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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.


November 06, 2009

How To Get Into The Premiership And Stay There?

Writing about web page http://www.thefirst90minutes.com/20091102299/football-culture/how-to-get-into-the-premiership-and-stay-there.html

Every single football club wants to know how to get into England’s top football division but only a few teams have managed to realise that achievement. Even fewer of those teams have managed to say there and make a success of their moment at the top table of football action. A quick look at the Premiership tables from the early nineties shows a whole mini league clubs scattered across the other three leagues. One team has even been renamed and now plays their football in the concrete roundabout hell of Milton Keynes.    


August 12, 2009

Me and My Mate Shak Part II Sent to Coventry

Writing about web page http://www.twtd.co.uk/profile.php?m=dspblog&id=367&blog=9

It was another season, and I wanted to reintroduce my friend Shak to all things associated with Ipswich Town Football Club. We were catching the action in the comfort of Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. This was the third Town match that I had watched at this stadium, but the weather was sunny, and not dark, windy, cold and rainy like the other occasions. These previous matches had been largely forgettable affairs, made slightly better by the best Portman Road music in the league and a very catchy Play Up Sky Blues theme tune that could not get out of your mind.


July 12, 2009

A Question of Loyalty

A Question of Loyalty

While most of you were getting stuck into your Sunday roast last weekend, I found myself in a national sport store within Leeds city centre. A Liverpool-supporting friend wanted to buy the new Liverpool away shirt for the coming season, complete with his name and number. I had seen this shirt on other friends and my pre-shopping hype had convinced him that this shirt was a must-want purchase. We flew up the escalator, and passed the endless carousels of reduced clothing that remained unwanted from the previous seasons. We bore down on the shirts that hung from the wall like suits of armour for medieval knights.

The wanted shirt was grabbed from the hanger, and my friend rushed to the MDF-lined box which was called the changing room. Within about thirty-seconds, Asif made his mind up that this was the shirt for him, and made a direct line to the checkouts for the all-important additions. While the shop assistant was carefully placing the required letters and numbers on the back of the shirt like a doctor about to perform open heart surgery, my friend set about trying to persuade me to part with thirty quid for the Liverpool home shirt.

It is well known amongst my social circle that I have a soft spot for the reds, and Asif tried his best to convince me that this shirt was essential for my wardrobe. We had a passionate conversation about the pros and cons of buying this shirt beside a series of suggestive mannequins showcasing this season’s tennis kit. You could never believe that two educated blokes could be found in the middle of Leeds arguing over a 100% polyester shirt. I even went into the changing room to try on the shirt. Asif must have felt that he had achieved his wish but I could not quite bring myself to buy the garment.

I know that my loyalty is in Suffolk, at Ipswich Town Football Club, and at Portman Road, and I felt disloyal if I started wearing a shirt for a team that had no genetic link to my background. However, I felt immediately guilty for my failure to buy this shirt. The guilt turned into a full blown migraine whilst stuck in the never-ending M1 roadworks near Nottingham. I knew that I should have brought that shirt. Most friends were surprised that I did not buy this shirt, because they have always believed that I am a ‘closet’ red, but I felt that it was a question of loyalty.

Most of us know that loyalty makes a football fan. Life as a fan cannot be an effortless series of European nights, cup wins, comprehensive demolitions of the hated local rivals, and the crème de la crème of British and European talent playing in the club shirt. There are the 0-0 bore draws on a wet Tuesday night in February, the questionable talent that has failed to produce anything other than a few dodgy tackles on the pitch, as well as those managerial press conferences when it is obviously that the manger has lost the dressing room as well as his senses.

We can buy the shirts, and the plastic merchandise, but being a fan demands something more. Most non-football fans think that the loyalty is dangerously delusional and something close to one of those religious cults in mid-America, but loyal support makes football what it is.

Most of us know that loyalty left player’s minds somewhere around the birth of ITV during 1955. There are a few Steve Bulls and Steven Gerrards left in the game, but money talks at ever increasing volumes. We have become too used to players wheeling away from the goal with exuberant kissing of badges and pledges of total loyalty to the cause. We lap it up from the stands, and feel totally cheated when the same player has signed for another club within weeks for another multi-million pound fee. .

In this era when Manchester City are desperately trying to suggest that they can eat at world football’s top table with the signing of Gareth Barry (sic,) and multi-million pound transfer deals are taking place at Real Madrid for sums of money that many of us can not remotely visualise, the leading clubs (or the media) are a little bit shaken up by this suggested movement of football’s plate tectonics.

Benitez talks about loyalty in football with particular reference to Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, and half of us believe that these words need to ring true, but some of us believe that the sentences come from another age of football. I personally hope that Benitez is correct and that certain players at Anfield recognise the debt that they have to Liverpool Football Club. Before his move to Anfield, Mascherano’s English football career was going nowhere in the chaos of Upton Park during the dying month’s of Alan Pardew’s regime. Only devoted students of Spanish football would have known about Xabi Alonso before he came to Anfield. You would hope that both players would recognise the loyalty that they have to Anfield.

Will loyalty become a bargaining chip as English football becomes a bargaining chip for megalomaniacs? I like to think that the chequebook can only buy so much in football, and there needs to be something else at a football club to guarantee true success. There is that ‘something else’ at Liverpool Football Club and it is probable that most players recognise that. If they don’t, Liverpool fans should not be concerned if Jermaine Pennant decides that Real Zaragoza will be the next big thing in football, and that Gareth Barry went to a club that seems to be trying to build their future on a sandbank of cheques. It is all about that question of loyalty.


June 25, 2009

Tales From Robin Hood Country

Writing about web page http://www.thefirst90minutes.com/20090622253/football-culture/tales-from-robin-hood-country.html

Nottingham is a city of contrasts. For many years, I knew this East Midlands city for Brian Clough, Family Fortunes, and The Price is Right, which were filmed in the nearby Central TV studios. Like many cities in the UK, there are some beautiful areas and various suburbs that have spewed concrete over the skyline, but the city centre always seems to be bustling.


May 28, 2009

The Different Types of Relegation

Writing about web page http://www.thefirst90minutes.com/20090526243/football-culture/the-different-types-of-painful-relegation.html

By the time that you read this article, you will know which teams have played their last Premiership game for the foreseeable future. These fans can commiserate with their compatriots of teams like Charlton, Southampton, Norwich, Hereford United, Cheltenham Town, Crewe Alexandra and Northampton Town as well as Luton Town and Chester City.


May 30, 2008

Review of Walkers Stadium December 2005

Writing about web page http://www.footballgroundguide.com/leicesterrev2.htm

Article for Internet Football Grounds Guide December 2005 "On the weekend before Christmas 2005, I felt that a visit to the Walkers Stadium would be a suitable anecdote to the Christmas mania and reality television hype that had taken over the UK and was reaching a climax before that evening’s televised finals. "

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