Theatre, Dance and Comedy
And Did Those Feet [pic: Ian Tilton]
And Did Those Feet
As any Wanderers fan can tell you, Bolton won the first FA Cup Final ever played at the old Wembley in 1923. Now the story of the 'White Horse Final' has been turned into a play for the 40th anniversary of the Bolton Octagon:
The historic 1923 FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham has gone down in football history. It was the first Wembley final, attracted a record 200,000 supporters and only went ahead thanks to the bravery of a police officer and a white horse called Billy.
40 years of the Octagon Theatre
The play 'And Did Those Feet' focuses on the residents of a Bolton street who overcome their own divisions to get behind their team for the big game.
It was commissioned by the Octagon Theatre for its 40th anniversary season and on the eve of its world premiere, we spoke to co-writers of the play - and Bolton Wanderers fans - Les Smith and Martin Thomasson:
Where did the idea for this play come from?
Les: "I’m a long time Bolton Wanderers fan and like most supporters, the history of the club is very important to you. And it’s a source of fantastic pride that it was our club that was the first win the first FA Cup at Wembley. And it seems like I’ve always known the story – I knew it from grandfather’s knee, if you like: the story of the Wembley final, Bolton the first club there, Davey Jacks scores the first goal after two minutes, 200,000 people got in, there was a white horse called Billy, there’s a PC called George Scorey, the man that walked to Wembley from Bolton – all these stories I grew up with. And my family are mad Bolton Wanderers fans going back generation after generation. So there was the idea of this great, great event, one of the most famous games ever in English football. And I became a playwright. And the two things just married. For 15 years I’ve wanted to write this play and I was just thrilled when the Octagon decided they wanted to go with it."
Do you know the truth of what happened that day?
Les: "I don’t think anybody does. There is a truth but it’s undiscovered. There are 1,000 myths and a thousand different stories of what happened. We’ve even come across one West Ham account which even said there was no such thing as a white horse on the pitch that day – it just didn’t happen! We did a lot of research, and like all research 95% is rubbish, but 5% is gold dust so we got a lot of good material, not simply about the Wanderers and the Cup run but also about what it was like to live in Bolton in 1923. And that’s the sort of thing that helped us get the characters for the play."
How much of the play is truth and how much is myth?
Martin: "One thing we’ve stuck to are the matches and we’ve kept to that. We know that a local newsagent did walk all the way to Wembley but we’ve made him into a fictional character. And all the characters in the play are drawn from real life events we knew were going on. There were families grieving for sons lost in the first World War; it was a short time in the mills and it was difficult economically.
Les: "For instance, in one family [where the son is getting married], not only the vicar wants to go to the match, but the organist does too! The organist is catching the Musician Union’s charabanc from Bolton to Wembley where he’s going to play the accordion for the Musician Union’s band. That charabanc left at midnight on 27 April, 1923 to go to Wembley. So that’s the way we’ve used historical events – we’ve mined those and weaved our characters into that situation."
Martin: "We wanted it to be truthful. It’s not a play solely about football and we want people to concentrate on the characters and part of what we’re aiming at is to address that notion for football fans and non-football fans alike and that is: why does football matter so much? And what we hope comes out of the play is why football mattered, particularly in those days. Unlike these days when footballers drive by in their Ferrari while you’re waiting to catch the bus to the ground. In those days, they would be catching the bus with you. And could be living in the next street."
So what’s the narrative of the play?
Martin: "The play centres on two families. One is struggling to come to terms with the loss of their son who was a promising footballer and was killed in WW1. The other a pair of brothers, one of whom is about to get married, the other struggling with his political convictions. There was quite a strong left wing movement in Bolton at the time, and he is drawn to the notion of social change. So we wanted to bring that out in the story as well."
What was life like in Bolton in 1923?
Les: "This was a time of significant political upheaval. The country had been promised a land fit for heroes after WW1. But instead what people were finding – and Bolton was no different - was that it was time of unemployment, short time working, of poverty and a return to pre-War conditions with one significant difference – the Russian Revolution has happened. So there is, at this time, for many people in the Labour movement and the working class movement, a beacon of hope, a sense that things can be different. Bolton had a very strong and active branch of the Communist Party. For instance, in February 1923, there is a Communist funeral. One of the comrades has died and 400 people marched behind his coffin in Bolton to bury him with Trade Union banners and red flags. And it’s a funeral in a churchyard with no vicar present!"
So who are you pitching this play at?
Les: "My degree is in history and one of my subjects at Lancaster University was the regional history of the North West. So I bring together a very active interest in the history of my community and a very strong commitment to Bolton Wanderers and to the theatre as a way of communities coming together and enjoying emotional release – much like football."
Martin: "We’re hoping to draw an audience of theatre goers and football lovers to have a cross-pollination of this history and to get a sense of how the North West of today is rooted in that industrial past of the early part of the 20th Century. And to reflect on what’s still there of that sense of community and what happens when they go to the game, bringing people together and giving them a route to healing for all their pains and divisions – and to compare that to what we have today. Some of things will have changed greatly but there is a certain thread that runs through. So we’re hoping we can bring together those two communities. We wouldn’t want theatre-goers to be afraid of coming to see it because they think it’s a play about football. Because in a sense, it’s very much a play about community."
World Premiere: And Did Those Feet is showing at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton. 27 Sept - 20 Oct, 2007
last updated: 28/09/07