10 Most Attended Matches in History at English Stadiums

They have seen the most attended football battles in the history of England. Oh, those were truly magnificent nights! Dedicated spectators were marching and singing their glorious anthems, waving their flags and praying to their gods of football. Sometimes the home teams succeeded but sometimes they disappointed their supporters. In any case, no one can win every single game even with the most devoted 12th man! But if you ever hear the roar of almost a hundred thousand raving fans at a huge stadium, you’ll never forget this experience. And the grounds certainly haven’t forgotten those matchdays.

So let’s go ahead and recall the 10 most visited football matches in the history of England. The stage is set, the green flag drops.

#10 – Hillsborough Stadium – Sheffield

Matchday: Sheffield Wednesday vs Manchester City

Date: 17 February 1934

Competition: FA Cup fifth round

Attendance: 72,841

Sheffield Wednesday had finished the 1933/1934 season, which was the 42nd season of the English Football League, at the eleventh place. They could have done much better, considering they finished only eight points away from the third position which was occupied by Spurs. Quite surprisingly, the Owls have lost too many points at home matches at Hillsborough Stadium. Well, with 9 wins, 5 draws, and 7 losses at home, it’s hard to expect anything better than that.

The tenth most attended match in the history of England was not the luckiest one for Sheffield Wednesday either. On 17 February 1934, the Owls had an incredible support at home but they didn’t manage to win that FA Cup fifth round game against Manchester City (2–2). Four days later, they replayed and lost the away game (2–0). In the end, Manchester City got to the finals and managed to win the competition.

#9 – The Original 1923 Wembley Stadium – London

Matchday: Arsenal vs RC Lens

Date: 25 November 1998

Competition: UEFA Champions League group stage

Attendance: 73,707

In 1998, Arsenal played the majority of their home matches at Highbury. However, after winning the Premier League the previous season they granted permission to host their home Champions League matches at the country’s largest stadium, Wembley. It was hardly surprising because Arsenal was returning to Europe’s main competition after seven seasons out. Therefore, there was a financial sense in this decision.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, they lost their record-breaking home game to Lens (0–1), effectively getting themselves out of the Champions League. Dynamo Kyiv and RS Lens promoted to the knock-out stage instead.

#8 – The Valley – London

Matchday: Charlton Athletic vs Aston Villa

Date: 12 February 1938

Competition: FA Cup fifth round

Attendance: 75,031

Currently, Charlton Athletic still uses the Valley as their home arena but its maximum capacity is only 27,000. Due to debts, the club is unable to invest money into much-needed stadium renovations. But back in 1938, the Valley was one of the largest grounds in England. Charlton’s rivals were always under pressure of the 12th man, while they were playing there.

Although the matchday became record-breaking in the history of Charlton Athletic, the team couldn’t win the game, which ended in a draw, 1–1. The teams had to replay it two more times. Eventually, Aston Villa won the duel and made it all the way to the semi-finals, where the club was beaten by the future FA Cup 1937/1938 winner, Preston North End.

#7 – Roker Park – Sunderland

Matchday: Sunderland vs Derby County

Date: 8 March 1933

Competition: FA Cup sixth round replay

Attendance: 75,118

Roker Park doesn’t exist any longer since it was demolished in 1998, the next year after Sunderland had moved to the Stadium of Light. But its 99-year history won’t be forgotten by Sunderland’s fans. And they will certainly always remember the day when a record crowd gathered at the arena.

It was the FA Cup sixth round replay. The first game ended with a sensational 4–4 draw. On the replay matchday, everyone was expecting the repetition of that crazy shoot-out. In fact, the replay game at Roker Park was a disappointment for the home fans. Sunderland lost 0–1, and Derby County found itself in the semi-finals, where it was beaten in the away game with Manchester City (3–2). In the end, Everton celebrated the 1933 FA Cup victory.

#6 – Villa Park – Birmingham

Matchday: Aston Villa vs Derby County

Date: 2 March 1946

Competition: FA Cup sixth round, first leg

Attendance: 76,588

Aston Villa had all chances to win that match against Derby County. Firstly, they were playing at their home ground, Villa Park. Secondly, they had a terrific record-breaking support of their fans. Thirdly, the away team had to pursue Aston Villa thrice during the game. Lastly, Villans were winning the game until the 85th minute but two late goals scored by the forwards of the Rams, left the home fans underwhelmed. The spectacular 3–4 victory by the Rams allowed them to finish the second leg’s home game in a 1–1 draw and eventually Derby County won the FA Cup.

