Always remember

SAM_1747

By Jason McKeown

At 11am this Sunday, a group of people will meet at Centenary Square, Bradford to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Valley Parade fire disaster. On the 11 May 1985, 54 Bradford City supporters and two Lincoln fans lost their lives, after a fire engulfed the old wooden Main Stand during the first half of a Division Three match between the two clubs. Bradford City had been presented with the League Championship trophy before kick off, but a day of celebration quickly turned into a very dark and very traumatic afternoon. One of unimaginable tragedy.

29 years is a long time, and yet for many people affected by the Fire and/or at the ground that day, the pain remains just as large and significant. You often hear stories of people who have struggled to rebuild their lives after the trauma of what they saw, and too many families needlessly lost a loved one that will always leave a hole in their lives. It is absolutely right, and incredibly important, that Bradford City as a community pauses and reflects on 11 May every year, and the annual ceremony at Centenary Square will no doubt take place forever.

We will never forget.

29 years is a long time, and you only need to glance around Valley Parade on a match day to appreciate that there is now a sizeable generation of supporters who were not even born in 1985, or at least were too young to have any direct memories of the events themselves. I am one of these people. 32-years-old now, I was three when the Valley Parade disaster occurred and living in Wales. My family moved to West Yorkshire six months later.

Growing up (initially I had little interest in football) I was aware that something terrible once took place in a football stadium in Bradford, but even when I discovered this football club and immersed myself in its culture and heritage, back in the 1990s there were surprisingly few sources of reference to what actually took place on 11 May, 1985. Valley Parade itself had only a small memorial, housed above where the club shop is currently located, and it wasn’t particularly obvious what it was for.

That all changed post-millennium. The further rebuilding of the Main Stand saw the introduction of a proper memorial, and in 2004 Paul Firth released the excellent book ‘Four Minutes to Hell’, providing a harrowing account of what happened. A year later, Yorkshire TV produced a moving documentary. There is now a website dedicated to the tragedy, and – if you so wish, and it’s not something I would ever want to view – you can access video footage on Youtube. In 2010 – the 25th anniversary of the Fire – the BBC’s Football Focus dedicated an entire programme to the events. It was impeccably handled and a copy of the programme is still available online – a far better use of Youtube.

For the younger generation of Bradford City supporters (and I’d like to count myself in that group, even if 32 is pushing it to call yourself ‘young’), it can be difficult to quite know how to suitably recognise the terrible events that took place 29 years ago, of which we had no direct involvement. It is ingrained within Bradford City culture, and as such everyone recognises just how important it is to keep its memory alive, remember the 56, and respect the people affected by what happened. The traditional minute’s silence at the final home game of the season is always immaculately observed. And how magnificent a gesture it was, this year, when Crawley captain Josh Simpson laid down a wreath of flowers in memory, in front of the Kop.

Yet since 2010, there has also been a growing sense, from some, that not enough is done to recognise and remember the 56. It particularly manifested itself last season, where the League Cup miracle led to much debate about more public shows of remembrance. The giant flag on the Valley Parade pitch prior to the Crawley game had originally been produced to appear at Wembley for the final against Swansea. Within that game, there was an attempt to applaud throughout the 56th minute that was halted by Matt Duke’s unfortunate sending off. The chant ‘We will always remember the 56’, which was first aired at Crewe in May 2010 – a week after the 25th anniversary was marked at Valley Parade, with the Football Focus cameras and all – has been sung more and more frequently.

Some like all of this, others don’t. And it is a worry that, rather than bringing everyone together on something so incredibly important and emotive, there is in fact a growing divide about the way we remember the tragedy.

If anything it got worse this season, when the FA’s announcement to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster by making every match in England kick off seven minutes late brought an angry reaction from some City supporters. ‘Why is that disaster given more prominence?’ they yelled. I’ve no idea how to compare two utterly horrible events and not sure why they need to be. And for all the positive media coverage Hillsborough receives, there is plenty of negativity that comes with it all too. Frankly, too many people who know nothing directly of what happened at Hillsborough are full of ignorant opinions on what did.

From some, there is now an expectation that the FA must do something similar for next year, the 30th anniversary of the Valley Parade disaster. A petition is circulating, calling for all grounds to hold a minute’s silence in May 2015.

