The Last Word: Bradford's big day must only be of unfettered celebration
The authenticity of remembrance is in danger of being compromised
Sunday 24 February 2013
Karl Hepton owes his life to his grandmother, Nellie Foster, who lowered him out of a broken window but failed to save herself. Hazel Greenwood lost her husband, Peter, and sons, Felix and Rupert. Three generations of the Fletcher family perished.
There are many more stories to tell, additional testimony to enduring suffering which deserves to be heard. "The 56" are people. They represent indelible memories, inexhaustible tears, individual tragedies. They are not a brand or a slogan to be shouted in a reflexive act of conformity.
They do not need a flag, measuring 30m x 15m, to be laid across the pitch at Wembley to legitimise their loss or excuse the fairytale of a football club's rebirth. They are immortal, untouchable. Those at Valley Parade that awful day, 11 May, 1985, say they think about them constantly.
The Bradford fire was football's Hindenburg moment. The words of TV commentator John Helm as a victim stumbled, with haunting serenity, out of the inferno – "Oh the poor man, the poor man" – are imprinted indelibly on the sub-conscious of millions. If you are of a certain age, you will close your eyes and shudder.
Commemorate by all means. It is essential, decent and proper. But celebrate when the time is right. There has never been a more appropriate moment for unfettered joy than today's League Cup final. Each player, on either side, will be a powerful symbol of renewal when, just before 4pm, the heavy black dressing room doors open and the noise of a capacity crowd floods in.
I wish I could write the following sentence in capital letters. I do not wish to disrespect the dead or dilute the significance of the disaster. But the best, most heartfelt, tribute has been, and will always be, the traditional minute's silence at Bradford City's last home game of the season.
The service on the anniversary of the tragedy, which causes the city to pause at the eleventh hour, is profoundly powerful. The Valley Parade Memorial, with the names of victims inscribed on black marble, is as humbling as its Hillsborough equivalent beside the Shankly Gates.
The authenticity of remembrance is in danger of being compromised. Just as sport is a convenient peg on which to hang society's problems, it is an easy way to purge the collective conscience. The confection of causes afforded a minute's silence at the recent international against Brazil were compelling in isolation, but felt expedient when marked in unison.
Again, there is no wish to offend. The disco fire in Brazil, which killed 233, was truly terrible. The Munich tragedy is a pivotal moment in the social history of English football. Bobby Moore is its most evocative captain who lives on through the Foundation established in his name.
But sometimes it is best to accentuate the positive. Today's final is unique in the modern era. It is a perfectly timed antidote to the excesses of a game in the process of selling its soul. There are so many redemptive stories to acknowledge, so many local heroes to promote.
Nahki Wells is the pride of Dandy Town Hornets. James Hanson stacked supermarket shelves and revived his career at Eccleshill United. Matt Duke survived testicular cancer. Carl McHugh is a household name only in the tiny Donegal village of Lettermacaward, which has two shops and three pubs.
Swansea were rescued, not by a foreign billionaire, but by a bucket collection conducted by fans who cared enough to take to the streets. There is an affinity between today's finalists born of shared struggle.
Bradford's act of remembrance, which involves players wearing the number 56 and the inscription "Always with us" on tracksuits, is dignified and understated.
If you feel compelled to make an additional gesture, the Bradford Burns Unit needs to raise £100,000 to avoid closure.
Donations are accepted 365 days a year.
Wenger's war chest is full of hot air
Arsène Wenger is apparently prepared to empty what we are contractually obliged to refer to as an £80m war chest, to secure the services of Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao. As unlikely conversions go, that is right up there with Mike Tyson coming out as a committed vegetarian. But, with the Premier League title all but decided, and appeasement on the agenda, managers are playing to the gallery with increasing desperation.
Desmond Nair, the magistrate in the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing, appears to be one of the few men more comfortable with the sound of his own voice than Brendan Rodgers.
In terms of the war going forward, to use one of the Liverpool manager's more bizarre phrases following elimination from the Europa League, a strategic silence would be a great idea.
The chattering classes have seized on Roberto Mancini's unsurprising admission that he is a bad loser and a closet politician. I felt he came across as needy and self-regarding, which was perhaps not in the corporate communications strategy.
This afternoon he meets Rafa Benitez, whose avowed love for "my sweetheart" Real Madrid, suggested he, too, is tired of Chelsea.
You might think Mancini and Benitez deserve each other.
I could not possibly comment.
This is the Football League's big day. They should not allow it to be spoiled by bullies. Threats of legal action, should they continue to reject the latest opportunist attempts to take over Portsmouth, should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
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