You'll Never Walk Alone. May 11th 1985.

Posted by Em5y on May 11, 2004, 10:28:27 PM

We thought it was appropriate to post this article from The City Gent, the Bradford City website:

Chris Armstrong writes:  It seems unbelivable that tomorrow will be the 19th anniversary of a tragedy that all City fans will never forget. I was only 6 in 1985 and wasn't in the Main Stand that day, so I have reproduced David Markham's poignant article here as he was in the press box in the stand. God bless the 56.

Every May 11, people gather in Bradford's Centenary Square to remember the 56 people who died in the Valley Parade fire disaster.

The short act of memorial takes place as the City Hall clock strikes 11am when prayers are offered and the Lord Mayor and the chairman of Bradford City lead the act of remembrance by laying wreaths.

It's a moving ceremony - all the more moving because of its brevity, simplicity and, above all the poignancy of the silence. Some people are there to lay wreaths or bunches of flowers, pay their respects, exchange memories, share emotions, comfort each other in grief or just stand there in silence with their own thoughts.

For all of us the memories of that fateful day are just as real as they were on the day of the fire 19 years ago. In fact, some of us agreed at this year's memorial that the bond between those who share in the memorial grows stronger as the years go by.

The day, Saturday May 11, 1985 should have been one of the happiest in the club's modern history. City had been presented with the Third Division championship trophy, the culmination of a triumphal season that saw them break away from the shackles of lower division football. Captain Peter Jackson had then led the players on a lap of honour before the final match of the season against Lincoln City on a day when triumph cruelly turned to tragedy.

I was sitting in the press box in the old stand trying to concentrate on an uneventful match when to the left of us a small fire broke out under the wooden benching where rubbish had accumulated.

People stood watching it, but the police were there and there didn't seem to be any imminent danger. Then, the fire started spreading, the referee took the players off the field and those of us in the main stand began to move before a gust of wind blew the flames on to the wood and pitch roof of the stand and the flames spread along the inside of the roof with astonishing speed.

Even now, all those years later I can still feel the burning on the back of my neck and hear the crackling of the wood as I and others made a speedy but orderly exit from the blazing stand to the only safe place to go - to the pitch.

Thank God my two sons, then 13 and 16, who were in different parts of the stand, also made their way to safety. Others were not so fortunate. The stand, which had served City for almost 80 years, was reduced to a tangled mass of metal and charred wood in a matter of minutes as 56 people lost their lives in the blazing inferno.

Many of the dead were the most vulnerable, either the old or the very young, trapped as they tried to escape from the fire. Some of them were lifelong City supporters, who had waited for many years to see their favourites return to the top two divisions for the first time since before the war. Their happy day ended in disaster.

Strange as it may seem now, it wasn't until hours later that we realised just what a great tragedy it was. As we left the fire-ravaged Valley Parade first reports were of 15 dead. It wasn't until well into the evening that the full magnitude of the tragedy unfolded. As well as the 56 dead, hundreds more were injured or burned.

The fire tragedy hung like a pall over the city for months after the disaster. Everyone knew someone who had died, had been injured or had been in the 11,076 crowd on that fateful day.

There were some sad and poignant memorial and funeral services over the ensuing three weeks, players visited hospitals where the injured were recovering while people responded so generously that £4.5million was raised for the disaster fund. Lessons learned from previous disasters meant that payments were made promptly to those who needed them most.

Old wooden stands like the one at Valley Parade were clearly a fire hazard and the inquiry into the disaster by Lord Justice Popplewell produced recommendations for the safety of football grounds.

All clubs with wooden stands were forced to provide exits in case of fire. I remember going to Chesterfield in the early weeks of the following season and seeing exits that had been made from the seats to the old style paddocks. Similar measures were taken at Reading's old Elm Park ground. Nowadays stands are made of non-combustible materials like concrete and steel.

However, it took another football tragedy at Hillsborough four years later before radical measures to improve safety and reduce hooliganism were put in place. Now, all Premiership and First Division clubs are forced to have all-seater stadia following the recommendations of the Taylor report after the Hillsborough disaster.

Sometimes I see reports which talk about so called 'disasters' at football matches. By that they may mean that someone missed a crucial penalty or scored an own goal. Maybe a club has been knocked out of a cup competition or suffered the indignity of relegation. All too often they are described as disasters.

As for me, I have experienced only one disaster at a football match. At Valley Parade.

May the 56 Rest In Peace -  from Liverpool fans all over the world

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