May 11, 1985
THIS weekend, The Hawthorns will fall silent before the Liverpool game as we mark the near 30th anniversary of the Bradford fire, which claimed 56 lives on May 11 1985.
This Saturday coincides with Bradford City’s final home game of the season, hence the commemorations across the Premier League. Ironically, our opponents on Saturday will be Liverpool who, of course, suffered their own huge tragedy at Hillsborough four years later, a disaster which, in the intervening years, has perhaps overshadowed the events at Valley Parade on that day in 1985.
Liverpool supporters will doubtless have thoughts of Hillsborough as well as Bradford in their minds when we stand in silence on Saturday for, in their different ways, both horrifying events became symbolic of a time in which the footballing authorities played fast and loose with the safety of the game’s bedrock – the supporters.
Hillsborough, as we are coming to realise more and more, was a complex event about which we cannot speak further while the new inquests are being conducted in Warrington.
But what is beyond dispute in the case of both Hillsborough and Valley Parade is that large numbers of people were being left to take their chances in many football stadia that were no longer fit for purpose, not that we really understood that at the time.
The only positive note to take from both catastrophes was that football was required to put its house in order, to improve facilities, to remove death trap terracing and tinderbox stands from our national game, while safety certificates became increasingly stringent.
It was not before time. For those of us old enough to remember attending football matches in the '80s and before, when Hillsborough and Bradford took place, we looked back at our own experiences and, however different they were in the specifics, we could think of incidents where we could feel, "there but for the grace of God go I".
As a youth at the 1978 FA Cup semi-final at Highbury, there was a period that seemed like five minutes or more where my feet were off the floor as a seas of bodies was simply moved around by the surge of the crowd. At the time, it was just part of going to football. Looking back, it was something rather more sinister.
Football didn’t care about spectator welfare back then, whether that be out of ignorance – it’s always been this way, it’ll be fine – or out of financial considerations and the cost of repairing falling down grounds. Those days are gone, certainly at the elite level.
For whatever objections there might be to the way the Premier League has transformed the game in some areas, the way in which it has cleaned up grounds, has demanded high standards of safety and comfort and has set the bar at a level where it is very hard to imagine such a tragedy as Bradford ever happening again, that is an advance that can only be greeted with universal thanks.
*The Premier League is fundraising for Bradford City’s chosen charity, the Bradford University Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit. A donation of £25,000 has been made and there will be further support for the fundraising efforts through April, including bucket collections across the Premier League fixture list.
Donations to the Bradford Burns Unit Memorial Appeal can also be made through the official Commemoration website: www.fire-anniversary.brad.ac.uk or a number of dedicated fundraising sites.
You can donate to the Appeal via text message:
TEXT NUMBER: 70070
So for example if you wanted to donate £5, you would text VPFA56 5 to 70070. For £10, VPFA56 10 and so on.
Cheques should be made payable to The University of Bradford – Burns Unit and sent to:
The Bradford Burns Unit
University of Bradford