11th May 1985

Another year passes.

I often wonder what the people who lost people in the fire of 1985 must feel about the anniversary when it comes around.

Not those people who are still a part of the Bradford City community. We know how they feel because they are in a position to tell us.

They write books (1, 2), and articles (1, 2, 3) and appear on Radio and Television Programmes, and create art.

Their grief is weaved into the fabric of the club and community of supporters. We – the greater Bradford City community – allow it to inform how the event is marked. Everything grows from the root of what the part of the wider Bradford City community wish for the wider community to do, or so we hope.

But I often wonder what about the person who waved goodbye to friends or family not especially caring about Bradford City or football in general and I wonder what they feel when another year passes.

I wonder how much they are involved, and how much they would want to be involved, and I wonder what effect this national event with charity record has.

All of us are touched by death in our lives and the twist of the knife comes in recollections.

When those personal tragedies are so entwined with something as prominent as a football club then I wonder how difficult it must be to escape. How painful it must be to not be able to.

Antonio Porchia postulated that if a person does not grieve then they do not exists. That it is not to keep those who have died alive that we remember them, but as a part of being ourselves. The are the sum of memories, or so the Argentine poet said, and those memories include our grief.

That is inescapable, be it thirty days, thirty weeks or thirty years.

The end of a season which asked more questions than it answered

The Team

Ben Williams | Stephen Darby, Andrew Davies, Gary Liddle, James Meredith | Christopher Routis, Tony McMahon, Billy Knott | Billy Clarke | Jon Stead, James Hanson | Matty Dolan

One could be excused for not knowing that Bradford City’s season finishes on Saturday at Crewe Alexandra such as the finality of the last home game of the season with Barnsley that saw the Bantams win by a single, excellent Jon Stead goal.

Stead hit a volley across the Tykes keeper Adam Davies and into the far side of the goal after a well floated Billy Knott cross had found the striker running deep in the penalty area. It was the type of moment of excellence that City’s season has produced sporadically and that suggested that the year that was could have been more.

Indeed next Saturday when 2014/2015 has ended and assuming a set of results The Bantams could finish the year a single place outside the play-off.

Seventh would underline the improvement of the year – Phil Parkinson will once again have improved on last year – but continues the theme of the taunting of what might have been for this team. On the final day of the season that saw City produce (some argued) that greatest shock result in history The Bantams will be playing for the chance to allow Notts County the chance to avoid relegation.

Notts County – home of Gary Jones and Garry Thompson, formerly of this Parish – played a small part in City’s season refusing to move a home game in the run up to the Reading FA Cup Quarter Final. The result was a knackered City being outplayed on the BBC which seemed to deflate the rest of the season.

Jones and Thompson and a host of other players who have been a part of City in the last four years were obviously absent from the post-game meander around the field. It was not so much a lap of honour or appreciation so much as an acknowledgement of the end of a chapter for Bradford City.

After four years of Phil Parkinson the manager had taken City to a point where the club had reached a ceiling of sorts and – with rumours of investment – contemplated which parts of its soul would be exchanged for a chance to crack that ceiling.

56

There is little to say about the observance of the minute’s silence, the singing of remembrance songs, the wearing of remembrance hoodies, the fact Roy Hodgson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke laid a wreath and so on which is apt to say in relation to the memorials for the fixty six supporters who died at Valley Parade in the fire of 1985 and who are commemorated at the final home game of the season.

People express their grief in different ways and I have spoken to a number of people who have an unease at the commercialisation and branding that has recently grown up around the tragedy as I have people who find the commemorations moving. Again People express their grief in different ways.

Martin Fletcher, for example, has channelled his grief and need for answers into a set of questions which make up a part of his work “56: The Story of the Bradford City Fire” and Fletcher has been criticised – and abused 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – for doing this. I’m not here to suggest that Fletcher is right or wrong although I am sure that he has the right to ask questions, and that asking question is the right thing.

On Saturday every ground in the country stood silent for a minute to remember for the victims of the fire of 1985. The England manager and the Head of the FA visited Valley Parade to pay respects. It was a national football event. It was the recognition which some people maintain the fire of 1985 has never had in the English football community.

