By John Dewhirst (@jpdewhirst on Twitter)
Each of us in attendance at Valley Parade on 11 May, 1985 for that fateful fixture with Lincoln City have private, personal memories of what happened. The people of Bradford and Lincoln shared the collective experience of disaster, united in grief and without recourse to blame or infighting. The Bradford Fire Disaster also became part of the national public memory, principally as a result of television coverage.
Although only 11,076 supporters (the reported crowd that day) in addition to officials, players and match day personnel can claim to have been there, many more could say that the disaster has remained with them. Relatives, neighbours, members of the emergency services and carers were all individually impacted by the disaster such that it had a wide reach. The disaster claimed 56 fatalities but many more injuries and personal tragedies.
At the time of the disaster I was 22 years old and it was the first time in my life that I had come to terms with my mortality, witnessing how disaster could strike something with which I was so familiar and comfortable. The disaster was an abrupt lesson about human fragility and that we can take little for granted.
What I remember about the aftermath was the unity as people came together to provide support to those who were injured and grieving. There is also the memory of how supporters worked as a team to help the football club rebuild. In the wake of the tragedy there was agreement that the memory of the dead was best preserved through the rebuilding of Valley Parade and for Bradford City AFC to sustain itself at a higher level.
Support for the Burns Unit became another cause. The fire also hastened a re-assessment of stadia safety in the UK. All of which was what the survivors expressed their support for.
In 2020 we share the collective experience of an altogether different tragedy which exposes human fragility just as the Bradford Fire Disaster did in 1985. However, what we learned 35 years ago was about human resilience, proof of how heroes come to the fore and an example of how a community can be united. Our experience of disaster is that despite pain and sorrow, we can overcome.
In 2020 the future is equally uncertain for Bradford City AFC as it was in 1985. It is the unity of purpose and determination of supporters that safeguards the future of a cherished local institution, then as now.