Friday, May 11, 2007

22 years ago today ...

May 11th 1985 and just over 11,000 spectators are packed into Bradford City's Valley Parade ground for the last game of the season against Lincoln City, a day of celebration as Bradford had already won the third division championship and were presented with the trophy before the game kicked off.

Partway through the first half a spectator dropped a lighted cigarette to the floor of the seated wooden main stand, it fell through a gap in the floorboards and set fire to decades of rubbish that had accumulated there.

What followed, live on TV, was a disaster that few will forget, neither the ones in the goround nor the millions who watched in horror at the TV footage.

The fire in the 77 year old wooden stand spread quicker than anyone's worst nightmare could ever imagine and from the sight of a few flames licking up between seats, a few spectators backing away from the corner where it started, to a full scale evacuation and consumption of the whole stand, was just a few precious minutes - a horrifying flashover fire under the roof meant that just two minutes had elapsed before the whole structure was ablaze.

56 people lost their lives and over 200 were injured as the evacuation took place out of the front of the stand and onto the pitch - many of the fatalities occured when the victims made the decision to evacuate via the doors at the back of the stand, doors which had been locked shortly after kickoff and with the bitumen clad roof ablaze and collapsing into the stand there was no way out for them.

22 bravery awards were made after the event with many people going back into the stand to assist injured and elderly spectators out onto the pitch - the TV footage of a police officer helping an old man over a wall to safety with both of them afire (both survived) is a vision that no-one will forget.

Later, when the names of the victims were announced we realised that the tragedy had hit even closer to home than we had known, two teenage sisters who lived just a few streets away had both lost their lives, their parents sat at home and watched the fire on TV news before the police called - a situation to me, now with two teenage daughters, that is simply unthinkable, unbearable and just downright un-fooking-fair.

Today, as in every year since, the City of Bradford will hold a memorial service outside city hall.

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