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Bradford City Stadium Fire Disaster: 25 Years

bradford fire disaster Bradford City Stadium Fire Disaster: 25 Years

Twenty five years ago on this date, 56 people tragically died when a fire erupted at Bradford City’s Valley Parade ground.

The day was supposed to be one of celebration for Bradford who had just won the Third Division trophy. However as the game against Lincoln progressed, a fire began just before half-time in the stand that ran alongside the pitch. As you can see in the video above, the small fire quickly consumed the entire stand. Spectators in the stand ran on to the pitch for their safety. While the stand continued to burn and become engulfed in flames, some of  the City supporters sang songs and celebrated on the pitch.

However as the fire continued to burn, the scenes at Bradford’s Valley Parade turned into a panic. It only took four minutes for the entire stand to be engulfed in flames. One supporter found his way on to the pitch despite burning from head to foot, but he later died in hospital. Presumably he’s the one that’s shown in the above video.

While many City supporters were running around the pitch, what they didn’t realize was that there were bodies who were trapped inside the stand and behind it. Some of the turnstiles and gates were locked. Twenty seven supporters were found dead near Exit K. Some supporters were crushed when they tried to crawl under the turnstiles. In all, more than 265 supporters were injured that day in the worst fire disaster in British football history.

The cause of the fire was a discarded cigarette and a dilapidated wooden stand, which had survived because the club did not have the money to replace it. Underneath the stand, there was considerable rubbish which had been swept under there for years and was a fire risk that the club had been warned about in the past.

The inquiry into the disaster, chaired by Sir Oliver Popplewell and known as 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 prohibiting the construction of new wooden grandstands  at all UK sports grounds.

Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the Bradford City and Lincoln City supporters who died that fateful day. It was a tragic event that never should have occurred.

About Christopher Harris

Founder and publisher of World Soccer Talk, Christopher Harris is the managing editor of the site. He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Guardian and several other publications. Plus he has made appearances on NPR, BBC World, CBC, BBC Five Live, talkSPORT and beIN SPORT. Harris, who has lived in Florida since 1984, has supported Swansea City since 1979. He's also an expert on soccer in South Florida, and got engaged during half-time of a MLS game. Harris launched EPL Talk in 2005, which was rebranded as World Soccer Talk in 2013. View all posts by Christopher Harris →
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16 Responses to Bradford City Stadium Fire Disaster: 25 Years

  1. Darren says:

    Crazy scenes

    Why were the turnstiles and gates locked? Or was that common practice?

  2. Lucky there was no fences up, which was common place at the time. If people hadn’t have been able to get on the pitch we would be sat here talking about thousands being killed.

  3. Richard says:

    This disaster gets forgotten largely due to the Hillsborough tragedy a few years later. Sad, sad stuff though.

  4. zico says:

    Wow. That really changed my mood.

  5. Jake Islas says:

    Wow. The sight of the man on fire just walking without panic was unbelievable, I cannot imagine.

  6. brn442 says:

    A cigarette, trash, wooden stands – It seems so obvious now. Lets assume the lives lost saved others by helping prevent anything like this ever happening again. My thoughts are with their families.

  7. Paul Bestall says:

    It’s incredible to think it’s 25 years on. It is quite possibly one of the weirdest and horrific sights I’ve witnessed on TV in the UK ever. I can’t remember if it was live on ITV over here, but I certainly remember watching it on TV on a Sunday.

    It’s incredible to think that so many lower league grounds at the time were exactly like Bradford City’s. Small fires were a constant sight at grounds where litter strewn terraces seemed common place.

    As for the query about locking turnstiles, incredibly it was commonplace to do this. Simply the clubs couldn’t be bothered to staff the gates for 3 hours, so rather than leave them unattended, they locked them up to stop people sneaking in for free. No really.

    You have to understand that in the majority, most UK football stadiums were decaying, dirty, crumbling dumps. The food & drink available was dreadful, replica shirts were a thing of relative rarity, toilet facilities would often amount to a urine drenched shed that fitted about 20 people.

    Only one or two cubicles would be available and they would have no toilet paper in the norm. Hooliganism was rampant. Being a football fan was a dangerous and dirty business. When people hark back to terraced football, they seem to have this rose tinted opinion of how football used to be. Honestly, it was f####### awful.

    The reason it seems overlooked is of course a rather more notorious incident on May 29th which is about to also reach it’s 25th anniversary did completely over shadow everything about the 1985 season.

  8. Gaz says:

    Very sad indeed.

    That fact that it wasn’t more than 56 people that died that day is a miracle. The fire went from a small flame to total engulfment of the entire stand in less than 2 or 3 minutes.

  9. Andrew says:

    It disgusts me that you have linked to the footage which some idiot seems to keep putting on youtube despite the fact that they keep removing it.
    The footage was taken by Yorkshire Television and they vowed that it would never be shown again, so horrific are the scenes. That’s how it should stay if for no other reason than out of respect to the 56 people that died.
    I was there that day so I don’t need to see the video, but if you have any respect at all, please remove the link.

    • The Gaffer says:

      Andrew, I understand where you’re coming from but many of my readers haven’t seen the footage from the tragic day. And rather than sweep it under the carpet, I think it’s important that soccer fans know what happened that dark day.

      Cheers,
      The Gaffer

      • Martin Fletcher says:

        Gaffer I agree with your view & have never agreed with the YTV embargo – I lost my Dad, Brother, Grandad & Uncle in the fire which I survived & believe that without the showing of this footage nobody under the age of 35 can understand what happenned that day.

  10. fsquid says:

    If anyone’s family had a true right to call for “justice”, the Bradford fire families do. However, this was commonplace, so it really could have happened anywhere that day.

  11. Martin Fletcher says:

    The one good thing to come out of that day was the Bradford Burns Unit & if you have been moved by this footage I would ask you consider a contribution to it in order to allow its work to continue.

    http://www.justgiving.com/fletcherfamilybradford

  12. Tom Hingley says:

    This was before I was born, but obviously I have heard lots about it.

    For those who know more, how exactly did people get killed in the fire? From watching the video, it seems that there was a reasonable amount of time for people to escape onto the pitch. Were people trapped in the concourse?

    • Martin fletcher says:

      Tom I’d advise you read my 2005 guardian article “out of the inferno” via link on my just giving site above

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