Wolves And Grimsby – United As Old Trafford’s Biggest Ever Attraction!

Sorry Man U But Cup Semi-Final Remains A Record-Breaker

Part of the massive turn-out at Wolves’ FA Cup semi-final victory over Grimsby in March, 1939.

This story, a few days on from FA Cup semi-final weekend, is not another way of kicking Manchester United while they are down.

But the club whose long-term slide and considerable shortcomings were exposed again in their surrender at Liverpool two nights ago retain a claim to history that they really would like to rid themselves of.

Namely that the biggest attendance ever to assemble at Old Trafford was not for a United game at all but for the FA Cup last-four clash between Wolves and Grimsby, no less, in the spring of 1939.

The 76,962 present that day was and still is more than any crowd the host club have attracted to their Theatre of Dreams, with the record for a United game at the venue standing at 76,098 – for the Premier League visit of Blackburn on March 31, 2007.

But maybe supporters of Wolves and especially Grimsby, the latter of whom are on a diet of non-League football these days, should enjoy dining out on this enjoyable boast while they can. Although the stadium’s capacity remains for now at 74,140, discussions over increasing it beyond 80,000 have started in the last few months.

The battle for a place in the last pre-war Wembley final was played many decades before Old Trafford was made all-seater and was won handsomely by Major Frank Buckley’s Wolves.

But there are some lesser-known aspects of the occasion that are worthy of mention before we move back to the subject of attendances.

Perhaps we should first dispel the notion that this, a meeting with a side from the trawling coast, was a case of big fish against minnows (pun intended).

Grimsby had been a top-flight team for five seasons and had finished fifth (the highest position in their history) in 1934-35. To emphasise the size of the obstacle Wolves faced, the Humbersiders ended the season in question just above half-way as well, with their journey to the semi-finals including a 6-0 triumph over Tranmere and a 1-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

They had lost a semi-final in 1936 as well (against Arsenal) and, in their ranks, had former Wolves inside-forward Jack Beattie, captain and former docker Alex Hall, club all-time record goalscorer and record cap holder Pat Glover, and Grimsby-born England international Harry Betmead, a centre-half who would almost certainly have more than his solitary cap had it not been for his Molineux counterpart Stan Cullis.

On their big day in Manchester, the Mariners also had huge misfortune. Already without their regular keeper, they lost stand-in George Moulson to injury after a 21st minute collision with Dicky Dorsett while the scoreline was still blank.

There were no substitutes in those days, let alone replacement keepers on the bench, so Grimsby played more than three-quarters of the game with ten men and an outfield player in goal; partial explanation at least for the fact Dennis Westcott (4) and Tom Galley (penalty) struck to secure a big victory for a side who would then suffer a shock defeat against Portsmouth in the final.

Dennis Westcott…..the scourge of Humberside.

One other fact worth emphasising is that, weakened line-up or not, Grimsby clearly found Wolves too hot to handle that season. In the space of just over 24 hours of Christmas, they were beaten 4-2 by them at Blundell Park on Boxing Day and then hammered 5-0 at Molineux, Westcott scoring three times in the latter.

The crowd at the fixture in the West Midlands was a very healthy 44,131, which takes us back to the theme on which we started this article.

As well as that piece of Old Trafford history, Wolves have also attracted the record all-time attendances at Grimsby (31,657 in February, 1937), Liverpool (61,905 in February, 1952), Blackpool (38,098 in September, 1955) and Coventry (51,455 in April, 1967).

Thomas Publications