British football’s biggest crowd: Hampden Park, 1937

John Cairney still has his match ticket, yellowed and minus its stub, in his drawer of mementos. He doesn’t remember much about the actual match. It was 78 years ago. He’s 85 now, an acclaimed actor, painter and writer with a lifetime of football memories. But he does remember the vast sea of people, the ear-splitting wall of noise and the sort-of collective madness that surrounded and enveloped him. “The excitement was palpable,” he says. He was just seven years old, a small boy in the middle of Britain’s biggest-ever football crowd.

The date was Saturday 17 April 1937, and the match was Scotland versus England at Hampden Park, Glasgow. It was the first all-ticket international. The official attendance figure was given after the game as 149,407. (Some later sources give the figure as 149,547.) Once non-ticketed guests, reporters, stewards and police were taken into account, newspapers agreed that the attendance must have been close to, or in excess of, 150,000. Even judging by the lower official figure of 149,407, this was a world record attendance. It remains a British – and European – record.

Read the full story in issue 17 of The Blizzard.

Published by Paul Brown

Writes about football, history, true adventure. The Guardian, Four Four Two, When Saturday Comes, The Blizzard, Longreads, Deadspin, etc. Latest book: The Ruhleben Football Association. Twitter: @paulbrownUK