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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May 2005, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Bradford remembers fire disaster

By Peter Scrivener

Fans look on as the fire engulfs the main stand

On Saturday, 11 May 1985, 11,076 football supporters set out to watch Bradford City play Lincoln City at Valley Parade.

Hundreds would not return home that night, 56 would never return home again.

It started out as a day of celebration with the Bantams parading the old Division Three championship trophy around the ground before kick-off - marking City's promotion into the second tier of English football for the first time since before the Second World War.

The game itself was a drab affair with neither side really threatening to score.

But with fans beginning to think about wandering off for a half-time cup of tea, heaven turned into hell.

A stray cigarette butt, discarded in a plastic cup, ignited rubbish that had piled up underneath City's antiquated main stand and within four minutes, flames had engulfed the wooden structure.

Supporters at the front of the stand spilled onto the pitch while others towards the back found their escape route blocked by locked gates.

The charred remains of the Edwardian stand stood eerily in the lights

The events that followed will live forever, not just in the memories of the players and supporters at the match, but everyone connected with the game.

City striker John Hawley pulled fans out of the stand while Stuart McCall was left wondering what had happened to his father.

The young midfielder left the ground, still in his kit, and drove to the Bradford Royal Infirmary.

From there, he was directed to the burns unit at Pinderfields hospital 15 miles away in Wakefield, where the most severely burnt had been taken.

His dad was wrapped in bandages and almost unrecognisable, but alive. Back in Bradford, Bantams captain Peter Jackson and players from both sides met their wives and girlfriends at the Belle Vue pub at the top of Valley Parade and watched as the true horror of the event unfolded on television.

There were many acts of heroism - 22 supporters received bravery awards - but stones were thrown at television commentator John Helm and the cameras while some fans were singing and dancing on the pitch, unaware of the scale of the disaster that was unfolding before their eyes.

And once the smoke had cleared, the charred remains of the Edwardian stand stood eerily in the lights - the cruel irony being that the steel to replace the roof of the stand the following Monday was lying in the car park behind it.

The Popplewell Committee of Inquiry was set up after the tragedy and found that City had been warned about the amount of rubbish accumulating under the stand.

Bradford's charity record
Celebrities including Paul McCartney and Rolf Harris got involved

And after taking into account the events at the European Cup final at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium just 18 days later, where 39 fans died following trouble between Liverpool and Juventus supporters, the Popplewell Report came before Parliament and gave rise to two important steps:

The Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sports Act 1987 and the revision of the Green Guide issued by the Home Office.

But the immediate priority for Bradfordians was to help the families affected by the disaster.

Within 48 hours, an appeal fund had been set up.

Money poured in from solo donations, fund-raising events and proceeds from a re-recording of the Liverpool anthem You'll Never Walk Alone - 4m was raised.

The players themselves tirelessly visited fans at the Bradford Royal Infirmary and at Pinderfields in weeks that followed.

And they attended the funerals of the 54 supporters of Bradford and two from Lincoln who died.

The start of the new season saw Bradford fans travel to Huddersfield's ground at Leeds Road and Leeds' Elland Road stadium, for 'home' games before approval was given for the club to play a little closer to home at Bradford Northern rugby league club's Odsal Stadium.

But the one desire was to return to Valley Parade and build a stadium fitting to the memory of the 56 who lost their lives.

And after much wrangling (Bradford City Council was keen to see City stay at Odsal) the Bantams finally returned home on 14 December 1986 to play an England XI, which included the likes of Peter Shilton, Kevin Keegan, Tony Cottee and Neil Webb.

City triumphed 2-1 in front of a capacity 15,000 crowd.

Thankfully, lessons have been learnt from the Bradford fire and hopefully we will never see anything quite like it again.

As happens every year, a memorial service will take place in Bradford's Centenary Square at 11am on 11 May.

The Mayors of Bradford and Lincoln, City chairman Julian Rhodes, relatives of those who died, members of the emergency services and fans will lay wreaths.

And all City fans will pause again at 3.40pm to remember their fellow supporters who lost their lives.


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