Associated Press May 12 1985: Up To 40 Stadiums May Be Fire Risks, Soccer Official Says

LONDON (AP) _ Half a dozen English soccer stadiums built near the turn of the century are just as vulnerable to fire as the Stafford Heginbotham79-year-old wooden grandstand in Bradford City that became a roaring inferno in four minutes, killing 52 people, the Bradford soccer club chairman warned Sunday.

”What happened at Bradford could happen at Crewe, Chester, Hartlepool, Darlington, Bury and Oldham – almost any ground that was built at the turn of the century,” said Bradford City’s Stafford Heginbotham after surveying the wreckage of the club’s Valley Parade stadium.


Ernie Clay, the Fulham Soccer Club chairman, put the estimate higher. He said 40 British stadiums are high fire risks, including some stadiums of large clubs.

Clay, interviewed on Independent Television’s ”TV-AM” program, said four stadiums – at Brighton, Bristol, Brentford and Norwich – have been damaged by fire in the past six years, but no one was been hurt because they were empty.

West Yorkshire’s chief fire officer, Graham Karren, said the Bradford City club was warned six months ago that its grandstand was a ”fire trap.” But he said he had no official powers to insist on improvements because Bradford was a third-division club.

Only the first- and second-division clubs, which attract large crowds, are required by the 1975 Safety of Sports Grounds Acts to meet strict fireproofing requirements.

Bradford was promoted in late April to the second division, making it eligible for a $553,500 government grant to improve stadium safety.

The two club chairmen and high-ranking police officers agreed the fire at Bradford City on Saturday could have claimed many more lives if the club, like many others, had erected a fence to keep rioting fans from invading the playing area.

Thousands of fans were able to escape from the burning grandstand only by running onto the field. Heginbotham estimated 1,000 lives could have been lost if Bradford City’s field had been fenced.

”If there had been a fence at the front (of the stand), the catastrophe would have been many times worse,” John Domaille, deputy chief constable of Yorkshire Police, said Sunday at a news conference in Bradford.

The first-division Chelsea Soccer Club recently installed an electric wire above its existing 12-foot fence. But the local municipal authority started legal action to stop the club from connecting the electricity supply.

After the Bradford fire, Denis Howell, the opposition Labor Party spokesman on sport, said the tragedy confirmed the danger of Chelsea’s fence.

Bert Millichip, chairman of the Football Association, soccer’s governing body in England, warned that clubs will have to close their stands if they do not meet fire regulations.

”This was an appalling tragedy and it must never happen again,” Millichip said. ”Without the slightest doubt there are going to be a number of league clubs to whom the fire authorities will say: ‘No supporters will be permitted in your stands unless and until there are new safety precautions.’

”If the clubs don’t have the money to do what is required, then they will have to close the stands and put spectators in standing enclosures where there is no fire risk,” Millichip said.

”I shall be seeking a major inquiry into safety at all the country’s football (soccer) grounds,” said Laborite lawmaker Gerald Kaufman. ”Disasters like that at Bradford have only just been avoided on recent occasions. We must take every possible action to prevent anything like this ever happening again. We need to know what happened, how it happened, why it happened.”

Home Secretary Leon Brittan was preparing a report to the House of Commons on Monday but there was no word on whether he would order an inquiry.