The third anniversary of the Bradford City Fire coincided with a crucial game for Bradford City against Ipswich. Winning the game would have meant that Bradford City would have reached the First Division (then the highest tier of English football).
How the third anniversary passed back then in 1988 couldn’t be any more different than how the anniversaries pass now. Below is the text from the original article by Ian Wooldridge, featured in the Daily Mail on 9th May 1988. A link to a PDF of the article is at the end of this post.
A veil of silence hides the tears – By Ian Wooldridge
How others come to terms with grief is so intensely a private matter that I heard myself asking all the wrong questions at a football match on Saturday.
Those to whom I addressed them in Bradford could not have been more considerate or polite. But the consensus was simply: ‘It happened, but life must go on. Our way of handling it is to attempt to forget it.’ But forgetting, as one sat in the shining new grandstand at Valley Parade with its carpeted corridors and smart waitresses serving lunch in the executive suites, was not easily accomplished.
The coincidence was too acute. Three years on, almost to the day, Bradford City were vying to complete a remarkable renaissance from near extinction with promotion to the Football League’s First Division. Three years earlier, they were celebrating promotion from Third to Second when the fire broke out.
The swift conflagration of the old wooden stand was to become one of the biggest catastrophes in British sport. It left 56 people dead and the television pictures were to numb the world and leave the man professionally committed to showing them, Yorkshire TV’s Peter Jones, in a state of shock for weeks.
On the third anniversary of the disaster that was to reach into so many of its homes, Bradford’s method of dealing with it was to clamp its jaw and stare straight ahead. Not even a one-minute’s silence was contemplated. There was not a single reference to it in their 32-page programme.
‘We decided to do nothing that would remind people of it,’ said Jack Tordoff, who was present that day and is now the club’s chairman. ‘Many visiting clubs and supporters’ clubs have brought us wreaths since then and we appreciate their thoughts. But I think the fire somehow drew Bradford closer together as a community and we have our own way, perhaps a very Yorkshire way of living with it. It may not be everybody’s way, but it’s ours.’
Terry Dolan also escaped from the inferno on May 11, 1985. He was the Bradford City’s youth team coach. Now club manager – initially a caretaker appointment which he has transformed with a brilliant run of success to the front door of the First Division – he clearly had more immediate matters on his mind during Saturday’s critical match against Ipswich.
‘What is the point of looking back?’ he asked. ‘We all have our private feelings about it. Festooning the place with reminders isn’t going to help. Honestly, we have to forget it.’
Nonetheless the sheer two-culture architecture of the ground perched high above the derelict cotton mills of Bradford’s imperious industrial past tent to make forgetting less than easy. Two sides of the stadium reconstructed from a £2 million grant aid and a £550,000 insurance pay-out, look like Old Trafford. the other two sides remind you of the days when Bradford City seemed doomed to disappear from League football altogether.
On Saturday they had their chances to reach its highest echelons. But the mythical phoenix failed to rise from the very real ashes. They lost a passionate attempt 2-3 and are now committed to the extended strain of the play-offs. But as Bradford understands better than most, tragedy is hardly a comparative term when applied to the result of a football match.
To see a PDF of the original article written by Ian Wooldridge in the Daily Mail on 09/05/1988, Daily Mail Bradford City 1988