BT Sport films remembers the Valley Parade Fire

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By Daniel Tunna

BT Sport is to broadcast the next instalment in its BT Sport Films series, One Day in May: The Story of The Bradford City Fire,on May 11 at 9.30pm on BT Sport 1.

On May 11, 1985 at an end of season Third Division football match between Bradford City and Lincoln City, a fire took hold which got so quickly out of control that it consumed the two hundred foot long main stand at Bradford City in less than four minutes. Fifty six people died and many more were injured.

Gabby Logan, who witnessed the tragedy first-hand, revisits the worst fire disaster in English football history. The film, aired on the 30th anniversary of the fire, is the first time a full length documentary has been made about the events of that day. Gabby relates the countless heroes – including her father, the former Bradford City Assistant Manager Terry Yorath – who risked their lives to save others that day. Gabby interviews some of the key figures about their memories, visiting key locations with them. The story of the fire, and its legacy, is told through eyewitness testimony and illustrated with archive, some of which has not been seen since 1985. One Day in May: The Story of The Bradford City Fire is the thirteenth in the BT Sport Films franchise.

Interviewees include:

  • Former Bradford City captain Peter Jackson and midfielder Dave Evans, both of whom rescued many fans from the fire that day, and visited the injured in hospital.
  • Paul Firth, lifelong City fan and fire survivor, and author of Four Minutes to Hell, a book about the fire.
  • Matthew Wildman, a young fan who was saved not once, but twice by local hero Dave Hustler (who also features).
  • Constable Glynn Leesing who was the first to spot the blaze.
  • St Luke’s Hospital plastic surgery nurse Sylvia Coleman, who went on to nurse many serious burns victims back to health, and plastic surgeon David Sharpe, who led the team in ground-breaking new techniques to treat the injured.

On May 11 the film will air without commercial breaks and be made available free to all online at btsport.com and on TV via Sky and Setanta (in Republic of Ireland only). BT TV customers will be able to watch the film as normal.

Gabby Logan said: “’The Bradford Fire story has never been told like this before. It is in many ways the quiet tragedy and that reflects the personality of the city. The people of Bradford were incredible in the way they reacted on the 11th May 1985 and they have been remarkable in the way they have allowed us to tell the story in 2015. It was a tragedy that changed football forever. I was there with another eight members of my family and we emerged unscathed. 56 other families and lives were devastated, and we will never forget them. I hope this film pays their memory the respect and attention they deserve.”

Grant Best, executive director of programming and creative, BT Sport, said: “This is an event which still has a profound resonance for the people of Bradford. This film is a dignified and restrained account – to reflect the quiet manner in which the remarkable people of Bradford dealt with their sorrow, injury and loss. This film does not seek to investigate who was to blame for the fire. It is a testament to the spirit of the city and its people that Bradford now has a world-leading burns research unit.”

In support of the work of the University of Bradford Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU), BT is making a donation to the unit. In addition, viewers of the film on May 11 will be offered the opportunity to donate to the unit via the BT MyDonate fund-raising platform. To make a donation visit: www.bt.com/BradfordFire30.

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7 replies

  1. Given the current controversy in the wake of new allegations of arson at Valley Parade in 1985 there will inevitably be trepidation among City supporters about the forthcoming commemorations and indeed this film.

    I have seen a pre-release version and believe that it is a well produced, professional piece of work. The producer, Isobel Williams has impressed me with her approach. The content however will upset many people and some of the film content is graphic, definitely not suited for children. Many will prefer not to watch which is entirely understandable.

    My difficulty as a father has been to explain to my own kids how there could have been a fire in a football stand and how derelict the ‘stadium’ / surroundings used to be. Without sounding like an old git (I am 52) I believe that younger generations struggle to comprehend how derelict was the old Valley Parade and surrounding area. I also question whether many younger people think that the victims of the fire were just the 56 as opposed to those who survived with injuries and mental scars.

