John Bowden’s story: ‘Then all of a sudden the heat hit you’

I was 15 years old on that fateful day of 11th May 1985 when we lost 56 brothers & sisters to the fire. I remember meeting my mates on Tong Street in the De-Lacy pub at 12.00 for a beer!

bradford_delacyIt was one of them boozers in them days that let you have a sneaky beer (even though they knew you weren’t old enough), then we caught the 617 bus that came up from Holmewood into town to call at the old crown to see the stripper before making our way up to the ground.

In them days we were Bradford-enders but for some reason we ended up in the paddock in the main stand by G block where the fire started. The atmosphere was great, the Bradford end was full and singing its heart out the kop was doing the same and the paddocks in the main stand were doing the same even the midland road broke out into “we love you city we do”.

The match kicked off and it was party time, we had just won the third division, we were champions. For some reason we decided 10 minutes before half time to move towards the Bradford end as City would be kicking that way in the second half when all of a sudden Bradford City’s history would be changed forever.

At first I saw people jumping on the pitch up towards G block from where we had moved, I thought they were jumping on to attack the Lincoln fans in the Midland Road. None of us had a clue what was going on until the police and players started coming towards us telling us to get on the pitch.

My first reaction was to go towards the gates at the back of the stand but my friend Chris Price pushed me towards the white wall at the front of the stand, it didn’t look big from pitch side but in the stand I bet it was a good 5 or 6 ft to climb over.

Chris gave me a leg up, and over I went, we were pulling people over as we realised the stand was now on fire then all of a sudden the heat hit you.

It’s hard to explain how it felt, but if you have ever stood in front of a fireplace or a bonfire and you can feel your clothes scorching, that’s how it was but you couldn’t move away from the heat… it just got more & more intense as the fire spread across the stand.

Of course people were on the pitch, they were singing “We love you City we do”, then all of a sudden the mood and atmosphere changed.

We could see people still in the stand surrounded by flames, we were helpless, then it happened!

A man started to walk across the pitch with his clothes and face ablaze. People pushed him to the ground and tried to smother the flames. He looked as if he was just going for a stroll. He was completely on fire and it looked as though he simply did not know what had happened to him.

People were hitting him with their coats as he walked towards the goal at the Bradford end before collapsing, still trying to put the flames out. I know because I was one of those people.

I remember after leaving the ground and walking onto Manningham Lane, going to a phone box to ring home it must have been 3 hours later but time didn’t matter, it seemed to go so fast just like the 4 minutes it took for the stand to be engulfed in flames.

I remember my mum answering the phone and when I said “hi Mum it’s John, there’s been a fire at City”, she burst into tears crying down the phone saying “oh god thank you thank you Lord”.

That’s when my life changed forever the moment my Mum said “thank God you’re ok son, please come home people have died in the fire”.

Now 27 years later that day is as clear is my mind as if it was yesterday and the brothers & sisters who perished that day will always be a part of me my family and Bradford City.

We will never forget them.  We will always remember them. I was lucky enough to grow up and get married and have children and my boys have grown up respecting the 11th May as our anniversary, to visit the memorial and pay our respects and now I have grandchildren they will do the same.

Bradford City is our team. Bradford City is our family. We win as one, we lose as one. BUT WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER. YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE. Goodnight god bless and sleep tight xxx

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