A rather poignant Memory Match, as we remember the 56 victims of the Bradford City fire 31 years on.
Bradford City v Lincoln City
There was a party atmosphere at Valley Parade heading into the final game of the season, with the Bantams receiving the Football League Third Division trophy in front of a crowd of over 11,000 fans.
After 40 minutes, the game was goalless. It was an uneventful match so far, but at 3:40pm TV commentator John Helm noted the presence of a small fire three rows from the back of block G in the main stand.
The cause was allegedly a dropped cigarette, which slipped between the floorboards and caused a fire in the collection of debris beneath the floor.
The city’s newspaper, the Telegraph & Argus, published a souvenir issue for the day, entitled “Spit and Polish for the Parade Ground”. It listed the work which would be carried out as a result of the club’s promotion, stating the ground was “inadequate in so many ways for modern requirements”. Steel was to be installed in the roof, and the wooden terracing was to be replaced with concrete.
As the fire service recall, the events escalated into chaos quickly.
“The spread of the blaze was very rapid, and within four minutes the whole of the roof and the wooden stands below were on fire as police, footballers and fans struggled to drag others from the stands. Supporters at the front of the stand spilled onto the pitch while others towards the back found their escape route blocked by locked gates. Many fans escaped on to the pitch with clothes or hair alight, others were too stunned or to weak to escape.”
The main stand was burned to the ground as the flames engulfed the wooden structure.
54 Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln City supporters tragically died.
Simon Inglis said the follow in his book The football grounds of Great Britain.
“This included three who tried to escape through the toilets, 27 who were found by exit K and turnstiles, six to nine at the rear centre of the stand, and two elderly people who died in their seats. Some had been crushed as they tried to crawl under turnstiles to escape.
“One retired mill worker made his way to the pitch, but was walking about on fire from head to foot. People smothered him to extinguish the flames, but he later died in hospital. Half of those who died were either aged under 20 or over 70, and the oldest victim was the club’s former chairman, Sam Firth, aged 86.
“More than 265 supporters were injured; the fire was described as the worst fire disaster in the history of British football, and the worst disaster since 66 spectators died at the Ibrox disaster.”
The Bradford City matchday squad of players and staff consisted of Terry Yorath, Trevor Cherry, Chris Withe, Don Goodman, Eric McManus, Tony Clegg, John Hawley,Dave Evans, Bryan Edwards, John Hendrie, Mark Ellis, Stuart McCall, Peter Jackson, Bobby Campbell, Martin Singleton and Greg Abbott.
What they said
Midfielder John Hendrie, who was playing in the match that day, recalls the tragic events.
“We had already won the league, all the hard work had been done. We went there to win the last game in front of a home crowd.
“Then we ran out in our tracksuits each holding a massive card with a letter. It spelt out ‘thank you fans’. This day was for them.
“Us players must have been in the tunnel for seconds – and I mean seconds. Someone came in and shouted: ‘Get out, get out there’s a fire’.
“We couldn’t run back down the tunnel. We had to run up the stairs, through the office doors and out on to the street. Once we went out it was mayhem, manic, chaotic. All you could see was black cloud. All you could hear was sirens and screams. And all you could smell was burning.”
— bcafcpics (@bcafcfanpics) February 23, 2014
John Helm describes the way the event escalated.
“There was a throw-in in front of the stand where the fire started – something caught my eye. I asked the director to get the camera to go a little closer. There was a bit of paper on fire, but it was so small.”
“The scene became progressively horrendous, grotesque, and I was having to describe things you couldn’t possibly imagine.”
Our thoughts at TEAMtalk go out to the friends and family of the victims after the tragic events that day. RIP the 56.
Donations to the Bradford City Community Foundation, the charity set up after the fire, can be made here. Proceeds go to the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, which facilitated the rehabilitation of the victims of the fire, and continues vital research.