THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY, there was a festive atmosphere at VALLEY PARADE, the home of BRADFORD CITY as they were presented with the Third Division Championship trophy before their last home match of the season against visiting LINCOLN CITY. www.bradfordcityfc.co.uk.
It took just 277 seconds for a fires started from a dropped cigarette to destroy the main stand and the lives of 56 fans, with 250 more badly burned. I had sat in that same stand a few years ago for a league cup match v Manchester United and remarked to my mates home dirty the place was with years of paper and other rubbish piling up below us in the wide gaps in the wooden boards.
The club did not have a safety certificate but waiting outside were steel beams and other materials to be used after the old stand was to be pulled down in a matter of days. 11,000 fans showed up for the presentation and after receiving the trophy before the kick-off the players did a lap of honour with each holding a card spelling out 'THANK YOU FANS'.
The BANTAM fans were present to celebrate the clubs first trophy in 56 years, including 3,000 in the old main stand, and 1984-5 was one of the most successful season in their then 82 year history. The stand was erected in 1911 and NEVER UPGRADED SINCE. ITV commentator JOHN HELM was there to cover the awards presentation-the match was irrelevant. After 40 minutes, with the game goalless, he asked his director to get the camera focused on a spark, just behind where a throw-in took place. The STAND WENT UP IN FIRE AND SMOKE and the referee blew his whistle and took the players into the pavilion in the corner.
Besides the flammable rubbish, the inside of the roof was covered in tar, there were no visible fire extinguishers, the exit doors at the back of the stand on Valley Parade were locked and there were no stewards. I remember how difficult it had been to get to the exits years ago after a winter evening..
At the front was an 8 foot wall to escape death. 17 year old Matthew Wildman was on crutches and could feel his skin burning. He toppled over the massive wall and was caught by fans . He spent eight weeks in hospital with operations for burns on his hands, arms, face, legs almost every day. The players, still in their uniforms, fled up the hill to the nearest pub abd waited for hours. Fans were taken in by local home owners to use their phones to call loved ones...years before mobile phones.
Former England international Trevor Cherry was the manager with Terry Yorath his assistant. They went to the pub to tell the players, "IT'S NOT GOOD !" The team captain was Peter Jackson, later to return as manager. Fan Martin Fletcher was 12 and he lost his father, brother, grandfather and uncle that fatal afternoon. His recent book FIFTY SIX is well researched and written and mentions that then club chairman Stafford Hegginbotham had made millions of pounds in insurance pay outs in at least 8 fires at businesses that he was involved with.
This morning at 11.00 am the bells in the beautiful Victorian city hall tolled 56 times, the Bradford Brass Band played " You'll Never Walk Alone ", and the Lord Mayor of Bradford, the Sheriff of Lincoln and the Oberburgermeister of Hamm, Germany made speeches. Hamm is a sister city and they had people at the match 30 years ago. The German city presented a memorial which is in front of City Hall, low enough so that children can climb up and study it.
What is still strange to me is that Sir Oliver Popplewell, the High Court judge who led the public inquiry, finished it in FIVE DAYS. Interviewed last month he thought that he remembered that the fire happened in the second half !! The club colours are claret and amber and the club scarf is popular around the world, as the colours of Harry Potter's Gryffinder House at Hogwarts. www.thetelegraphandargus.co.uk.