    This film will certainly explain what happened and in my opinion I believe it tells what needs to be told. However everyone should think long and hard beforehand about watching it because it isn’t easy. That said I believe there is a bigger danger that unless this sort of film is shown – involving the older generations who were there to tell the story of what happened – we will find that history is rewritten and becomes unrecognisable to what actually happened. In the passage of time there is a risk that the actual events will otherwise be forgotten as opposed to a sanitised, alternate narrative. In my opinion this is a brave film and one that will provide a definitive account of the disaster.

    A second film produced by the BBC is also being released. This complements the above and also covers the aftermath of the disaster and the quest to regain a degree of normalcy.

    For those seeking an alternative perspective of what has been written in the Guardian I encourage you to read the Claret and Bantam forum where there has been an active exchange of comments. The City Gent is also publishing an account of the events this weekend.

    • Thank you John. I’m sure you don’t set out to be our representative, but you and your City Gent contemporaries consistently represent Bradford City fans in such a dignified and positive manner and for that we are all grateful. And thank you for the warning about the nature of the content in the show. As an 11 year old in the Bradford End next to the players tunnel I have my own memory of what happened. I’ve never watched any footage of the fire, I’ll have to think long and hard whether to watch the show but I’m grateful for the information.

      • This film has been produced with a lot of tact and sensitivity. We could not have had a better team to handle such a difficult topic.

        After the fire there was a fantastic unity and sense of purpose among the supporters and a real special bond. When I read in a certain newspaper about a conspiracy of silence it makes me livid. The journalist concerned reveals his ignorance of events not to mention crass insensitivity. The allegations in ‘that paper’ have felt like our generation of supporters has been on trial. I urge all City fans to follow and contribute to the clarentandbanter forum to see for themselves that there is another perspective to the one currently in the press. That is why this film is important to help explain to people what happened and to provide awareness that it was not just about ’56’ but that there were many more victims. To even suggest it was arson is criminal in itself. To suggest we were in denial is a sick joke.

      • Thank you, John.

        As has been said, the dignity you have shown in representing the sentiments of many Bradfordians under a media spotlight you did not ask for has been one of the few positives to have come out of last week or so. A reminder, as if one were needed, that if you don’t understand or approve of our methods in dealing with both past and recent events then, quite simply, you’re not from Bradford.

        From what you say, the BT Sport documentary is encouraging because it allows the people of Bradford to decide how we’ll respond to our own history, and be steadfast in our refusal to have a narrative imposed upon us by those who have suddenly decided that the way we have acted together since 11 May 1985 somehow falls short of their ennobled national expectations.

        How dare you, Mr Taylor?

  2. Well said John.
    I have to say that although not wishing to be in the media spotlight in all of this, all that you have said on TV and Radio, and written in various places has been totally representative of many of us.
    Its been a hard week for us, who as you say were `victims` purely by being there on 11.5.85, but not victims as much as some. For them this week will have been even harder and ultimately its been up to you, and the rest of us to defend them from this issue.
    Once again on behalf of us all, thank you.

  3. The lack of balance/fair reporting in the Guardian coverage has been truly breath taking and a real eye opener. The contrast with the fair reporting locally is stark. Not what you would expect from a broadsheet and it has actually done the author a disservice in emphasising the suggestion of Arson. Having read the book over the weekend it is commendably written and the depth of research is impressive however other than clearly identifying the neglect of the club and official Agencies( something we all knew or suspected) outlining Staffords dubious early career (well known to WYP at the time)and highlighting the club and Staffords sometimes contradictory comment post fire it does not provide any evidence sufficient to merit a re-examination of the case. I hope the BT Film will provide a fitting treatment of a tragedy which has always been remembered with dignity and stoicism not bitterness.

    • Just as an aside if you re read David Conns article from 2010 MFs concern is the level of neglect by the club not any suggestion of arson. It is revealing that Conn (an admirable journalist) gave JT a right of reply in his article. It is a shame the same opportunity was not afforded by the Guardian this time round.

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