Grief is a very personal thing and it is not for me to dictate to others my own feelings, but I do wonder if it really matters how people who aren’t connected to either club remember something that is so painful to the communities of Bradford and Lincoln? The world of football, you would hope, will always be respectful towards these communities at this time of the year. But beyond that, it should not be our focus to force them into remembering it.

There is no doubt that the 30th anniversary is going to be a poignant occasion that will be deeply emotional for a lot of people, and my own view is to concentrate on what we – as a community – do ourselves to remember it. I have my own thoughts on how we might want to do so, but my personal opinion doesn’t matter in the grander scheme. Sunday – and next May 11 and every May 11 after that – is about the families of those who lost their lives; and about the people that witnessed the shocking events, who have been impacted by what happened in ways that the rest of us cannot even begin to imagine.

The conversation of how we should continue to remember the Valley Parade disaster should be led by these people. It is their wishes that should be acted upon. It is how they feel about the disaster, not others outside of the Bradford and Lincoln communities, that we should be worried about. Grief is not a contest with other football clubs, because frankly the prize is one that no one wants to claim.

When we bow our heads in silence at the final home game of the season and on May 11, we don’t do it to think about the rest of the world watching us, or about our own troubles. We do it to remember the 56 people who lost their lives, and the countless others who are scarred by what happened.

They are all that matter, and that must never change.

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9 replies

  1. The club always hold a minutes silence at the last home league game which is always impeccably observed. On May 11 there is always a service outside the town hall to pay respects to the 56. I’m not aware if Lincoln city fc do anything similar on the 11 day of May to pay their respects & remember the fans who lost their lives on the fateful day. I personally feel that the way we show our respects & rememberance by all contected with the club is the correct & respectful way to remember. We have 2 wounderful monuments at valley parade the black marble slab with all the supporters names etched into it and I think it is lit by an eternal flame. The other monument near the corner of the kop & main stand is of the figure of a mourning mother and her 3 children straining for her attention. The third Is located in the city square outside the town hall and is a descreet and respectfully crafted sculpture made from bronze with all the names of the 56 fans depicted on it. The lasting tribute & legacy though is the pioneering work that has been carried out by the team at the Bradford burns unit who continue to work with and change the lives for the better of individuals scared and traumatised by fire which the club, supporters and local community raise funds & are rightly proud to have a close link & association with. I was at the game on 11 may 1985 and witnessed the the whole events which traumatised and effectived me badly. I was only 15 at the time. Although tiime can help heal the wounds of the events on that day the pain and suffering of the families will always remain with them and the respectful & dignified manner in which everyone remembers the 56 fans who perished that day in the manner we do year in and year out is testament to what a great football club we have.

  2. I was a15 year old that day and I will never forget a single second, the run up to the fire, discovery of flame, the rapid spread, the sound and smell. It took me three years to persuade my dad to return to a match. We should remember that day to commemorate the lives of those we lost, and to make sure such incidents never reoccur.

    Personally, I prefer the minutes silence, the commemoration services, the flag, quiet reflection of an horrendous experience to the brashness of ‘stand up for the 56 or other mid match actions. However, I acknowledge that as time passes and fewer and fewer of the supporters at that fateful game go to matches, then other forms of commemoration to keep alive the memories amongst supporters are needed.

    Whichever way we personally commemorate, we should never forget those who perished and the impeccable silence, with wreath from Crawley Town brought tears to my eyes as will tomorrow. Lest we forget.

  3. Jason – I share your disquiet with the way the commerations are developing.

    I was 13 at the time of the fire and will never ever forget the feelings of that day and the people we lost and the families who were scarred forever.

    However I am increasingly disturbed by the requirement to voice this remembrance at any opportunity. I don’t need to “stand up for the 56” or “always remember the 56” and I certainly don’t need to join Facebook groups “showing some respect for the 56”

    I see this as an evolution of the social media world where popularity is measured in “likes”. Certain supporters of our club seem to think that if we don’t get our fair share of “remembrances” then some how the memory of those we lost is being disrespected. I find it particularly galling when these thoughts are only brought out when we are on TV – we don’t clap for the 56 on a normal game at home to Stevenage so why try to do it when we are at Wembley ?

    I also find the comparisons with Hillsborough somewhat odious. That disaster will always get more coverage because a) it was Liverpool and b) the disgusting lies the families were told. I don’t want to have the “best disaster” or even the “most remembered”.

    What matters to me is that the people of Bradford never forget their husbands, brothers, fathers and children who went to a football game and never came home and whilst we remember that in a truly thoughtful, restrained and Bradfordian way I don’t see us ever forgetting. And that’s what is important.