Succinctly

Succinctly: It is time for the Bradford City community to step back and allow the bereaved families and friends to remember the individuals who died as they see fit.

We talk about “The Fifty Six” but to the wife that lost a husband, the son that lost a father, there is no fifty six. There is one or two or three or four with memories which need to be kept, graves that need to be tended, and years that never happened, and lives that were not lived.

We – the Bradford City community – are not involved in that and we need to recognise that.

Individuals who support Bradford City are, and often groups of individuals who support City are, and those people will go on tending graves, feeling loss, and being haunted on empty Tuesday afternoons in September regardless of the ribbon shown into the shirt or the silence at Goodison Park.

We need to recognise that.

Money

Driving away from Valley Parade on Sunbridge Road a Rolls Royce belonging the the Dorchester Hotel overtook us. The imminence of money is all around Valley Parade. Gianni Paladini, Bernie Ecclestone, Latish Mittal are reported to be in talks to buy Bradford City and to invest millions into the club starting with an eight figure sum just to buy League One players.

One side says that the deal is a long way off but other sources say that it is all but signed save creating a name plate for the honorary title that Mr Lawn will retain at the club.

Why buy Bradford City?

A list of clubs owned by people willing to sell which have shown the ability to fill Wembley Stadium is not a long one. It includes QPR – who the people who are trying to buy Bradford City own/previously owned – and a few other clubs.

There are worries about what new owners would do at the club. The worries seem to take two forms. That they might ruin the supporter base with expensive season ticket prices and that they might ruin the playing side by sacking Phil Parkinson.

On the second point it is probably worth remembering how insecure Parkinson’s job is under the current regime.

Earlier this season it seemed from the outside that Parkinson had to be dragged into apologising to board member Roger Owen after complaining about the state of the pitch. Parkinson had believed – with good reason – that the pitch was Owen’s responsibility and criticised that.

At one point I heard – and there is no guarantee of the veracity of this comment – that Parkinson had been told to apologise on pain of being held (and sacked) in breach of contract. He went home with this in mind but cooler heads prevailed and he humiliated himself with an apology the next day.

I repeat the no guarantee about this information just as there is no guarantee that the other times the the board have considered sacking Parkinson were accurate. Former players have been asked if they would be able to become Interim Managers, or so they say in private, but they could be lying.

Without winning

Bradford City’s have had spells under Parkinson where wins have been impossible to come by. When City went twelve games without winning in 2014 there was no full throated support from the boardroom to dispell the rumours that clouded Parkinson’s future.

There was uncertainty at a boardroom level – at least perceptually – and while it would be far from me to suggest that new owners would behave any different it is important not to idealise the current regime (not a problem I have) or forget how quickly things turned to see the exit of Peter Jackson, for example, or the situation at the club under Peter Taylor which Shane Duff reported as a picture of a manager undermined.

Worry about Parkinson’s job position under new ownership if you will, but if there is no takeover then worry about him under the current board too. The Devil you know might be better than the Devil you don’t, but they are both still Devils.

Bradford City are not so much managerially stable as they are successful. When Parkinson’s stock is low he beats Arsenal, or Chelsea, and it rises again. You can call this stable if you want but to do so is to ignore the meaning of the word as it is used in football.

If one were to buy Bradford City then chief in its assets would be Phil Parkinson and so removing him would seem counter-productive.

Were one to buy a League One club and look for the best manager available then Parkinson would be high on one’s shortlist anyway. It is not for me to ventriloquize Paladini but why buy Bradford City and sack Phil Parkinson? When looking at Bradford City’s structure or a vision on the field what else are you buying into?

Season ticket prices

Likewise if one were to buy Bradford City because of the support then why damage that with increasing season ticket prices? The current pricing structure has allowed for an increase in permanent support and the ability for City fans who are not taxed by massive home season ticket prices to spend more travelling away.

The broadness of City’s support which is not exclusive of people on lower incomes, nor the young, has given a lively and exciting fanbase. Why buy Bradford City if they intended to damage the support base?

One could increase prices per person with the drop in attendance and increase revenues in the short term but one risks decreasing numbers, (audio) volume and support levels to the point where City stop being an attractive club to buy.

