FAMILIES of the 56 football fans who died in the Bradford fire have said the service to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy was “humbling”.
More than 1,000 people gathered in the sunshine in Bradford’s Centenary Square to remember those who died and the hundreds who were injured when fire destoyed the main stand at the Valley Parade ground on May 11, 1985.
Many of the fans who gathered wore the Bantams’ distinctive claret and amber colours as they listened in silence while the 56 names were read out to the tolling of the bell in the City Hall clock, which towers over the square.
Among those reading the names was John Helm, the ITV football commentator who famously described the unfolding chaos as flames quickly engulfed the wooden stand shortly before half-time while the home team played Lincoln in an end-of-season clash.
Fifty-four City supporters lost their lives, along with two Lincoln fans.
Fans who gathered to lay wreaths after the service said the event brought back terrible memories but was a “wonderful” act of remembrance.
Georgie Dempsey-Moore, 46, lost her father Derek Dempsey in the disaster. He was the same age as she is now, she said.
Mrs Dempsey-Moore said: “This is just wonderful, although it has brought everything back. It just feels like it was last week.
“It is really humbling to see just how wonderfully the city of Bradford is remembering and I know that when I’m not here any more, this will still be remembered and dad will live on forever.”
Mrs Dempsey-Moore, who was 16 in 1985, recalled that she would have been in the stand with her father but she could not go to the game because she went to a youth club disco the night before and had not finished her homework.
She said: “There is part of me that is still a little girl missing her dad.”
As well as the 56 people who died, more than 200 people were taken to hospital following the blaze, many with terrible injuries.
Some of those who attended on Monday are still living with the injuries they suffered on that day.
They gathered around the memorial to the dead with civic dignitaries, current and former players from Bradford and Lincoln and hundreds of other people who wanted to pay their respects.
As well as Mr Helm, Bantams manager Phil Parkinson, City skipper Stephen Darby and Shaun Harvey, the chief executive of the Football League and former City chief executive, all read out names of those who died in front of the silent crowd.
This was followed by a minute’s silence and then a rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone played by The City of Bradford Brass Band and sung by Opera North soprano, Victoria Sharp.
The Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mike Gibbons, laid a wreath on behalf of the city and other dignitaries also laid tributes before a stream of bereaved family members placed their floral memorials as Miss Sharp sang Abide With Me.
Alan Stockdill, 61, described how he watched the fire break out 30 years ago from the neighbouring stand and then returned to help the day after as a special constable.
Mr Stockdill said: “Today was a beautiful service. It was wonderful the dignified way that the Bradford and Lincoln supporters have remembered this. It’s wonderful. We’re proud of being Bradfordians today. It’s quite emotional to come here today.”
Remembering fleeing the flames, Mr Stockdill said: “We had to watch it coming towards us.
“The wind blew it toward us. We could see the fire above people, it was on the roof, and there were people looking at the fire not realising it was already above them.
“We were scrambling over the fence. We thought it was going to come round the corner at us.”
His brother Keith, 51, was in the paddock in front of the main stand.
He said he was so close to the outbreak of the fire he realised what was happening and was one of the first group of fans to escape on to the pitch.
He said: “I think it’s been hard. Every year there’s always been memories and the thought that it could have been you.”
And he added: “The way it’s gone today - it’s good to remember. It takes you back to that day.”
Mike Thompson, chairman of the Bradford City Supporters Club, said: “I think the hardest thing for people to recognise, to be honest, is just how much it still impacts on people today.
“As far as the people of Bradford are concerned, it’s something we will never forget and it’s good this year that there’s been so much support around the football community. It’s tremendous.”
The 1985 inquiry into the tragedy headed by Sir Oliver Popplewell concluded that it was an accident, probably started by a spectator dropping a cigarette into rubbish that had accumulated under an old timber stand.
But the build-up to today’s anniversary has been overshadowed by a new book by Martin Fletcher, whose father, brother, uncle and grandfather died in the fire, which claims that the fire was one of nine that occurred at businesses owned or linked to the club’s then chairman Stafford Heginbotham.
Sir Oliver said he stands by his ruling, saying there was no evidence of arson.
The new claims are contained in the book Fifty-Six - The Story Of The Bradford Fire. Mr Fletcher, who was 12 at the time, escaped from the blaze but his 11-year-old brother was the fire’s youngest victim while his father John, 34, uncle Peter, 32, and grandfather Eddie, 63, also died.
The book does not make any direct allegations but Mr Fletcher says Mr Heginbotham’s history with fires warranted further investigation.
Mr Heginbotham died in 1995. Mr Heginbotham’s son James, 47, has dismissed the claims as ‘’just absolutely ridiculous’’.