl was virtually in darkness (Health & Safety regulations in those days were much more primitive). Cautiously, we walked and slid down the ash slope at the scoreboard end until we found a convenient railway sleeper to stand on. As kick-off time arrived, the floodlights were turned on and the pitch was brilliantly illuminated, revealing that both teams had taken up their positions under cover of darkness. An awe-inspiring sight for a small boy, in an era when most streets were dimly lit by gas lamps.

Challenge Cup Final Replay 1954

On 5th May 1954, me and my Dad (and about 120,000 other fans) set off to watch the replay of the Challenge Cup Final between Halifax and Warrington. By the time we got into Odsal, the crowd had assumed the proportions which most of you will have seen on the aerial photographs displayed in books and on club walls wherever the game is played. We finished up standing on the track round the top of the bowl, at the scoreboard end (about where cars are parked for BISA meetings). Particularly for an 11 year old, the view of the pitch from this position was severely limited, so my dad scouted around the nearby perimeter fence, found a heap of rubble, and proceeded to build me a small pile of bricks to stand on. From my new vantage point I could see from the halfway line to the dead ball line at the Rooley Avenue end, probably more than a lot of those present. It was many years before I realised that I had witnessed a small part of history being made.

From Harold Winterburn
Club supported by the author Bradford Northern
Year of Story 1954
Date of submission 09/09/2004

The memory of the epic replay still lives in my memory and, although the game itself was not a classic, the size of the crowd was amazing.

I, my sister and three brothers decided to visit Odsal on a pub trip from Otley. Everything seemed pretty normal as the bus approached the stadium on Rooley Lane but when the bus driver unloaded his passenger, that’s when we met with the vast crowd trying to get through the turnstiles.

Each gate was jam-packed with folk squeezing and shoving and the mounted police were trying to ease congestion which was nigh impossible. My sister and I finally entered the ground about three-quarters of an hour before kick off and it was a hopeless cause trying to get down on the terraces which were full from the fence up to the highest rim of Odsal Bowl.

After walking right to the other end above the speedway pits, we found a small space from which only half the pitch could be seen. The big shock about the crowd size was that it had been a rainy day and nobody expected over 100,000. After the game it took us three-quarters of an hour to find our transport with there being bus after bus stretching for miles.


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