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#5 – Goodison Park – Liverpool

Matchday: Everton vs Liverpool

Date: 18 September 1948

Competition: First Division

Attendance: 78,299

Legendary Goodison Park never forgets any of essential battles of F.C. Everton against their rivals, F.C. Liverpool. However, the September match of the 1948/1949 Football League was special in the way it was visited by a record number of fans. The Scottish striker of Everton, Willie Fagan scored a late goal on the 80th minute to the delight of the crowd. However, only in 4 minutes, Liverpool’s centre-forward fulfilled the awarded penalty. As usual for the derbies, the 1–1 draw didn’t please either side.

#4 – Stamford Bridge – London

Matchday: Chelsea vs Arsenal

Date: 12 October 1935

Competition: First Division

Attendance: 82,905

Yet another big game ended in a draw (1–1). By the way, at that time, it was the biggest attendance ever at an English League match. Arsenal had won the title in the previous two consecutive seasons and many neutral observers wanted to see their magic. The Gunners were certainly eager to try winning the third title in a row. On the other hand, Chelsea was full of enthusiasm and new ideas on how to stop the mighty competitor at Stamford Bridge. All told, Arsenal had a hard struggle to get one point at this game.

In the final league table of the 1935/1936 season, Arsenal was only the sixth and Chelsea was the eighth. At the same time, Sunderland won their sixth English League title in history.

#3 – Maine Road – Manchester

Matchday: Manchester United vs Arsenal

Date: 17 January 1948

Competition: First Division

Attendance: 83,260

Manchester United’s main arena, Old Trafford suffered severe damages during World War II and it was under reconstruction in 1948. Therefore, the Red Devils played at the ground of Manchester City, Maine Road. Arsenal was the most successful team of the previous decade and the team was in a great form, topping the First Division table before this match had started. The fans of Manchester United filled the terraces and supported their team wildly. The Red Devils were nine points behind the Gunners before the kick-off and it was vital for the home side to win that game. However, the game ended with a score of 1–1.

At the end of the season, Arsenal won the silverware. Manchester United finished second with seven points less than the new champions.

#2 – Maine Road – Manchester

Matchday: Manchester City vs Stoke City

Date: 3 March 1934

Competition: FA Cup sixth round

Attendance: 84,569

Manchester City’s #2 all-time top goalscorer, Eric Brook played an important role in that historical matchup. He scored the only goal during that unforgettable night, promoting the Citizens to the semi-finals. This was one of the hardest games for City in the 1933/1934 FA Cup and the 12th man was one of the key factors of the team’s success. Maine Road was truly on fire and the fans should have been proud of themselves!

Manchester City won the remaining two games in the tournament against Aston Villa (6–1) and Portsmouth (2–1) and thus they received the FA Cup.

#1 – Wembley Stadium – London

Matchday: Tottenham Hotspur vs Bayer Leverkusen

Date: 2 November 2016

Competition: UEFA Champions League group stage

Attendance: 85,512

The Spurs played at Wembley Stadium during their home 2016/2017 European fixtures, which allowed them to set this mind-boggling attendance record. The atmosphere before the kick-off in London was totally terrific and the fans felt quite optimistic, as the opponent clearly wasn’t unwinnable. Tottenham Hotspur had four points after the first three tours of the Champions League group stage. Therefore, the Spurs had an urgent need to win the home match against Bayer Leverkusen. Despite the support of the roaring stands, the home team lost the game with a score of 0–1. Due to this misfortune and to the subsequent away loss to Monaco, Tottenham finished third in the Champions League group and continued their European season only in Europa League.

P.S. I’ve been relying on the information from Wikipedia while writing this article. However, there was one more match, which most likely should have topped the list. The 1923 FA Cup Final took place at a brand new arena – Wembley. Its construction was finished only a few days prior to the final where Bolton Wanderers played against West Ham United (and won 2:0). Organisation within the stadium was extremely poor. Chaotic crowds who wanted to see widely advertised new best-in-the-world arena managed to force their way into the overflow sports venue. It was officially announced the match had 126,047 spectators including King George V, but unofficially there were from 150,000 to 300,000 visitors. The 1923 FA Cup Final is widely known as the “White Horse Final.” You can read more about this one-of-a-kind historical game here.

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