Tag Archives: Heysel

Bradford Fire Disaster 30th Anniversary – by Rob Atkinson

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Horrific scenes as the Bradford main stand burns fiercely

30 years ago today, I went to watch Leeds United play at St Andrews, Birmingham City‘s ground, in order to support the United lads, who still had a faint mathematical chance of promotion. These were the bad old days, when football violence was still highly fashionable, and it was predictable that things would get out of hand given the slightest excuse. Well, Leeds went one down, it was a crap game, and get out of hand things certainly did. There was a mass riot, invasions of the pitch from both sets of supporters, police horses tried to get between the warring groups and general mayhem ensued for quite a time. Inside the ground, a 12 foot wall collapsed and a young lad was crushed to death. It was a tragedy of the times, crowd disturbances were commonplace and only 18 days later, trouble at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium would cost the lives of 39 Italian fans as the European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus was fatally marred by ugly scenes of violence.

As the Leeds fans emerged from Birmingham’s ground though, we were totally unaware that an event had been unfolding back home in Yorkshire that would cost 56 more lives, leave hundreds injured and traumatised and form another catastrophic part of that dreadful month of May 1985. At Valley Parade, the antiquated home of Bradford City, a fire had broken out in the main stand, a ramshackle construction of timber with an oft commented-on build-up of litter beneath the wooden seats – a calamity waiting to happen. On that Saturday afternoon, as spectators packed the old stand to greet their promotion-winning Third Division Champions, the calamity did happen, and with unbelievable speed and ferocity.

At about 3:40 pm, ITV commentator John Helm noted that there appeared to be a small outbreak of fire in the main stand. Within four minutes, on a dry and windy day, the fire had engulfed the whole of the stand, trapping many in their seats. People dashing to the back of the stand for fire extinguishers found none – they had amazingly been removed for fear of vandalism – and the fleeing crowds were forced to break down locked exits in order to escape. Others escaped forward onto the pitch, and within the burning stand there were acts of outstanding heroism as some people tried to assist those less able, without regard for their own safety. The design and build of the ancient stand conspired in its swift destruction; the roof was of wood covered with tarpaulin and sealed with asphalt and bitumen. The whole structure was, in effect, one big incendiary bomb which had been waiting to go off for years.  Now, a single lighted match or cigarette, dropped under the seats onto the accumulated litter below, had started a conflagration that raged out of control before anyone could summon help. It was a miracle, aided by the selfless bravery of many of the spectators who rescued their neighbours, that more weren’t killed.

As it was, 56 deaths and hundreds injured left its mark on the game, and rightly so. The Popplewell Inquiry led to the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at sports grounds, and construction of new stands from wood was banned at all UK sports venues. Thankfully, the death toll had been somewhat limited by the absence of perimeter fencing around the pitch, a lethal factor in the 96 deaths at the Hillsborough disaster 4 years later. Bradford City’s ground now is unrecognisable from the ramshackle stadium I remember as a student in the city in 1981, when I attended a League Cup tie against Ipswich and marvelled from the open Kop at the sheer age and dilapidation of the wooden stand to my right. A magnificent state-of-the-art main stand now crowns the development which has taken place on all four sides of the arena – a credit to the City, to the Football Club and to the memory of those fans who died – 54 from Bradford City and 2 from their opponents that day, Lincoln City.

Later that year, in July, I attended a Bradford City memorial game at Elland Road when the majority of the 1966 World Cup Final teams, England and West Germany, turned out for a rematch. England won again, 6-4 with Geoff Hurst scoring another hat-trick, Uwe Seeler scoring a quite magnificent goal at the Kop End, and the late Alan Ball notching for England too, as did Martin Peters – the other Three Lions scorer in ’66. England were captained by the late, great Bobby Moore, and our own Jack Charlton appeared with lesser-known brother Bobby. It was a wonderful occasion and a fitting tribute to the dead and injured of the Valley Parade fire, raising many thousands towards an eventual total of £3.5 million for the Bradford Disaster Appeal Fund.

On this pleasant late spring day, when the memories of that awful summer of 1985 are receding further and further into the past, let us pause and remember those who died this day 30 years ago, as well as the victims of the Heysel Tragedy – and not forgetting young Ian Hambridge who died when that wall collapsed at St Andrews while football fans unknowingly rioted all around. Ian would be 45 now; he and 56 others at Bradford were robbed of their lives by the events of the day. Rest in peace, all of them – and let’s be thankful that we’ve seemingly moved on from that dark period in football and stadium history.

