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THE DAY HEAVEN TURNED TO HELL

11 May 2016

Saturday 11 May 1985, the day should have gone down in the history books as a day of celebration.


Following nine months of sweat and hard graft, Bradford City were to be crowned the Third Division Champions - their first piece of sliverware in 56 years. 


But it turned out to be the day which sent shock-waves round the world as fire engulfed the antiquated Main Stand at Valley Parade and eventually claimed the lives of 56 supporters.


11,076 fans were present at Valley Parade on that fateful day when Bradford City met Lincoln City in the Bantams' final home match of the season.


Over three thousand supporters were estimated to be in the main stand that day.


Prior to kick off, they had witnessed Bradford-born captain Peter Jackson being presented with the Championship trophy by the Football League's Life President at the time, Dick Wragg.


Unfortunately, the team's achievements were about to be tragically overshadowed.  

On the instructions announced in the House of Commons by the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, a seven day hearing was conducted at City Hall in Bradford from 5 June 1985. 

It was described as the worst fire disaster in the history of British football and the worst stadium disaster in Britain since 65 supporters perished at Ibrox in January 1971 at the end of a Rangers vs Celtic 'derby' fixture.  

According to forensic scientist Dr. David Woolley, the main cause of the fire was possibly the accidental dropping of a match or a cigarette stubbed out in a polystyrene cup.  

Reaction to the horror was instant with messages of sympathy arriving from the Queen, the Pope, the Prime Minister, Church leaders and a host of political figures from around the globe.  

The events of the fire in the main stand resulted in 56 supporters tragically dying and approximately 265 injured.  

What followed will live in the memory forever.  

Match Referee Don Shaw from Sandbach stopped play three minutes before half-time with the score at 0-0 after having been alerted to the situation by one of his linesmen. The Football League subsequently ordered the scoreline at the time of the abandonment to remain.  

At 3.40pm the first signs were noticed and fire-fighting equipment was requested. Within four minutes the flames were visible and the Police began to evacuate people in the area of Block G.  


Statements from 77 witnesses were heard by appointed High Court Judge, Oliver Popplewell (sitting as Mr. Justice Popplewell) following a preliminary session on 23 May 1985.


His interim blueprint on the findings, collated with the help of two assessors, was published on 24 July 1985.



The tragedy unwittingly brought about new legislation governing safety at the nation's sports grounds and stadia.


This was a move felt long overdue by many in view of some of the antiquated wooden stands that had been in use for decades, especially in the lower divisions. 

It also undoubtedly brought about an unprecedented united community spirit in Bradford, buoyed by world-wide messages of condolence and monetary contributions from a host of public events.


The majority of the funding went towards a Bradford Disaster Appeal Fund (83% of the total, amounting to £3.35m, distributed to sufferers in November 1985) and a return to a new Valley Parade stadium.


Following the disaster, Bradford City had to play all their 'home' League and Cup fixtures for the whole of the 1985/86 season and the first half of the following season at their adopted grounds of Bradford Northern RLFC (now Bradford Bulls) at Odsal Stadium in Bradford, Huddersfield Town (Leeds Road) and Leeds United (Elland Road).

The dream of returning to Valley Parade though, came to fruition on 14 December 1986 with an emotionally charged commemorative fixture against an England X1, before a 15,000 full-house when Bradford City triumphed by a 2-1 scoreline. 


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