‘Tragic day that left a city scarred for life’ by Rick Broadbent

Bradford City Fire MemorialThe following piece was kindly provided to us by Times’ Journalist Rick Broadbent. It was originally published on May 9th 2005 and is published here with permission from Rick.

How death and destruction overtook a title celebration

IT WAS GOING TO BE a good day. Optimism seeped once more from the sooty black mills and the streets throbbed with success. Peter Jackson parked his car and smiled. He passed the steel girders that were lying on the floor, waiting for the workmen to arrive in two days’ time to start upgrading the archaic main stand, and went to the dressing-room. The Bradford-born captain kept grinning.

This was Bradford City on the verge of rebirth. Jackson looked around the room in the bowels of Valley Parade. There was Bobby Campbell, the scruffy, unshaven striker with the penchant for cigarettes and alcohol, and Stuart McCall, the former Bradford schoolboy on the cusp of a glittering career. Under the canny tutelage of Trevor Cherry and Terry Yorath, the former Leeds United duo, the club had travelled from receivership to the old third division title. And so, on May 11, 1985, just before kick-off against Lincoln City, Jackson, the local hero, picked up the championship trophy and looked to the players’ balcony where his wife, Alison, held Charlotte, just 18 months old, in her arms. Nothing would ever be the same again.

It was a dull game, but most of the 11,076 were just happy to have something to shout about. Bradford had suffered as a community, the inertia of its industry, the trauma of the Yorkshire Ripper years and the mediocrity of its football. Now things were on the up. Then, after 40 minutes, a policeman walked up to Yorath and asked where the nearest tap was.

The Deputy Lord Mayor, Bill Nunn, had stayed in his seat in the main stand in the hope that Bradford might score before half-time. Bored delegates from twin towns in Germany, France and Belgium had sloped off for a cup of tea. To his left, Nunn noticed a puff of grey smoke near the back. “I thought it was a smoke bomb,” he said. But then he saw the fire that grew from a flicker to a flare to an inferno within four minutes. It started in G block and blazed through the alphabet, the tar felt roof a riot of white heat, the rubbish beneath the stand turning it into a funeral pyre.

“The first I noticed was when people started to spill on to the pitch,” Jackson recalled. “It was a proud day because I was the first captain to lift a cup for years and being a Bradford man made it more special still. But then we realised something was very badly wrong.”

As more people hurdled the wall fronting the main stand, Don Shaw, the referee, stopped play and a tragedy supplanted the celebration. Yorath ran upstairs to his office where his son, Daniel, used to go for half-time sweets. He tried to spread the word but the fire was spreading quicker. He smashed a window in the players’ lounge and leapt to safety. Jackson found his wife and child and escaped, while Nunn got the burgomaster of Hamm out by a rear door. They did not realise how fortunate they were. Some failed to glean the reality from the chaos. A section of supporters sang chants, while others threw missiles at John Helm, the television commentator from Bradford who found himself in the position of having to describe a worsening scene of death and destruction.

PC Glynn Leesing knew the gravity of the horror as he watched people condemn themselves with split decisions. In those few moments available for debating an escape, many decided to leave the same way they had arrived. Leesing knew most of those gates were locked. “Exit from the stand would have been virtually impossible,” he said. “I tried to get people out of the stadium via the pitch, but they would not listen. By this time I had to walk on my hands and knees, the smoke was so thick.”

He even pulled the tights off a woman in an attempt to claw her back. “My plastic coat had melted and my head and hair had started to burn,” he said. He saw a pensioner pulling an elderly woman over the wall and helped them. Then the roof fell down and the next thing he remembered was coming to in the back of an ambulance.

The first fire engine arrived from Nelson Street, in the city centre, in around four minutes, but even that was too late. Footballers were reduced to the rank and file, ordinary men with a common concern. John Hawley, the former Arsenal striker, yanked a man over the wall to safety, ignoring the proximity of his own nylon shirt to the fire. With his club blazer pulled over his sweat-soaked kit, McCall drove to the Bradford Royal Infirmary, looking for his father, Andy, who had been badly hurt. He was told the more severely burnt had been taken to Pinderfields Hospital, in Wakefield.