  4. I was present on that fateful day, and have always felt that it is vitally important to remember the 56, however like Sussex Bantam I don’t need to be told to ‘stand up for the 56’ or join Facebook groups, etc.
    In fact the very dignified way that the Bradford fire has been remembered since 1985 has always been impressive.
    As impressive in its own way as the campaign by Liverpool people for justice, but there the similarty is put into sharp focus, and there is no need for a competition to see which disaster receives the most media attention.
    Ours was a pure accident, a coming together of a set of tragic circumstances, whilst the Scousers have always felt that things could have been handled better, and demanded justice.
    Maybe it is also a comparison of unique cultures, the admirable way that Liverpudlians stand up for each other set against the quiet way that Bradfordians handle large losses of their citizens.
    The Low Moor explosion and the mill chimney accident in the Bowling area are little known disasters even within our own city, whilst the loss of a whole generation of Bradfprd males between 1914 and 1918 is marked by a simple plaque on a wall near Serre in France.
    Bradfordians seem to mark collective grief in a very dignified, almost private way, and personally I would prefer 1985 to be remembered in a similar manner.
    No need to enter into some tacky, almost obscene competition to make the rest of the football world take notice.
    Lets just continue to remember 1985 with dignity in a very quiet, private and Bradford style.
    Never forgetting is much more important tan an enforced show of false emotion just for show.

    • Mark – I agree with every word of this. With Hillsborough there was grief, anger, scapegoats and lies. With the Bradford disaster there’s just grief and I think the way we, as a community, remember that day is a really credit to the supporters of BCFC and the wider Bradford community.

  5. I agree with much that is said in the article and replies; it’s always seemed to me the club and the city have marked the anniversary with appropriate care and respect. Reading the list of names and ages of the 56 again takes me right back to the day and is a reminder of how fortunate I was as a 13 year old at the time to get out of the stand when so many did not. A reminder that never ceases to put a lot of other things into perspective.

    • I was there as a teenager. I’m now in my forties and have twin boys. Whenever I read the list of names I’m drawn to the Ormondroyds and I’m haunted by what Gerald must have felt as he tried to protect his lads from the heat and smoke. I just can’t begin to imagine what he must of gone through. At the time the tragedy didn’t really hit home – I think I was too young to fully grasp the enormity of it all. But as I get older, rather than it diminishing in my conscience, it seems to affect me all the more. I can’t take my lads to a football match without thinking about that family.

  6. You know I’m really not looking forward to the 30th anniversary commemorations.

    The endless debates that will rage about whether the 56 have been shown enough ‘respect’, about whether we should sit down, stand up or put our left leg in, whether every football game in England should have a minutes silence, about how big the flag should be.

    I don’t need to be told because I remember. I remember walking to valley parade with my dad and sister and trying to buy a ticket for the already sold-out stand, I remember the heat and the smell, I remember people lieing burnt in the goalmouth, I remember my poor mum waiting and wondering if we were coming home, I remember having a panic attack when the yobs of Leeds united set fire to the chip van at odsal, I remember bursting into tears at a bonfire party. And we were the lucky ones – we got out and all our friends got out too.

    I remember these things every time I walk down the road to valley parade. I remember them particularly on 11 may. I’m sure everyone in Bradford always will and I don’t care one iota whether they have a minutes silence at anfield or plainmoor, about whether sepp blatter sends a tweet, about whether Steve wright plays a song on radio 2.

    I don’t want to resent other fans for trying to keep the memory alive thought their social media world but Im afraid I do – because if you were in any way touched by that day – you remember and will for the rest of your own days.

  7. Someone posted this beautiful poem on the Claret and Banter web site….

    56 stars are shining bright,
    54 claret and amber, 2 red and white.
    The tragic events that took you away,
    Will be remembered always on the 11th of May.
    Fans packed the ground, some young some old,
    All unaware of what was too unfold.
    To see the champions was the only aim,
    56 lives lost at a football game.
    The pain hasn’t eased after all the years,
    Generations of fans all shedding tears.
    The last home game is always sombre,
    But heavens awash with claret and amber.
    Your presence we’ll miss and the memories we’ll treasure,
    We’ll love you always and forget you never.
    So take a look at the sky tonight,
    They’ll be 56 stars that are shining bright.

    RIP

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