Sunday, 10 April 2011

One of the most frightening sights I have ever seen (Warning)

I'm a football fan and I pride myself on having a good, in-depth knowledge of Britain's national sport.

But I was taken aback last night when I happened to be looking through footballing clips and came across raw footage on youtube of the Bradford City fire at Valley Parade in May 1985.

It is, in terms of fatalities, the 3rd worst football stadium disaster in British history. The Hillsborough disaster in 1989 claimed 96 lives whilst the Ibrox disaster in Scotland claimed 66 lives in 1971. Both of these were caused from a crush of supporters.

But Bradford in 1985 saw 56 footballing fans burn to death in a dated stadium that did not conform to modern fire safety standards. It is a heartbreaking story which, because of the nightmare that befell those who perished in Heysel only 3 weeks later and in Sheffield 4 years later, is often forgotten - even by myself. Because whilst I'm too young to remember the Bradford disaster at the time, I was taken aback on seeing this footage below as it understandably is never shown now and is therefore something that I have never seen myself until last night.

A Day of Celebration - A Day of Tragedy
It had started out so well. Bradford's captain Peter Jackson had been awarded the 3rd Division Championship Trophy before the match as his team won its first piece of silverware in 56 years as they guaranteed 2nd flight football for the first time since 1937.

The problem however, was that their Valley Parade ground was as old as the trophy-less long wait which they had just ended. The main stand was unaltered from the one that had been built in 1911 and was not up to modern standards.

So it came to pass that disaster struck. Celebrations turned to tragedy, as just minutes before half-time, a discarded match lit alight the rubbish that had built up under the old wooden stands and set it ablaze. The Council had alerted the club's management to the fact that rubbish that had accrued under the stands was a fire hazard and needed to be dealt with as did the structure of the stand itself. As it happened, with promotion bringing in extra money to the club, they had prepared for post-season improvements with plans to get rid of the old wooden seating and to install a new roof - the steel for which already arrived at the club by the fateful day, May 11th. The old Valley Parade only needed to last for a final 90 minutes before it would be brought into the 20th century. It failed to do so.

The small fire that began in the main stand, had within 4 minutes, swept right through the entirety of the stand and carnage followed. As soon as it struck the wooden roof, it swept along the top of the stand like a fireball.

As this footage shows in real-time, fans were being saved from the engulfing inferno by those who had already got out. But because a number of the exits at the back of the stand were locked, those who tried to escape that way became trapped in the fire.

Near the end of the footage, it showed a fan covered in flames and fellow supporters trying to smother him to extinguish those flames - he died later in hosiptal. He was one of 56 to die that day. 54 were Bradford fans and 2 were away fans from Lincoln.

When the new Valley Parade was built, two memorials to the dead were erected. In Lincoln, as a mark of respect for their loss, they fittingly re-named one of their new stands, in memory of Bill Stacey and Jim West. It is called The Stacey-West Stand.

Never Again
The footage filled me with horror. The speed at which the fire spread making it particularly frightening. The sheer panic seen in the actions of those escaping says it all - as the commentary put it, "This is a burning hell".

It's the knowing that these innocent victims had gone to watch a game of football and to celebrate in their team's long-awaited for achievement. The fact that so many of them never made it home that night is the greatest tragedy of all.

As the commentary adds: "This is human tragedy. Ten minutes ago we were looking at a football game - I now look at a sad and tragic site"

Here is a retrospective piece on the disaster made last year to comemorate the 25th anniversary of the disaster last May.

RIP to the Bradford fire 56.
Not forgotten and hopefully, never again to be repeated.


  1. The City (Lincoln) still bares the scars, as I'm sure does Bradford. I remember the then wooden stand at Sincil Bank being torn down soon after and being of scared to go to a football game. Truly horrific and never to be forgotten.

  2. Mark - For a period after I left Aber Uni I walked in the hotel/bar trade and have regular seen some very horrific footage of this very sad day not only in Bradford's history but also in the history of football. It is very clear that people really didn't see the full scale of the disaster unfolding until for many it was too late.