|Bradford City stadium fire|
|Date:||11 May 1985|
Bradford, West Yorkshire
The Bradford City stadium fire was the worst fire disaster in the history of football.. It occurred during a league match in front of record numbers of spectators, on Saturday, 11 May 1985, killing 56 and injuring at least 265.
The Valley Parade stadium, long-established home to Bradford City Football Club, had been noted for its antiquated design and facilities, including the wooden roof of the main stand. Warnings had also been given about a major build-up of litter just below the seats. The stand had been officially condemned and was due for demolition.
The match against Lincoln City had started in a celebratory atmosphere, with the home-team receiving the Football League Third Division trophy. At 3.40 pm, a small fire was reported by TV commentator John Helm, but in less than four minutes, in windy conditions, it had engulfed the whole stand, trapping some people in their seats. In the panic that ensued, fleeing crowds had to break down locked exits to escape, and many were burnt to death at the turnstiles, which were also locked. There were many cases of heroism, with more than fifty people receiving police awards or commendations.
The disaster led to rigid new safety standards in UK stadiums, including the banning of new wooden grandstands. It was also a catalyst for the substantial redevelopment and modernisation of many British football grounds within the following thirty years. Bradford City continues to support the burns unit at the University of Bradford as its official charity.
The match kicked off at 3:04 pm and after 40 minutes of the first half, the score remained 0–0, in what was described as a drab affair with neither team threatening to score. At 3:44 pm, five minutes before half-time, the first sign of a fire—a glowing light—was noticed three rows from the back of block G, as reported by TV commentator John Helm.
Helm described the start of the fire in an interview to the Express newspaper: "a man over from Australia visiting his son got two tickets to the game. He lit a cigarette and when it was coming to an end he put it down on to the floorboard and tried to put his foot on it to put it out. It slipped through a hole in the floorboard. A minute later he saw a small plume of smoke so he poured his coffee on it and so did his son. It seemed to put it out. But a minute or so later there was suddenly a bigger whoosh of smoke so they went to get a steward. By the time they got back, the whole thing had taken off."
One witness saw paper or debris on fire, about nine inches (230 mm) below the floor boards. The stand seats did not have risers; this had allowed a large accumulation of rubbish and paper waste in the cavity space under the stand, which had not been cleared for many months.
Spectators later spoke of initially feeling their feet becoming warmer; one of them ran to the back of the stand for a fire extinguisher but found none. A police officer shouted to a colleague for an extinguisher. His call was misheard, and instead the fire brigade were radioed. The call was timed at 3:43 pm. The fire escalated very rapidly, and flames became visible; police started to evacuate the stand. The blaze began to spread, and the roof and wooden stands were soon on fire. One eyewitness, Geoffrey Mitchell, told the BBC: "It spread like a flash. I've never seen anything like it. The smoke was choking. You could hardly breathe." As spectators began to cascade over the wall separating the stand from the pitch, the linesman on that side of the pitch informed match referee Norman Glover, who stopped the game with three minutes remaining before half-time. The original match referee (as named in the match programme) was Don Shaw, but he could not officiate due to an injury; Glover had been appointed to the match as replacement official. Shaw is still sometimes wrongly named as the match referee.
The stand's wooden roof, covered with layers of highly flammable bituminous roofing felt, offered no resistance to the flames. Burning timbers and molten materials fell from the roof onto the crowd and seating below, and dense black smoke enveloped a passageway behind the stand, where many spectators were trying to escape. It took less than four minutes for the entire stand to be engulfed in flames.
There were no extinguishers in the stand's passageway for fear of vandalism, and one spectator ran to the clubhouse to find one, but was overcome by smoke and impeded by others trying to escape. Supporters either ran upwards to the back of the stand or downwards to the pitch to escape. The stand had no perimeter fencing to keep fans from accessing the pitch, thus averting an instance of crush asphyxia, as in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. Footage of the accident at this point shows levels of confusion among the spectators – while many were trying to escape or to cross the pitch to the relative safety of the neighbouring stands, other spectators were observed cheering or waving to the still-rolling pitchside cameras. The lack of perimeter fencing kept the death toll down, and prevented it from reaching the hundreds or potentially the thousands. The Bradford City stadium fire was still the worst sporting tragedy of its kind in England at the time. Elsewhere in Britain, only the 66 deaths at Ibrox Stadium in Scotland 14 years earlier had seen a higher death toll.
Most of the exits at the back were locked or shut, and there were no stewards present to open them, but seven were forced open or found open. Three men smashed down one door and at least one exit was opened by people outside, which again helped prevent further deaths. Geoffrey Mitchell said: "There was panic as fans stampeded to an exit which was padlocked. Two or three burly men put their weight against it and smashed the gate open. Otherwise, I would not have been able to get out." At the front of the stand, men threw children over the wall to help them escape. Most of those who escaped onto the pitch were saved.
People who had escaped the fire then tried to assist their fellow supporters. Police officers also assisted in the rescue attempts. One man clambered over burning seats to help a fan, as did player John Hawley, and one officer led fans to an exit, only to find it shut and had to turn around. Bradford City's coach Terry Yorath, whose family was in the stand, ran onto the pitch to help evacuate people. Another player went into the office space to ensure there was nobody there. One fan put his jumper over a fellow supporter's head to extinguish flames. Those who escaped were taken out of the ground to neighbouring homes and a pub, where a television screened World of Sport, which had live pictures from the ground. They queued there for a telephone to ring their families.
The fire brigade arrived at the ground four minutes after they were initially alerted. However, the fire had consumed the stand entirely by that point and they were faced with huge flames and very dense smoke. As many supporters still required rescue from the stand, they were unable to immediately start fighting the source of the fire.
The fire destroyed the main stand completely and left only burned seats, lamps and metal fences remaining. Some of those who died were still sitting upright in their seats, covered by remnants of tarpaulin that had fallen from the roof. Police worked until 4 am the next morning, under lighting, to remove all the bodies. Within a few hours of the blaze starting, it was established that 56 people had been killed, many as a result of smoke inhalation, although some of them had survived until reaching hospital.
- A list of the deceased
- The Bradford City Fire dedicated website
- The full Interim Report by Lord Popplewell into the Bradford City Fire
- Original (graphic) television coverage of the fire, as caught by cameras covering the match. Hosted by YouTube.
- British Medical Journal article on the treatment of burns casualties after the Bradford City Fire
- Peter Jackson's moving account of the Bradford City Fire
|Bradford City Association Football Club|