11 May 1985 was one of the most unpropitious days in the history of Bradford and an unforgettable day for the Bradford City Football club fans in particular and for the people of Bradford district in general.
It was a day which might have been a day of celebration for Bradford city fans as it was expected for Bradford City to be promoted to the first division of the football league. Instead it turned out to be a day of grief and mournfulness for many families who lost their near and dear ones as a result of the worst ever fire in the history of British football. It occurred during a league match in the presence of more than 11000 spectators. The match was being played between Bradford city and Lincoln city when at 3.00pm a small fire was noticed three rows from the back of Block G. Due to the wooden structure, the blaze quickly spread engulfing most part of the stadium. The spectators did not have much time to escape and a few of them were trapped in the burning fire. As a result, 56 people lost their lives and about 270 were seriously injured.
The news of this colossal tragedy sent shock waves through the length and width of the United Kingdom. In no time, the sympathy calls and letters from all parts of the country as well as from abroad began to pour in the office of the Chief Executive of Bradford Council.
I heard the devastating news at about 3.30pm and drove straight to the Valley Parade ground but was unable to gain access to nearby streets of the stadium as there were a large number of emergency services’ personnel who were busily enganged in extinguishing the fire and transporting the injured to local hospitals. However I was able to see the clouds of smoke and the vehicles of fire brigades from the top of Manningham Lane.
Since I was an elected member of the Council and was going to be installed as the Lord Mayor of the city ten days later on 21st May, my first priority was to ensure that every possible support was readily available within the Council’s departments for the families of the victims. In this regard I found the then Chief Executive, Mr Gordon Moor, extremely helpful and sincere and highly professional in leading the Council so successfully at this critical time. Two days after the disaster a charitable trust was established by the Council to support the families of the victims and those who were injured and were receiving treatment in the burns unit of a hospital in Wakefield.
On assuming the office of Lord Mayor on 21st of May, my first two weeks were devoted, in the main, to deal with some post shocks of the tragedy. I attended many of the church services held for the deceased. At one particular service when three bodies of teenage members of a family were in the church, the affliction of the catastrophe was so obvious, intense and visible that disturbed me and my wife to the extent that we had to reflect and cancel our next engagements for the day.
The incident at Valley Parade was of such grave concerns to the Government, the Home Secretary decided to appoint the Inquiry Commission headed by Mr Justice Popplewell to look into the question of future safeguards of football grounds in the whole of the country with a particular reference to the Bradford fire disaster. The findings of the Inquiry Commission recommended the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at our football grounds prohibiting wooden structure together with other fireproof measures.
Three decades may seem to be a long time to continue our reflections on the incident, but the pain and agony still continues to dwell in the minds and hearts of those Bradfordians who lost their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers and grandfathers.
The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mr Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE