Bradford offers sober reminder of what has been lost and learnt
Saturday 08 May 2010
"I didn't realise they were safe until one and a half hours after the fire had started. We didn't have mobiles of course. I was very anxious, I've got to say."
The words are those of David Markham; they recall the day, a quarter-century ago this week, when fire razed the main stand at Valley Parade during Bradford City's final day of what had been a successful season.
Markham was there to report City's Third Division championship celebrations for the Bradford Telegraph & Argus. Instead he found himself searching for his two teenage sons who had been in the stand when it caught light. It took just four minutes for the 74-year-old wooden structure to be engulfed, many fans escaped onto the pitch but others were trapped by locked doors at the back of the ground.
Markham's sons survived, but 56 people died, half of them under 20 or over 70 years of age. More than 250 suffered burns and other injuries.
On Tuesday the club and city will mark the anniversary with a series of commemorative services. Markham's reference to mobile phones is a reflection of how much the world has changed since. The whole matchday experience is very different, largely due to the legislation that followed the tragedies of Bradford and Hillsborough, but also to the cash that has flooded into the game. Fans may be fleeced too often these days, but their safety is no longer an afterthought. Wooden stands are rare, and smoking – a discarded cigarette probably caused the fire – banned in stadia.
Valley Parade, like every other football ground, has been transformed. For a while so were City's fortunes. In the late Nineties they achieved promotion to the Premier League, but over-reached financially and fell back down the divisions. They are now in the bottom tier, and have found it hard to escape though a strong finish under Peter Taylor gives cause for optimism.
Whatever their status the club, and city, have not forgotten their dead. There is evidence, too, of a stronger bond between club and fans than most. City pioneered the policy of selling season tickets cheaply. It has also reached out to the city's large Asian community with Zesh Rehman, the Birmingham-born captain of Pakistan, heavily involved in the process.
The future is promising. Tuesday, however, is about remembering the past. It is also a reminder, in a week that hooliganism reared its head, that fans also have a responsibility. If there had been fences at Bradford the death toll would have been in the hundreds.
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