Billy

One hundred years ago this year, a famous sporting event took place in London. On 28th April 1923, the Empire Stadium, Wembley, was opened to the public for the first time and hosted the FA Cup Final between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United. The final was preceded by totally chaotic scenes as vast crowds surged into the stadium. In those days, with most spectators standing, the capacity was a staggering 125,000.

However, an estimated 300,000 gained entry

and the terraces overflowed onto the pitch. Mounted policemen, including one on a white horse were brought in to clear the crowds from the pitch and enable the match to start. The match began 45 minutes late with thousands of specta- tors still standing around the perimeter. Bolton won 2–0. The pre-match over- crowding prompted discussion in the House of Commons and led to the intro- duction of safety measures for future finals. Not surprisingly, the match is often referred to as the “White Horse Final” and is commemorated by the White Horse Bridge at the new Wembley Stadium. An added piece of trivia is that the horse’s name was Billy.

Out of the 300,000 people who attended the final, the only name people tend to remember 100 years on is Billy, the police horse. Since when has a horse played the starring role at a football match? Billy wasn’t even meant to be there. Once Billy arrived, it was only meant to be a walk-on role. He was just doing his job. One horse amongst many, surrounded by 300,000 people.

But we still remember his name. Ever felt anonymous? Ever felt invisible? (I was talking to a Big Issue seller who told me that it is soul-destroying being ‘invisible’, as people rush past and even avoid eye contact. Ever felt that you simply don’t matter? Ever felt like you’re just another brick in the wall, to quote Pink Floyd?

The Bible tells us that God knows us by name. He has our name written on the palm of his hand. At every Confirmation Service, the bishop lays hands on the candidate and says, “God has called you by name and made you his own.” By name. He knows you and loves you. He always has and he always will.

Richard Ormston

Archdeacon of Northampton

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