It’s a Twitter Bad Taste Jamboree for Millwall Fans as Leeds are in Town – by Rob Atkinson

Millwall Beauty Queens Parade for Police Five

Millwall Beauty Queens Parade for Police Five

Twitter is a good place to avoid today for Leeds fans – or indeed for anyone whose idea of good taste precludes taunting rival supporters over two bloody murders thirteen years ago. Millwall fans are generally the exception to the rules of taste though, as they are to most rules – not excluding those governing grammar, basic hygiene and indeed evolution.

It’s not hard to find Millwall fans on Twitter today. Those of this dismal fraternity who are able to find their way around a computer are there in the ether, in force, to celebrate the first of Millwall’s two cup finals this season.  Their team face Leeds United, the cause of all those chips on rival fans’ shoulders everywhere.  The effect is accentuated with Millwall fans, for whom the chip on the shoulder invariably possesses a higher IQ than the diseased organ inside the skull.

It’s pointless to regale you here with the output of the South Bermondsey twitterati.  It’s all there, for those who might want to source it.  Hashtag #sickeningbile might be a useful route to go.  Strong stomachs are required; this is no place for the queasy. Youngsters who weren’t even born when Chris Loftus and Kevin Speight met their awful fate in Taksim Square Istanbul, are gleefully evident, aping their elders, glorying in the blood spilled by two lads who went overseas to watch a football match – and never came home.

Most football clubs suffer from a minority of this sort, people who genuinely seek approval for dragging their very souls through the gutter as they seek to out-do each other in aiming jibes at the misfortunes of others.  It’s been a blight on football for over 50 years, certainly since the time of the Munich Air Disaster.  Man U fans are only too well aware of the fashion down the years for tasteless chants and songs on that sad subject.  My own Leeds United have shameful form for it; Liverpool too and various other clubs.  Man U fans will climb on their high horse a few times every year over this, but they are not without sin, reveling in their own sick celebration over Hillsborough and Istanbul, plumbing the depths over the Heysel tragedy.  It’s hard to find a club that doesn’t attract a lunatic fringe of this kind of “support” – but it’s usually a minority and it’s been greatly reduced in recent years.  Only Millwall buck this trend.  There it’s most of them, most of the time.  There, civilised behaviour and rules of taste and respect seemingly don’t apply.

Millwall fans, rather than condemning the examples of pond-life in their midst, tend to glory in them.  “No-one likes us, we don’t care” they sing defiantly, happy with their grisly reputation, proud of a record that would sicken a psychopath.  They’re more famous of course for their tendency towards violence, usually in gangs of herd-instinct cowards seeking small groups of rival fans to attack.  When none such are available, they will be content to fight among themselves and disgrace the game in this country that way. They had a set-to at Wembley last April in the FA Cup semi-final.  Bewildered Wigan fans looked on as their team cruised to victory and the Millwall animals tore into each other like sharks drunk on blood.  Images of crying children caught up between bloodied “adults” lacing into their own kind shocked and revolted the nation.  As usual, nothing effective was done.

It’s about time, though, that something was done.  Millwall is the land that time forgot, a throwback to an uglier era that the rest of the game is doing reasonably well in leaving behind.  Only at Millwall does this anti-culture still flourish, by word and by deed.  In Leeds, the old men of the sixties and seventies Service Crew sit around swapping stories on internet forums these days, their boots hung up for good.  Even West Ham fans are emerging from their own savage past.  Man U fans are too busy travelling up and down between Devon and the Theatre of Hollow Myths to engage in fisticuffs – they’re an aging population too.

The modern football fan is a relatively peaceful person, obsessed with the media fishbowl of the Premier League, horrified by the price of everything, as likely as not to be a student, or a female; a far cry from the working man’s army of previous decades.  Not so at Millwall.  Millwall defies evolution, laughs at progress, dismisses a family atmosphere as “soft”, spouts poison on the internet, looks for easy targets down scary back-alleys. Millwall is the past in defiance of the present and the future.  Millwall should be consigned to that past, to the dustbin of football history – and their shrinking legion of “fans” left to lob half-bricks at each other.

It’s high time to get rid of Millwall.

PS – see below for the evidence of one Millwall cretin glorying in his following the Twitter account of Turkish murderer Ali Umit Demir. Disgusting – but we shouldn’t apply normal human standards to some Millwall apes.

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