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1985: Fans killed in Bradford stadium fire

AUDIO : Radio commentator witnesses the fire break out

At least 52 people are known to have died and many are missing after fire engulfed the Bradford City football stadium.

Hundreds of people are in hospital suffering from burns. Most of the dead are children or elderly people crushed in the rush to escape the inferno.

Only one of the victims has been identified so far. He was former club chairman Samuel Firth, aged 86, who died in hospital from burns.


"I've never seen anything like it. The smoke was choking. You could hardly breathe"

Geoffrey Mitchell, survivor

The tragedy has sent shockwaves around the world. The Queen, the Pope, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and church leaders have sent messages of condolence to a city in mourning.

The match began in an atmosphere of celebration as Bradford City, who had just been promoted to the second division, were about to play Lincoln City watched by more than 11,000 fans.

Just before kick-off Bradford City captain Peter Jackson was presented with the Third Division Championship trophy.

Five minutes before half time at 3.40pm a small fire was noticed three rows from the back of G block in the Valley Parade ground and fire-fighting equipment was requested.

Within minutes flames were visible and police started to evacuate people in the stand.

But the blaze spread very rapidly - within four minutes the whole of the roof and the wooden stands below were on fire and police struggled to save those who were too stunned or weak to escape.

One survivor spoke of the horror that he witnessed. "It spread like a flash," said 46-year-old Bradford City fan Geoffrey Mitchell. "I've never seen anything like it. The smoke was choking. You could hardly breathe.

"There was panic as fans stampeded to an exit which was padlocked. Two or three burly men put their weight against it and smashed the gate open. Otherwise I would not have been able to get out."

There is still no clue as to the cause of the fire.

In Context
The antiquated stand at Valley Parade eventually claimed the lives of 56 supporters and about 265 were injured. It was the worst fire disaster in the history of British football history.

The death toll might have been higher had it not been for the courage of police officers and 22 spectators later presented with bravery awards.

The cause of the fire is thought to have been the accidental dropping of a match or a cigarette stubbed out in a polystyrene cup and the resulting fire was fuelled by rubbish underneath the wooden stand.

An inquiry chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell published its final report in 1986. Its recommendations resulted in new legislation governing safety at sports grounds across the UK.

A Bradford Disaster Appeal Fund raised 3.5m for the victims and their families.

On Saturday 11 May 2002, the 17th anniversary of the disaster, a memorial with the names of those who lost their lives was dedicated at the new entrance to the redeveloped Sunwin stand.


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