11.05.1985 Always Remember - A personal story.
Last home game of the Football League season holds a number of differing memories for myself as a life long football supporter. Happy ones such as a last gasp win against Liverpool FC in 2000 to secure Premier League survival make the summer weekends awaiting the start of the next season a little more bearable. But, for 30 years now even these great moments have been overshadowed by ingrained memories of the events of11.05.1985.On what should have been a triumphant day in the clubs history it will always remain as a day of tragedy not just for the football clubs of Bradford City and Lincoln City and respective towns but also one of the darkest days ever in the beautiful game's history and the worst day of my life as a football fan. Only 5 days earlier City had been crowned Division 3 Champions with a 2-0 win at Bolton, local hero Stuart McCall scoring the 2nd goal.
( Stuart scores me and friends celebrating on the terraces.)
My very first experience of live professional football came when I visited Valley Parade for the first time on April 12th 1975 for Bradford City's home game v Lincoln City. Bradford City, my home town team lost the game 1-2 but I was hooked for life on becoming a 'Parader'and wearing the unique to the football league colours of claret and amber. Little did I know that a decade later I would be attending a game once more against Lincoln City, this time as a teenager and come away thankfully with no more than cuts and bruises physically, but also with mental scars with life changing thoughts and feelings.
(9 years old in claret and amber)
My skills between the sticks on the Archery field on a weekend developed quickly here and I transferred them to the junior school playground (being the only girl in school to compete amongst the boys) during play time and diner time in the coming weeks.
Two 'matches' in particular are this year in my memory as they were the only two games from childhood in which I remember scoring, only 2 you say, well I was a goalkeeper! The first came while defending the 'track end' small goals around 3'6" high painted on the school yard perimeter wall alongside a dirt track. From a goal kick the ball was passed back to me and for some reason I decided to go forward with the ball at my feet and take on a couple of defenders, rounding these player with ease, somehow, I then looked up and seeing the opposition keeper on the edge of the six yard box I lofted the ball over him sweet as you like and in to the far top right corner. The next goal over a year later came while shooting towards the 'track end' our team earned a corner, and I came up for it, made myself some space and drifted in at the back post to nod home. Disbelief and shock came from all around followed by comments like " what just happened there? well? who was marking Lindsay?"
( With school pal and City legend Stuart McCall)
Saturday 11th May 1985 started out much like any other regular Saturday, though on this day the routine began a little earlier to accommodate having to be at the ground in time to gain entry with an expected crowd of double the regular attendance and save seats for a couple friends who were working that morning, getting a space on the Midland Road side of the ground with a good view of an parade of the trophy by the players pre-match and then what should have been a whole weekend of celebration to follow.
The usual trip to HMV record store and visits to the Junction and Smithy pubs to warm up the party atmosphere before a game were replaced by a meet with fellow fans at the Birdcage, move on to the Queens, then some lunch and a quick pint at either Bradford Arms or Connaught Rooms and head up to Valley Parade in time for the turnstiles to open became the itinerary for the day. I can recall exactly what I was wearing that day even though it was 30 years ago such is the vivid recollection of that tragic event. I wasn't dressed in usual football match gear but rather more appropriate 'playing out' clothing,( my toned down punk look of pants and top from the famous World's End shop on London's Kings Road in a pastel biscuit shade and new baby blue zip Clarke's Loafers) as we were staying in town after the match to party and would then meet up with the players and staff and head straight on to the night clubs.
On arrival at the ground friends and myself entered through the back of the main stand and into the paddock area, as the fans began to filter though in some numbers we made our way to front couple of rows of G block to save the seats for my friends brothers and then we would make our way around the opposite side of the ground where we could watch from a touchline wall near the halfway line rather than our regular spots behind fencing on the Spion Kop and Bradford End depending on which way the team was kicking towards. I should point out at this stage "seats" in the main stand were no more than long wooden benches with a small line every now and then with a faded painted number every now and then, and fan segregation only happened for 'big' games so you could walk around 3 sides of the ground. Our plan was watching from the Midland Road side we could at final whistle get on the pitch quicker and get over to the tunnel area, there we would wait for the players to come out onto the balcony above and spray us with champagne and throw down their shirts for us to hopefully catch.
Around 25 minutes before KO the boys took their seats in the main stand and we made our way round to our vantage point. The players paraded the Division 3 trophy to a packed Valley Parade and local Yorkshire ITV cameras who were covering the match as a football highlights special that weekend.
The sunny May day brightened the on field play of the first half, City were already champions so the tackles were hardly flying in everyone was conserving energies for a party later. As half time approached songs from the Spion Kop increased, and lots of movement of people in the main stand opposite us intensified the cheering fans even more. Smoke appeared small white tufts at first,then we could see flames, we became alarmed as the boys were in those seats and people began to spill onto the the side of the pitch in the corner in front of the paddock, the smoke turns a little greyer and the flames fanned out both up and across the stand, people in there tried to climb the paddock wall, but the stand side of it was around chest high and was therefore quiet difficult for the young and old to attempt this, we saw them head back up the stand towards the back.
By now the referee had stopped play and was instructing the players to make their way back to the tunnel, many people, hundreds were now on the pitch. Only now did it really hit home for me the full scales of what was unfolding in front of me. I climed over the wall onto the pitch, like many I tried to find friends who I knew would be in that part of the ground. It was chaos everywhere, fans from all sides of the ground were now on the pitch, we stood looking on feeling helpless at not being able to reach out and offer a hand to those trying to escape the fire which had in just a couple of minutes enraged across the whole back and roof of the stand as one huge fire ball. We were driven back halfway across the pitch by the sheer heat. It was like standing too close with your potato on a stick on bonfire night, your skin tingled and clothing became warm . People were screaming and crying out for help as either they were on fire or trying to put out flames on someone and catching alight themselves. Many people had lumps of roof tar which had dropped, melted then solidified and stuck to their bodies. The police on duty that day tried to keep people back away from the stand, others braved their way forward in an attempt he rescue anyone coming over the wall. I remember people being carried and placed in the goals at the Bradford End, dozens of others using coats and jumpers to try smother the flames.
