Bradford City Fire memorial
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Bradford City Fire: Britain’s Forgotten Football Tragedy

4 minutes. 4 minutes—that’s all it took for the Bradford City Fire to engulf on Saturday, May 11, 1985, and become a hellish inferno, consuming an entire stand. The disaster at Valley Parade should never be forgotten but it often is.

Screenshots from Bradford City Fire
Screenshots taken from the original live broadcast in 1985 show how quickly the fire spread

Some say it’s the Yorkshire stiff upper lip, which means that people don’t want to make a fuss about that day. Some claim that because of the controversy surrounding it, the Hillsborough disaster overshadows it. Maybe it’s a combination of the two but regardless, the Bradford City Fire is a chapter in the darker parts of the football history books that should never be forgotten.

The mostly wooden stand in question had already been condemned and was due to be replaced with a steel structure at the end of the season. It was often joked that the stand must have been built on a landfill because of the sheer amount of litter and detritus underneath the stand.

After the incident, television commentator John Helm recounted to the Daily Express what he believed caused the blaze. An Australian man who was in the area visiting his nephew had two tickets to the game. He attempted to put out a cigarette by crushing it under his foot but it fell through a crack in the floorboards and fell to the makeshift kindling of litter below.

Smoke began to rise; his nephew poured his coffee down the gap and they believed they had extinguished the fire. But shortly after, more smoke began to rise, so they went to get a steward or fire extinguisher to help but by the time they returned, it was too late and the fire had already taken hold.

It would be impossible to ascertain whether his cigarette was the direct cause but the events that unfolded over the next few minutes would ultimately claim the lives of 56 people.

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Many of the fans in the stand escaped the impending danger by escaping on to the pitch, much to their own amusement and the amusement of the live television audience watching at home, who hadn’t grasped the seriousness of the situation as flames grew. However, many tried to escape by going through the stands, only to find that the turnstiles were locked.

At the rear centre of the stand, near exit K, 27 victims were found. Some were crushed as they attempted to crawl under the turnstiles.

3 victims were found in the toilets as they tried to escape through a small window.

13-year-old Felix Greenwood & 11-year-old Rupert Greenwood were ushered away from the flames by a traffic warden, along with their father. The traffic warden attempted to use his large overcoat to shield the boys from the fire. When their bodies were discovered, the boys were still tucked inside his coat.

A 12-year-old, Martin Fletcher, clambered aboard an ambulance. His biggest concern at that moment was to find out how Leeds had gotten on in their game. Little did he know, his life had already changed beyond recognition. Martin would later learn that the blaze had taken the lives of his father John, 34, his 11-year-old brother Andrew; his uncle Peter, 32; and his grandfather Eddie, 63. Martin said in an interview with the Athletic, “My mum said to me once, ‘I sent three of you to the football. Two of you never came back and one never came back the same again’.”

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Fred (76) & Edith (79) Hindle were found in their seats. The theory among fans is that Edith knew in her old age she wouldn’t be able to get out in time and accepted her fate and Fred opted to stay with her till the end.

The television cameras caught and broadcast the moment a retired Mill worker jumped onto the pitch to attempt to escape. He was covered from head to toe in flames, and police officers and nearby fans attempted to extinguish the man with jumpers and coats. “Oh, that poor man,” the television commentary exclaimed. But it was too late and he lost his life.

To this day, many of those who were watching the live broadcast recall this as the moment that stuck with them.

“He’d come to watch the football. This is a human tragedy; 10 minutes ago, we were looking at a football game.” A harrowing moment that only scratches the surface of the horrors of that day in 1985.

These are just a brief summary of some of the stories of those who lost their lives in the Bradford City Fire that day but they all have stories, they all have names, and they all have families and it’s our duty as football fans to ensure that the legacy of ‘The 56’ lives on.

Lest We Forget: The Bradford City Fire 56

The names of the 56 victims of the Bradford City Fire disaster (May 11, 1985): 

  1. ACKROYD, John Douglas, 32, Baildon 
  2. ANDERTON, Edmund, 68, Bingley 
  3. BAINES, Alexander Shaw, 70, Bradford 
  4. BAMFORD, Herbert, 72, Bradford 
  5. BULMER, Christopher James, 11, Burley-in-Wharfedale 
  6. COXON, Jack Leo, 76, Bradford 
  7. COXON, Leo Anthony, 44, Halifax 
  8. CRABTREE, David James, 30, Bradford 
  9. CRABTREE, Harry, 76, Bradford 
  10. DEMPSEY, Derek, 46, Morley 
  11. FIRTH, Muriel, 65, Baildon 
  12. FIRTH, Samuel, 86, Bradford 
  13. FLETCHER, Andrew, 11, East Bridgford, Nottingham
  14. FLETCHER, Edmund, 63, Pudsey 
  15. FLETCHER, John, 34, East Bridgford, Nottingham
  16. FLETCHER, Peter, 32, Gildersome 
  17. FOSTER, Nellie, 64, Bradford 
  18. GREENWOOD, Felix Winspear, 13, Denholme 
  19. GREENWOOD, Peter, 46, Denholme 
  20. GREENWOOD, Rupert Benedict, 11, Denholme 
  21. HALL, Norman, 70, Bradford 
  22. HALLIDAY, Peter, 34, Bradford 
  23. HARTLEY, Arthur, 79, Bradford 
  24. HINDLE, Edith, 79, Bradford 
  25. HINDLE, Fred, 76, Bradford 
  26. HODGSON, Moira Helen, 15, Oakenshaw 
  27. HUDSON, Eric, 73, Bingley 
  28. HUGHES, John, 64, Bradford 
  29. HUTTON, John, 74, Bradford 
  30. KERR, Walter, 76, Bradford 
  31. LOVELL, Peter Charles, 43, Bradford 
  32. LUDLAM, Jack, 55, Bradford 
  33. McPHERSON, Gordon, 39, Bradford 
  34. McPHERSON, Irene, 27, Bradford 
  35. MASON, Roy, 74, Silsden 
  36. MIDDLETON, Frederick Norman, 84, Bradford 
  37. MITCHELL, Harold, 79, Bradford 
  38. MUHL, Elizabeth, 21, Leeds 
  39. NORMINGTON, Ernest, 75, Shipley 
  40. ORMONDROYD, Gerald Priestley, 40, Bingley 
  41. ORMONDROYD, Richard John, 12, Bingley 
  42. ORMONDROYD, Robert Ian, 12, Bingley 
  43. POLLARD, Sylvia Lund, 69, Bradford 
  44. PRICE, Herbert, 78, Shipley 
  45. ROBERTS, Amanda Jane, 20, Bradford 
  46. SAMPSON, Jayne, 18, Leeds 
  47. STACEY, William, 72, Sleaford, Lincoln
  48. STOCKMAN, Craig Albert, 14, Bradford 
  49. STOCKMAN, Jayne Ashley, 16, Bradford 
  50. STOCKMAN, Trevor John, 38, Brighouse 
  51. TURNER, Howard, 41, Bingley 
  52. TURNER, Sarah, 16, Bingley 
  53. WARD, Simon Neil, 18, Shipley 
  54. WEDGEWORTH, Robert, 72, Guiseley 
  55. WEST, William James, 78, North Hykeham, Lincoln 
  56. WRIGHT, Adrian Mark, 11, Bradford 
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Bradford City Fire 56
BRADFORD, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 06: The Valley Parade Fire memorial during The Emirates FA Cup Second Round match between Bradford City and Chesham United at Coral Windows Stadium, Valley Parade on December 6, 2015 in Bradford, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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