Double season ticket prices and one might as well buy the comfortable few of Chesterfield, or the tidy support of Doncaster Rovers.

Sitting Bull

Phil Parkinson has ended a season having won plaudits on one hand, and been bullied on the other. In my hand I do not have a season ticket renewal form which – had it been issued around the time City were plastered over every newspaper in the World for beating Chelsea – would have guaranteed that the new owners would host 2015/2016 at 2014/2015 prices and probably been very well subscribed as a result.

This would have secured the impressive supporter base secured for another season. We hear constantly how the current boardroom act as custodians for the club but that does not extend to committing new owners to honouring the (good) practices in place for supporters at the moment, or so it might seem.

Bradford City has two assets: Phil Parkinson and the supporters; only bad business would change these on a whim.

The season ends, the season begins

Gary Liddle played well covering Rory McArdle in the centre of defence against an aggressive Barnsley attacking line up but his relocation from holding midfield seemed to highlight the problem of the season and why in a year of dizzying heights the Bantams end up firmly in the middle.

Liddle shifted out, Christopher Routis in midfield, Tony McMahon in the holding position, Billy Clarke in the role earmarked for Mark Yeates, Mark Yeates nowhere to be seen. The method of Phil Parkinson’s success is in character and – simply put – he does not have enough character to go around.

Rightly – in my opinion – Parkinson would rather play someone with good character out of position than give a shirt to someone who he believes does not have the mentality he is looking for.

Christopher Routis is the prime example. Often poor but also willing he goes his place because – to paraphrase – a better man than he is a footballer. With players out of contract in the summer the question that Routis poises (and he is by no means a great leader) is key.

How does Parkinson assemble a squad with both character and capabilities? What value do you put on each? Andrew Davies has both only plays two thirds of the season. Jon Stead has both but only for two thirds of the season and at other times his character goes missing. Should both be given contracts? Should either?

All season there has been an issue with players outside the match day squad struggling without Reserve football to engage them. Players who are decent enough when in the side are not options when in the squad.

The poster boy for this is Jason Kennedy who will leave City in the summer and look back at his time before Filipe Morais’ second half against Halifax Town as being his best while at the club. As soon as Morais started to play regularly and Kennedy stopped having games to play in it seemed obvious who should be selected and who should not be but it is easy to forget just how rusty players like Morais, like Francios Zoko, like Oli McBurnie become without Reserve team football to play.

Whatever reason there is for not entering a second string side into a Reserve League must be balanced against the impact it has on the fringe players of the squad. At the moment City can maintain around fifteen or sixteen players who can be called on to play and – tired legs, injuries and suspensions being what they are – that has proved too little to mount a promotion challenge.

The squad needs a depth of quality but – at the moment – the fitness of players outside the match day squad cannot be maintained and even when it can large squad beget their own problems with players too far away from a starting shirt to keep motivation and bad character creeping in.

If – as talked about – there is an influx of money into the club in the summer these questions become easier when answered by the fundamental questions remain unchanged. How to keep a squad of 22 players happy, and at peak fitness, and all getting on with each other. City and Phil Parkinson are nearly there and have been there at times this season, and over the last few years.

Get that right next year and – money or not – the end of season would be more than a 1-0 win over Barnsley.

Sir Oliver Popplewell, Bradford, Liverpool, Hillsborough and the obstructions to moving on

I was sitting in the back row of the old wooden stand on that fateful May afternoon. Four years later, when Hillsborough was the scene of the next football disaster, I was living in South Yorkshire. In 2004, while I was researching what became ‘Four Minutes to Hell’, I spent a number of days in a room at Bradford University reading the original papers from the Popplewell enquiry and even corresponded briefly with the (by then) retired judge about using quotes from his 2003 book ‘Benchmark’. I moved from Yorkshire to sit as a judge and by now I have lived on Merseyside for the best part of seventeen years. So I suppose it was inevitable that I would get the media phone calls.

For those who haven’t read the letter from Sir Oliver Popplewell, published in The Times on Wednesday of this week, it can be summarised as praising the dignity and courage shown by the citizens of Bradford in 1985 and asking whether there is ‘a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners.’ Crucially, Sir Oliver uses a short phrase about those of us involved in the fire, to sum up what the lesson might be; he says we ‘moved on’. There is no way to exaggerate the effect those two words have had on so many people in this part of the world.