In just over 4 minutes the main stand at Valley Parade was alight and thousands had to make their escape. I remember seeing some of the players and club staff on the balcony above the tunnel dropping their babies and children to be caught by folk waiting below, and in turn joining the rest of us in the middle of the pitch. I remember looking back to where we had been stood watching the game from several minutes earlier, and fans where shouting up to the shed of commentators and TV camera crew asking them to stop filming, some even picked up bricks and threw at them. As much as it was hurting people there to witness such horrors, the TV crews carrying on filming were only doing their jobs.
The sky became very grey very quickly, and thick black smoke billowed from the steel uprights of the stand.Thankfully there was no wind that day to fan the flames any more or any further than what was already occurring. The smoke began to effect everyone on the pitch and as it became more apparent that some people 3 maybe 4 or 5 had lost their lives many of us turned to look for a way out over the corners of the Kop and far end of the Bradford End down the old 'cat steps' on to Midland Road. Leaving the ground was taking some time, no one hurried, no one pushed, no one really seemed to panic, I think everyone was just in so much socked at what they were witnessing. More and more people were helping others to safety alongside the emergency services, who in turn were doing everything they could to try and contain the fire and smoke.It was then that the reality and the enormity of what was unfolding began to hit home, the rescued people layed on the pitch were still, lifeless, clothing was placed over their heads and you knew they had died and that the body count could be as much as 10 maybe more. it was time to leave. But, how? where?
( Bradford City fire 11th May 1985)
There were large ques forming to leaving down earth banking's and it wasn't very safe. I relocated all my friends who I had spent the morning with we decided to make our way out of the Bradford End exits when they became open. This meant going a little closer to the engulfed stand but we new we could get out on to the street pretty quickly that way. The exit doors at that end were much like a barn door, and were locked down just after kick off weren't open ed until around 15 minutes before the end of a match. We kicked at the wood panels and broke down a gap of around 18 inches or so, just enough to scramble under and get out of. I guess several hundred left that same way, then the gates and locks were broken down and opened and more people couple leave. Everyone was in shock. Nothing much was said,There wasn't much panic just disbelief at what had happened. We made our way to the back of the brick building in the corner of Valley Parade road ,some of the players and staff had gathered there, all still in kit, one or two with a blanket around them or a blazer. They were trying to find family and friends.
I made my way down a side street with some friends and we waited sat on a wall, hoping our other friends would find us as this was the way we would usually leave after a game and head off back into town. I'm not sure how long we waited maybe an hour or so, the ground was still full of black smoke, it seemed as if every fire and rescue and ambulance in the country was in attendance. I saw many people I knew asking if we had seen their family members and friends. We decided to take a couple of our younger friends back in to town so they could find a phone box and either arrange for a lift or reassure family they were ok and make their way home. So, we headed off on foot and decided to regroup back at the Birdcage Pub in the interchange which had been our meeting point that morning. After an hour or so of being at the Birdcage, we all decided it would be best to try make our way home. Travel on public transport would be difficult we knew with all the disruption, but we thought this best. One of our group was still missing. It was some several weeks later we got confirmation he was ok, he was one of many who had wondered off in shock that day and had been missing for days/ weeks on end.
I remember getting home to Queensbury and regrouping with a few friends, We were lost for what to do so went our separate ways to go home and change from the smoke stained clothing we were in Everyone in the village was asking what had happened, none of us felt like talking about things we had seen that day I went round to my best friends house, still filling up with tears, trying to make any sense of what had being going on. It all seemed so unreal, It wasn't a dream it had happened I was sure of that but it didn't seem real. As I watched the footage on the BBC 9 o'clock news I filled up again. I remember someone saying "It's no good crying about it there's nothing you can do."
For several days following sleep was a cat nap here and there. I went into work Monday morning, my boss game over and said " anytime you feel like it and you want to walk out, just do so I don't mind." No one asked me what happened in work, they were all in shock at what they has seen on TV or read over the weekend on the papers, I would not have been able to speak about what had happened that day anyhow. When the final numbers of how many people had died were released things hit me once again. I had been luck to be able to leave with cuts and bruises. many people I knew had major injuries, many had lost loved ones. My best friend at the time was taken quiet ill a couple of days later and was in hospital with many of the injured from that day so I was hard going in to visit for several weeks, and being constantly reminded of the horror I had witnessed that day in May.
I did what I could collection wise to help raise funds for the burns unit over the following months.
I never made it to the opening match at Valley Parade when the ground was rebuilt, I couldn't go, not just to watch City, but to any football for several years. I gave up playing and took up rugby league instead. This was my way of dealing with things. I attended the memorials held every year on 11th May for the first 15 years, then I missed a few due to work commitments. I try to make the last home game of the season when ever possible as I have done this time around for the 30th anniversary.
Its hard at times to think about what happened that day, let alone talk about it. Its just as hard trying to forget. Every year remembering the 56 football fans who went to a match and never came home brings back more vivid memories of those days and my childhood love of football.
Valley Parade will always be my second home and I hope that one day enough money is found by the club, the City of Bradford or someone in football to buy the ground out right and give ownership to the club and fans as a permanent reminder of those 56 fans who lost their lives.
The 56-RIP always remember.