Bradford City Fire, Lincoln City Wreath Laying

“We all have to remember what we went through on that day in May, 39 years ago. We can never forget it. The people of Bradford can never forget it, and the people of Lincoln can never forget it.”

Saturday, May 11, 2024, marks 39 years since the Bradford City Fire. It was a day that should have been one of celebration for the Bradford, lifting the Third Division trophy, but it was one that turned to tragedy.

At 3.40pm, a fire broke out at Valley Parade, killing 56 spectators. Two Lincoln City fans, Bill Stacey and Jim West, lost their lives.

The Bradford City captain on the day was boyhood Bantam Peter Jackson, he sat down with The Linc to speak about the fateful day in 1985.

He said: “Even now, I’m quite emotional talking about it, because it had such a big effect on my life.”

“Half an hour or so into the game the fire erupted. My wife and my daughter Charlotte, who was 15-months old then, were in the Player’s Bar, which overlooked the pitch. And my dad was in the stand [that set on fire], my two brothers, my father-in-law, so I had quite a lot of family in the stand. My first instinct was to run for my wife and my daughter to get them outside the ground,” he described.

Forensic scientist Dr. David Woolley stated that the attributable cause of the fire was possibly the accidental dropping of a match or cigarette, stubbed out in a polystyrene cup.

Former Lincoln City manager Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson become Lincoln City manager later in his footballing career. Credit: PA Media

Jackson was clearly emotional when described the events of May 11, 1985. He said: “I went back in [to Valley Parade], but I couldn’t find my dad or my brothers for about three hours. It took three hours for me to find them. It was really, really worrying.

“I was outside the stadium looking for my dad, in the backstreets of Bradford. There were people running around with burnt clothes and being badly burnt.

“Charlotte, my daughter, never, ever talked about it. Then, when I signed for Newcastle United, she went to nursery. And they had to draw what daddy does. Obviously, she put a stick man, me kicking a ball, but in the background she coloured it orange. She said: ‘That’s fire, daddy plays with fire in the football stadium.’ She never talked about, but she remembered it.”

“To be in the stadium, or on the pitch, to witness what I witnessed, and what other people witnessed, was heart-breaking.” – Peter Jackson

What should have been a proud day for Jackson, as a Bradford-born footballer lifting a trophy that ended a long draught of silverware, soon turned into the what has been described as the worst British stadium fire in history.

He said: “Driving down I was so excited about the day, and being proud of lifting the trophy as a Bradford lad. It was such a proud day for not just the players, but the supporters and the staff, and for that to turn to one of the biggest disasters in British football was truly shocking.”

The “forgotten football tragedy”:

Jackson described the day as the “forgotten football tragedy”, believed that it is rarely remembered outside of the cities of Bradford and Lincoln.

Bradford City Fire
Bradford City will hold a memorial on the 39th anniversary of the fire. Credit: Bradford City AFC

He said: “It changed football forever in terms of stadium designs, and I feel sometimes it really is forgotten around the country. It’s not [forgotten] in Lincoln and it’s certainly not in Bradford, but in other areas I think it’s forgotten. It can never, ever be forgotten. It was the game that changed football forever.

When asked why he thought the Fire was not talked about perhaps as much as other such football stadium disasters, he said: “It’s because we were probably not a big enough club. The disasters that have happened have all involved bigger clubs, because Bradford wasn’t a fashionable, big club at the time. We were just a third division club.”

The memory lives on:

Jackson’s career is forever linked to Bradford, his boyhood club, and Lincoln. After his playing days were over, he managed both clubs, after two spells at West Yorkshire side Huddersfield Town.

He joined the Imps with them rock bottom of the English Football League in October 2007, before leading them to safety.

It is clear that the memory of the fire stays with him to this day. He said: “You can be sat there, and something might trigger it to remind you of the fire. I never thought that when I stopped at hotels or whatever, I’d always look now for the fire escapes. I’ve always thought you can get out of fire, you can see fire and you can get out, but you can’t get out of it at times.”

Bradford City Fire, Lincoln City Wreath Laying
Lincoln City remembered the fire in a wreath laying at their final game of the 2023/24 season. Credit: Chris Vaughan/Lincoln City FC

Lincoln City, and opponents Portsmouth, laid wreaths in front of the Stacey West Stand on the final game of the 2023/24 season. The stand, which is the away end at the LNER Stadium, is named after the two Imps fans who lost their lives in the disaster.

Last year, Lincoln hosted a memorial game between the two clubs involved in the 1985 fire, raising more than £5,500 for charities in both cities.

Jackson said: “It’s so important to people still keep talking about it, because the longer it goes on the more it drips away. Next year, with the 40th anniversary coming up, that will be a big one. It was an awful day, but a day we one we should all remember.”

Feature Image Credit: Chris Vaughan/Lincoln City FC

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