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May 04, 2010

Twenty Five Years On

BBC Radio 4 Archive on 4: The Bradford Fire- A Day That Will Live Me For Ever (Saturday 1st May 2010)

Time marches on but some events will always stick in your mind regardless how old you are. Childhood memories can sometimes play tricks with you but certain occasions remain as raw as if they happened yesterday. The fire at the Bradford City Football Club will always be one of those events for me. Radio Four documentaries on a Saturday night may not be everyone’s cup ot tea. However Gabby Logan’s poignant and personal account of that fateful day was a perfect tribute to this horrific disaster. Nevertheless I am sure that Tuesday 11th May will be a traumatic for everyone associated with the club, the city of Bradford and the wider footballing community.

I listened to the testimony and the painful memory but I will never be able to truly imagine what was going on in the Main Stand around 3:40 on Saturday 11th May 1985. Some sensations are best left to those who can or want to talk about it. I was an impressionable five-year old around the house of two close relatives in Colchester, Essex. It was another Saturday afternoon visit the promise of a cup of Ribena, chocolate biscuit, 50p and a Double Decker bar if I was quiet and well behaved throughout the afternoon whilst the adults were talking about things that I could not understand.

As a bit of distraction therapy, I would have been given some things to keep me occupied during the long afternoon. A magic colouring book and the Radio Times would have been the usual material. Looking at the colour pictures of Keith Harris and Orville and The A Team would have kept me quiet and the TV was on too. It was a colour TV! We came from a house, which was still in the black and white age so to enjoy a colour TV picture was nothing short of a technological revelation.

It was the pictures that I can remember. It was not the usual Saturday afternoon Grandstand or World of Sport material. We were not watching the endless horse racing of the show jumping. I am not sure what channel was beaming into our lounge but I can still remember the pictures of the stand with people running down the wooden steps, across the wall and onto the pitch. I was entranced and by the bright colours and turned to my parents wondering what was going on.

Something was indeed going on and I was pretty sure that something bad was going on. However, I got the impression that I was asking too many questions in the opinion of my parents who believed that the Valley Parade pictures should not be played out in front of a five-year-old. There were some pictures that I can still remember to this day and it is difficult to get those images out of my mind.

The Bradford City fire was the first national event that I can remember in my lifetime. Memory comes and goes when you are five, but I can remember those pictures in that dining room, in Colchester, on that May afternoon. There were a number of high profile disasters during the eighties, for which I can remember but have been confined to my mind with a mix of facts and figures. However that fire will mean something a bit more to me because I was watching the action in real time. I will be reflecting on that dreadful event and the city on 11th May.

A lot has changed since 1985. I now have two great ex-university friends living close to Bradford. West Yorkshire used to be unknown territory for me confined to soap opera and cliché, but I enjoy my trips to Batley with the added visit to Bradford. On those occasions, I am enticed with the prospect of curry on Leeds Road rather than the chance to colour in a magic colouring book. There is something attractive about the city. I have seen Valley Parade from afar, and been attracted to the stadium too, which is nestling in the city rather than being stuck in an out of town shopping centre with a load of buy one get one free supermarket offers for company.

I can not confess to having been a regular football watcher in 1985 but I have since caught the bug to visit grounds across the UK. I have a vague ambition to join the 92 club and West Yorkshire is an area for which I need to do some serious stadium visiting. After feasting on a diet of modern stadium, with comfortable seats, crystal clear sight lines, and fast food takeaways at every turn without a plank of wood in sight, you sometimes forget that football grounds used to be so different. It is doubtful what the young football fan in 2010 would make of Valley Parade circa 1985.

Gabby Logan’s documentary is not an easy listen, but it is an essential listen to appreciate how British football had to struggle through a painful transition on and off the pitch to resemble the game that we know today. The personal nature of the report makes it much more immediate and raw rather than recollections of some TV pictures in Essex. Alongside the replaying of TV news bulletins from 1985, the programme also reflected on some of the advances in medical treatment as a result of the fire. The Bradford Sling was especially remembered as a mark of medical ingenuity in the face of life- threatening injuries. Twenty-five years have also seen dramatic changes in stadium management, which often seems to be taken for granted these days.

I was left with a reaffirmed personal ambition to never forget about those fans and club personnel whose lives were tragically cut short on that Saturday afternoon in May 1985. I will still struggle to watch those pictures of the fire. I still struggle to listen to that little bit of Pennine Radio commentary from the particular game. However I believe that this Radio Four archive documentary was the perfect tribute about a match that ended in utterly dreadful circumstances.

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