The Bradford City Football Fire
Saturday 11th May 1985 was supposed to be a day of celebration for Bradford fans; it was the first match after being promoted to the second division after winning the third division championship for the first time since before the Second World War. Just before the kick off the Bradford City captain Peter Jackson had been presented with the Third Division Championship trophy.
The match was recorded to be shown later on ITV televisions World of Sport, but as the drama unfolded, ITV’s Saturday sports programme was interrupted the show the event; those watching had no idea of the tragic events unfolding.
Bradford City Football Club was playing Lincoln City and the match was being watched by more than 11,000 fans.
At 3.40pm with the score at 0-0 and only five minutes to go before half time a small fire was noticed three rows from the back of G block in the Valley Parade ground. Stewards requested firefighting equipment, but within minutes flames became visible from under the stand so police and stewards started to evacuate people in the stand.
The spread of the blaze was very rapid, and within four minutes the whole of the roof and the wooden stands below were on fire as police, footballers and fans struggled to drag others from the stands. Supporters at the front of the stand spilled onto the pitch while others towards the back found their escape route blocked by locked gates. Many fans escaped on to the pitch with clothes or hair alight, others were too stunned or to weak to escape.
The first call to this incident was received by the fire brigade from police control, the time being logged at 15.43. An initial attendance of three pumping appliances and a turntable ladder was immediately despatched. The first appliance arrived at 15.47. The officer in charge was confronted by the sight of the 70 year old main stand fully engulfed in flames and severely smoke logged. He immediately made pumps 5 as he arrived, then two minutes later at 15.49 he made pumps 8.
So many people were burned that a message was sent requesting “as many ambulances as possible” followed at 16.22 with make pumps 12. Six jets were used bringing the fire under control and to save the grounds offices, changing rooms and club. The stop message was sent at 20.06, at which time 40 supporters were known to have died and over 200 others taken to hospital. The toll was to rise to 56, the eldest of which was 86 and the youngest 11.
Most of the fire’s fatalities were found along a narrow corridor at the rear of the stand where they had been attempting to make their way to safety. They had been overcome by toxic smoke, near to the rear inward opening exit doors and turnstile entrances, which had been locked to prevent unauthorised access.
Out of the 85 firefighters who attended, 3 were removed to hospital with injuries, two of which were detained, one suffering from broken ribs.
It is believed the fire started when a spectator disposed of smoking materials, which fell through a damaged empty space beneath the seats of the main stand and onto a pile of rubbish that had accumulated beneath the stand for approximately 20 years. Ironically, the steel that the club said it intended to use to update the aging wooden roof the following Monday was lying in the car park behind the stand.
The inquiry into the disaster, the Popplewell Inquiry, led to the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at the UK’s football grounds. One of the main outcomes of the inquiry was the banning of the construction of new wooden grandstands at UK sports grounds.