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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 May, 2005, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
A story of courage and heroism
By Peter Scrivener

The remnants of the stand that burned down at Valley Parade

Of all the stories of heroism and bravery that have emerged from the Bradford fire disaster, Matthew Wildman's is perhaps one of the most poignant and courageous.

Matthew came close to dying in the blaze, but he has turned his ordeal into a positive experience.

Aged 17 back in 1985, Matthew, who has rheumatoid arthritis, needed crutches to help him walk.

The fire started in the next block to where Matthew was sitting and he was immediately helped from his seat on the back row into a corridor in the back of the stand to retrieve his crutches.

It almost proved a fatal move.

"There was a big crush of people and I couldn't reach my crutches, so they were thrown to me, but then we found the back doors were still locked," Matthew told BBC Sport.

I looked down at my hands and they were bubbling like melting cheese
Matthew Wildman

"I was popped to the floor like a pea and had lots of people standing on me and kicking me in the head, but that was not a bad thing as everybody stood up was choking on the smoke.

"I was shouting at people that I was down on the floor, but I didn't panic - I was more angry that people were not looking out for each other.

"Then somebody fell over me, realised I couldn't move, and dragged me out into the stand."

Matthew reached the front of the stand to be confronted by an eight-foot drop onto the concrete floor of the paddock below.

"That was the only time I really started to panic," he admitted.

"I looked down at my hands and they were bubbling like melting cheese, so I thought, it's all or nothing."

Matthew dived over the wall and was about to smash into the terrace when he was caught by David Hustler, a man he keeps in touch with to this day.

"That was the first time David saved me," Matthew continued.

"I was really badly burned from head to foot and put on a stretcher to be taken to the waiting ambulances on Midland Road."

Reaching the ambulances was an ordeal in itself.

"Because there were so many people on the pitch, I was carried at above head height and passed over the crowd - it was horrific, especially as I couldn't hold on with my hands being in the state they were," he continued.

"Inevitably I was dropped. But once again, David was there to catch me - I have the utmost respect for him."

Matthew eventually made it into an ambulance and was halfway to the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield when news filtered through that they were full, so he was diverted to nearby Batley.

He said: "They had virtually written me off, but I survived the night and was taken to St Luke's hospital in Bradford the next day."

It is the humanity of those that helped us that I reflect on.
Matthew Wildman

"That was a bit of a relief for the ward sister at Batley because I had a lot of biker friends and about 50 turned up at the hospital on the Sunday morning looking for me," he laughed.

And through it all, that is what impressed Matthew most - the spirit of the Bradford community in dealing with the aftermath of the disaster.

"I have never known anything like it, either before, or since," he said.

"Everybody in the city was devastated, but there was an amazing number of volunteers.

"There were not enough hospital staff to feed everybody who couldn't feed themselves due to the injuries on their hands.

"But I remember traffic wardens and lollipop ladies coming in so that each patient had somebody feeding them, and the money that had been donated to the disaster fund helped provide us with gourmet food.

"Even the fridges were full of beer and I remember one night, they stopped the medication and got everyone drunk!

"I still have terrible memories of the day, but it is the humanity of those that helped us that I reflect on.

"Even the barman at my local pub came up with a keg of beer one afternoon.

"He had set off with two, but as it was a hot day, one had blown up on him and he was soaked when he arrived.

"He put the keg down and told me to make it last a while as he had learned my age in the paper and told me I was now barred."

Matthew was also keen to praise Professor David Sharpe OBE and his team for their work in helping him recovery from his injuries.

Professor Sharpe helped found the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit at the University of Bradford, a unit that is still at the forefront of caring for burns victims today, and he was awarded the OBE for his work in the months that followed the fire.

"The entire team was superb," said Matthew.

"They worked day and night until everyone had been seen as they only had a limited time to treat all the injuries.

"I must have had five different experiments carried out on me, with all sorts of new techniques for skin grafts and I had potions injected into me that helped my face repair naturally over time."

Matthew spent more than two months recovering from his injuries, but he remained remarkably upbeat.

"There was only one day that it got to me - I was not put under a general anaesthetic, but I had four teams working on me - one on each limb," he said.

"But there were many positive things to come out of the disaster, such as the way people were looked after by others.

"And I want everyone to realise and see how much good there is in other people because I have seen it and it has helped me learn how to treat others."

Feature: Remembering the Bradford fire


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