The 15-mile drive took an eternity. Andy McCall loved football. He had played alongside Stanley Matthews in the great Blackpool side and now loved watching his son perform. When McCall and his brother, Les, walked into the burns unit, they could barely recognise their father through the bandages and ointment. Yet McCall would reflect that he was one of the lucky ones. A former girlfriend of Don Goodman, who had asked him for tickets, perished

In total, 56 people would die in the Bradford fire and another 250 were injured. As the smoke turned the summer sky a pitch black, the players of both teams assembled in the nearby Belle Vue pub for a roll call. They watched the mounted television screen in staggered silence as Helm told the story of what was happening 100 yards away. “They kept saying there might be two or three killed,” Jackson said. “But later, when it was over, we went back to the ground to get some belongings and I looked out and saw the body bags piled up. I knew it was far worse. It was the most horrible sight.”

Over the next few weeks, stories of immense heroism emerged, while the possible cause of the disaster was revealed to be a cigarette stubbed out in a polystyrene cup. The old wooden stand, a relic from an era ambivalent about crowd safety, played its part, too. This was an age when cowsheds were well-named and football fans died as cattle in Bradford and, a few weeks later, in Belgium. The aftermath would leave Jackson and his peers anomadic team, blighted by their past but bonded by the shared pain of attending the funerals of the dead. The new Valley Parade stadium would come 19 months too late. The person who dropped the killer cigarette has never been named, although some in West Yorkshire say they know.

Twenty years on, the memories are still raw and, on Wednesday, Jackson, now the Huddersfield Town manager, will recall spending most of May 11, 1985, in hospital, trying to comfort the injured and their families. Eventually, he got home at 10.30pm and sat on the sofa in his shirt, shorts and socks, arms clamped around his wife, toddler on his knee. “You never get over it,” he said.


ON MAY 11, 1985, Bradford City were crowned champions of the old third  division before their league game against Lincoln City.

AT 3.40pm, with the score 0-0, a fire broke out in G block at the back
of the main stand. The match was halted as fans ran on to the pitch.

BY 3.44pm, the entire stand was ablaze and the first fire engine arrived from the city centre. Fifty-six people died in the fire, including two Lincoln fans, and more  than 250 were injured. Surgeons and burns experts were called in from hospitals around the North. The last of the bodies was removed from Valley Parade at 6am on May 12. The first to be identified was Sam Firth, the 86-year-old former club chairman.

A SEVEN-DAY hearing into the fire was held at Bradford City Hall in
June, 1985, with Oliver Popplewell, the High Court judge, officiating.
It led to improvements in ground safety.

TWENTY-TWO supporters received bravery awards and a memorial, donated by the people of Hamm, Bradford’s twin town in Germany, was erected outside the city hall

58 thoughts on “‘Tragic day that left a city scarred for life’ by Rick Broadbent

  1. Fine way of telling, and nice piece of writing to obtain data about my presentation subject, which
    i am going to convey in school.

  2. Hello Web Admin, I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few factors, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more Now what if i told you there was a simple WordPress plugin that does all the On-Page SEO, and automatically for you? That’s right AUTOMATICALLY, just watch this 4minute video for more information at. Seo Plugin

  3. I do not know whether it’s just me or if perhaps everyone else experiencing problems with
    your site. It appears as if some of the written text on your posts are
    running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let
    me know if this is happening to them as well? This may be a problem with
    my internet browser because I’ve had this happen previously.
    Many thanks

  4. It’s really very complex in this full of activity life to listen news on Television, thus I only use web for that purpose, and obtain the newest news.

  5. This is a good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.
    Simple but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read article!

  6. Hi there, the whole thing is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing data, that’s genuinely excellent, keep
    up writing.

  7. Awesome blog! Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? I’m planning
    to start my own website soon but I’m a little
    lost on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid
    option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed ..

