On This Day 1985: Bradford Fire Disaster

• Written by Josh

It was on this day 36 years ago that 56 football fans went to a football match and never returned home. May 11 is now a date where every season the football community comes together and pauses to remember those who lost their lives in the Bradford Fire Disaster.

54 Bradford City fans and two Lincoln City fans lost their lives and a further 256 people were injured as a result of the fire. The incident led to a complete overhaul of the safety standards for stadiums across the UK.

Today Lifeline24 takes a look back at the one of the worst days in the history of football.

The Day

The match between Bradford City and Lincoln City took place on the final day of the 1984/85 Football League season with just over 11,000 fans at Valley Parade. The day was supposed to be one of celebration with Bradford City being presented with the Division Three championship trophy before kick-off. The home-side had enjoyed a perfect season and has sealed promotion to Division Two.

The fans were in an excellent mood after being promoted up to the second division for the first time since the 1930’s. The 11,076 attendance was almost double the usual average for the season – which was 6,610 people.

The celebratory mood soon turned into shock and horror however as the events of the Bradford Fire Disaster began to unfold. At around 3:40 pm, just a few minutes away from half-time, a small fire in the Main Stand could be seen and was noticed by John Helm, the TV commentator at the game.

Within minutes the fire had began to spread through the Main Stand due to the windy conditions. Some reports from fans at the game say that they could feel their feet getting warmer as debris began to burn below them.

Some fans searched for fire extinguishers and the fire brigade were called. Police began to evacuate the stand as the fire was spreading to the roof and across the wooden stands. Timber and other materials began to fall from the roof onto the crowd . On the pitch, the referee Norman Glover had stopped the game.

Fans began to enter the pitch is order to escape the fire, whilst some tried heading for the exits and up towards the back of the stands. It is believed that most of the exits in the stand were closed or locked and had to be forced open by fans.

Such was the force of this fire, it had consumed the stand within a few minutes of starting – and before the fire brigade had made it to the stadium. Fans at the game tried their best to help others and get them to safety.

Within hours of the disaster it was established that 56 fans had lost their lives in the fire.

Cause of the fire

The official inquiry into the Bradford Fire Disaster concluded that it was an accident. It is believed that a supporter at the game had dropped a lit cigarette – which then fell through a gap and into rubbish which and accumulated underneath the stand.

The fire spread through the stand within four minutes of starting. At the time the stand was mainly constructed with wooden components. The rood of the Main Stand was wooden – covered in tarpaulin and sealed with asphalt and bitumen – and was soon engulfed. The burning timber and molten materials began to fall from the roof – crushing some of the fans in the process.

Following the Bradford Fire Disaster new legislation was introduced into the safety of the UK’s football grounds. The outcome was the immediate closure of all wooden stands deemed unsafe, the banning of smoking within other wooden stands and the banning of any new wooden stands being built at all sports grounds.

Bradford Fire Disaster – Never Forgotten

The 56 fans that went to a football match and never returned will always be remembered, not just by those in Bradford and Lincoln, but by the entire country. Two memorials now stand at Valley Parade, with another twin memorial in the city centre. The team also play with black trim on their shirt collars and arms as a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives.

A memorial service is held each anniversary in Bradford’s Centenary square with the Lord Mayor of Bradford being joined by The Mayor and Mayoress of Lincoln to remember those who passed away.

Lifeline24’s thoughts go out to the family and friends of the 56 fans who lost their lives in the Bradford Fire Disaster on Saturday, May 11, 1985. They will never be forgotten. 

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