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Remembering the Valley Parade Fire

The date was Saturday, 11th May, 1985. Over 11,000 football supporters were at Valley Parade to watch their Bradford City side celebrate promotion from the old Division Three – their first promotion in over 50 years. It was to be a memorable day of celebrations for Bradford. However, hundreds would not return home that night. Tragically, 56 would never return home.

“I saw an old gentleman trying to get out. He was covered in flames and I couldn’t get near him…”

The game had been relatively uneventful for the first forty minutes. But the football played that day would never be remembered. Instead, the day is remembered for the tragic events that were to unfold. The chilling commentary from local Pennine Radio reporter, Tony Delahunty, gives a first-hand impression of the situation. “We’re on fire here at Valley Parade; the whole end of the stand on one side here is in flames… They’re running out of the ground from that far end… All the time, people are spilling onto the pitch. We can see the flames going up into the air… Get all those people out of there... Just don’t rush, watch for the kiddies… You can hear the heat; there’s smoke coming everywhere… We are going to have to disconnect very shortly…”

“There were times I just couldn’t watch it – it was just too terrible to witness…”

At 3.40pm on that fateful day, a heap of rubbish under the old wooden Main Stand had caught on fire. It was believed to have been a discarded cigarette that started the fire. Within minutes, the entire stand was ablaze. Old footage shows the flames moving faster than people were able to run. Supporters spilled onto the pitch in a desperate attempt to escape. The footage shows the horrific sight of a supporter on fire stumbling out of the stand. In just four minutes, 52 people lay dead, and 255 more were injured.

“It was absolutely dreadful, a bit like something out of Dante’s inferno…”

The previous summer, Bradford City had been told that the stand was a fire risk, and as a result, plans were in place to replace it with a new steel structure. The stand had been used for 77 years. It was due to be replaced less than 48 hours later. The cruel irony was that the steel that was due to be used to replace the stand was lying in the car park behind the Main Stand.

“It was a charred mess… The twisted metal of the turnstiles”

It was an event that will haunt those who were present until their dying days. However, even amongst the chaos, acts of heroism from those present stood out. 22 supporters received bravery awards for their actions that afternoon. The players, many of whom had friends and loved ones in the stand, were involved in pulling fans to safety. Bradford coach, Terry Yorath managed to get the directors and players out, before realising he was stuck inside. He had to jump out of a 20ft-high window to safety.

“The fire in that stand, once it hit the ceiling, it was like a fireball that shot straight down. Anybody in its way didn’t stand a chance…”

This tragedy led to the Popplewell Inquiry, leading to new legislation to improve safety at UK football grounds. However, only 18 days later, the Heysel Disaster in Turin happened, where 39 Juventus fans were killed and over 600 injured when a poorly maintained wall collapsed ahead of the European Cup Final. Four years later, the Hillsborough Disaster resulted in the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters. This was a truly dark time for football…

“They died coming down here to support their team. Those fans will never ever be forgotten…”


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