I remember the old stand at Bradford City quite vividly. My dad used to take me a lot when I was a kid and we had a routine… we would always meet up with an old guy who my dad worked with, we would always sit in the same area, we would always nip to the toilets 5 minutes before half-time and I would always be scared that I’d fall into the stand through what was seemingly a large hole under the wooden seats.
The 11th May 1985 was different. It was the first time in a long time that we had gone to the match as a family. We didn’t have tickets, which wasn’t a problem as Bradford City, even on this big day of securing promotion, never sold out.
We headed to the main stand to go get our seats but for some reason I didn’t want to go in the main stand… I wanted to go in the Kop end. My Dad was really annoyed (obviously as a long-time Bradford City fan this was a big day for him), but I was insistent and for some reason I just did not want to go in the main stand… even as an 11 year old I was strong minded.
My Dad angrily dragged us to the Kop, and we got in and made our way down towards the front, to the left of the goal-mouth. There was a proper carnival atmosphere… the players came out and kicked footballs into the crowd and I remember screaming madly to try and get the attention of one of the players… Greg Abbott if memory serves. Sadly the balls went elsewhere.
All I remember about the fire is that it started where we would normally sit. I didn’t understand what was going on… from what I remember people were under the impression it was some kind of smoke bomb as all there was at first was smoke… but then you saw the flames.
It was then that some people began to start shouting across the pitch for people to “get out of there”. The flames soon spread and in no time at all it was probably a 3 metre square patch of fire… and that’s when people began to realise something was wrong… the flames spread, people began to move away from that side of the stadium… then the flames hit the ceiling of the stand.
I’ve never seen fire like it. And the heat generated from that ball of flames as the old lead paint that lined the ceiling got lit up causing an almighty panic was unbelievable. People were screaming, shouting… to my right where the Kop met the Stand you could see people being helped over to safety.
I remember seeing people rushing to the ground. There was a high concrete wall that blocked access to the pitch, and you could see people struggling to get over. You could see people helping each other, smoke pouring off their clothes… further up the stand I saw a guy dragging someone over the seats to safety.
My mum gabbed me to turn me away, but I pulled away telling her “I want to watch”. The stadium was fully ablaze, and it was at this point I saw something that has haunted me since that day.
There was a man fully on fire. I remember at this point that screams of panic, desperation and sheer helplessness filled the air. “Get him out, get him out”, that’s all I can remember hearing… then a ball of flames shot across him and he disappeared.
The heat was getting intense and we were all pushed back further away from the stand… and that’s where the picture below was taken. I may be wrong but I am pretty sure that the picture is myself, my mum and my dad in the bottom left corner… my sister was stood in front of my dad. It certainly looks like us and it rings true with my memories of how we were stood and what we were wearing. (Note, if Simon at SWPix has a problem with the attached picture being used, please contact the site administrator).
Looking behind the stand you could see fire engines unable to reach the stadium due to cars being in the way. The gates behind us to the left were opened and they began to usher us out of the stadium… there was a mix of stunned silence and disbelief and tears.
I don’t really remember anything else apart from the bus journey to my Grans. I guess my Dad had wanted to call them but all the phone boxes were in use… I remember the bus journey and that’s when I realised I stunk of smoke.
Being only 11 I guess you don’t fully understand everything that happened on that day. I remember my teacher at school on Monday asking if any of us were there and I was the only one in my class who was… but nothing more was said or discussed.
My sister danced in the memorial service that was held at the ground, she was one of the schoolchildren who placed a bouquet of flowers on a butterfly shaped wooden stand. They announced over the tannoy that even though film crews were there, they would not be filming people grieving… yet that night on the TV there were scenes of people breaking down.
We never discussed that day as a family. It was never raised why I didn’t want to go in the main stand. I remember by Dad once saying that if we had been in the stand we would have died… the majority of people killed were those trapped at the back of the stadium, those people who had gone to the toilets or for snacks before the half-time whistle… which was exactly what we did.
More than 25 years later the day still haunts me. It wasn’t until the season before we got into the Premiership that I dared visit the stadium again for a game. I still find it hard now going back. And I still see him. That man all in flames… people screaming, the ball of flames taking him. The heat. The smell. The helplessness.