    Any tips? Appreciate it!

  8. It is appropriate time to make some plans for the long run and it’s time to be happy.

    I have learn this post and if I may just I want to
    suggest you few attention-grabbing issues or tips. Maybe you could
    write next articles regarding this article. I desire to read even more issues about it!

  9. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to your blog?
    My website is in the exact same niche as yours and my visitors would truly benefit from some of the information you present here.
    Please let me know if this ok with you. Thanks a lot!

  10. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following.
    unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

  11. First of all I would like to say superb blog! I had a quick
    question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind.

    I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing.
    I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my thoughts out.
    I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are
    usually lost just trying to figure out how to begin.
    Any suggestions or tips? Many thanks!

  12. Hi are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog
    world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require any coding knowledge to make your own blog?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  13. Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed
    in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while
    but I never seem to get there! Thanks

  14. I am really enjoying the theme/design of your weblog. Do you ever run into any web browser
    compatibility issues? A handful of my blog readers have complained about my website not operating correctly in Explorer but
    looks great in Opera. Do you have any tips to help fix this problem?

  15. Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic however , I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa?
    My blog goes over a lot of the same subjects as yours
    and I feel we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you are interested feel free to send me an email.
    I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent blog by the way!

  16. Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this blog.

    It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s
    very hard to get that “perfect balance” between usability and
    visual appearance. I must say you’ve done a great job with
    this. In addition, the blog loads very fast for
    me on Firefox. Outstanding Blog!

  17. After I originally commented I appear to have clicked
    on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on every time a comment is added I get
    4 emails with the exact same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service?

    Appreciate it!

  18. My programmer is trying to persuade me to move to .net from
    PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses.
    But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on numerous websites
    for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform.

    I have heard excellent things about blogengine.net. Is there
    a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it? Any help would be really appreciated!

  19. I’m not certain where you’re getting your info, but good topic.
    I needs to spend some time finding out more or figuring out more.
    Thanks for wonderful information I used to
    be looking for this info for my mission.

  20. Good way of explaining, and good paragraph to get information on the
    topic of my presentation subject, which i am going to present in university.

  21. Howdy! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from
    an established blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog?
    I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty fast.
    I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m
    not sure where to start. Do you have any points or suggestions?
    Appreciate it

  22. Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to revisit once again since i have book-marked
    it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

  23. My brother suggested I would possibly like this blog. He used to be totally right.
    This post actually made my day. You cann’t believe just how much time
    I had spent for this info! Thank you!

  24. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog shine.

    Please let me know where you got your design. Appreciate it

  25. Hello there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found
    that it is truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels.
    I will appreciate if you continue this in future. Many people will
    be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  26. I know this website presents quality depending posts and other stuff, is there any other website which gives these information in quality?

  27. Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just too
    great. I actually like what you have acquired here, really like what
    you’re stating and the way in which you say it.
    You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it wise.
    I can not wait to read much more from you.

    This is actually a tremendous site.

  28. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify
    me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I receive four emails with the exact same
    comment. There has to be a means you are able to remove
    me from that service? Thank you!

  29. This design is spectacular! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well,
    almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  30. Spot on with this write-up, I truly believe that this web site needs far more attention. I’ll
    probably be returning to see more, thanks for the info!

  31. Hi there superb website! Does running a blog similar to this require a lot of work?
    I’ve absolutely no understanding of computer programming but I had
    been hoping to start my own blog in the near future.
    Anyways, if you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share.
    I know this is off subject however I simply had to ask. Kudos!

  32. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you should publish more about this issue, it may not be a taboo matter but
    typically people do not speak about these issues.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

  33. Hello There. I found your weblog the usage of
    msn. This is a really neatly written article. I’ll make sure to
    bookmark it and return to learn more of your helpful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely comeback.

  34. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and
    now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that service?

  35. I am extremely impressed along with your writing skills as smartly as with the format
    to your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself?

    Anyway stay up the nice high quality writing, it is uncommon to peer a great blog like this one

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>