I was asked several times to comment on what he had written. Some of my comments were used as sound bites, others given a little more air time. But I always feel happier writing than speaking, not least because I can re-read what I write, whereas I can never pull the spoken words back into my mouth to re-arrange them. So here is what I did say to various media outlets, except this time it’s better constructed.

I was proud to see again Sir Oliver expressing his opinion on the city where I grew up. I had read it before, both in his report and his book, but we don’t get too many compliments of that sort these days, so it’s always good to read one. Letters to newspapers are often reduced, sometimes vastly, to the point where the author may wish he’d never sent it. Perhaps that happened to Sir Oliver. I don’t know. ‘Moving on’ is a risky phrase to use in these circumstances. Making such a direct comparison between two disasters also has its problems. Valley Parade and Hillsborough are different, but not just because one was a fire and the other a crushing. Valley Parade is unique as the only football disaster in this country where the fatalities were caused by fire. Hillsborough followed Burnden Park and Ibrox, either of which might have been a more relevant comparison.

The essential difference is in the immediate aftermath. There was one reporter, whose words I will not dignify by naming either him or his newspaper, who insisted that he ‘knew’ that the fire had been started by a smoke bomb, an act of vandalism so common in football grounds of that era. There were other reporters who intruded into the recovery of hospital patients, even to the extent of erecting ladders so they could look through first floor windows. But by and large the press was not a problem.

The most significant difference was in the way the enquiry was conducted. Sir Oliver heard the evidence he needed to hear within little more than a month after the fire and produced his first report within another month. The reason he could do all this is familiar to those of us accustomed to the way courts work. You only go in detail into the evidence that is disputed. Hardly any evidence was disputed after the fire, although there were disagreements about what inferences should be drawn from the admitted facts. In particular, Stafford Heginbotham, the club chairman at the time, admitted publicly all the things that might have been done better or more quickly. The experts and the other witnesses made it easy for Sir Oliver to conclude that the fire had been caused accidentally. It was equally straightforward for Mr Justice Cantley to conclude the proceedings in the civil courts, which resulted in the payment of damages, and for the Coroner to hold a fairly non-controversial inquest.

Within a few weeks most of us felt we knew what there was to know, that such blame as there was had been apportioned and that we could now look to the future and decide how to ‘move on’. Moving on is a very difficult phrase. First and foremost, it quite decidedly does not mean ‘forgetting’. We will never forget. It seems to me it involves finding a way of going about our day-to-day lives without allowing the events of 1985 to intrude unnecessarily or inappropriately. They will come back – and very sharply – at the most unexpected moments. I remember sitting one day in 1999 or thereabouts in a courtroom in Liverpool. There was some work being done outside to a building with a flat roof. Bitumen was being heated to apply to the roof. The smell took me right back to that melting bitumen on that Saturday afternoon. I took over another courtroom.

So ‘moving on’ is not an exact science. It means different things to each of us. Some, I know, cope with the fire only by blanking it out. Others feel better for talking about it. But most of us in our personal and individual ways have ‘moved on’ since 1985. We were given the opportunity to do so because we felt that we knew what had happened. We need not go back over past events to discover the truth. We could draw a line and were given the chance to look to the future. In the more modern parlance, we had closure.

Hillsborough is just not like that and therein the essential difference (and the problems with Sir Oliver’s letter) lies.

Lord Justice Taylor’s enquiry took much longer. There were no clear cut admissions; the evidence had to be gone into in greater detail. He made his findings, particularly about the inadequacies of the policing on that afternoon, but the families of the deceased were not satisfied that they had discovered the whole truth. It became clear, for example, that the senior officer, David Duckinfield had at one time said the gate was forced and later accepted that he had given the order for it to be opened. Duckinfield and his immediate junior, Bernard Murray, were the defendants in a private prosecution, which was halted on the grounds of Duckinfield’s health. But by this time the families had evidence that the police had not told the whole truth.

They also had to face ‘The Truth’ from another source, a headline in The Sun, a newspaper which many shops in Liverpool refuse to sell to this very day. Unnamed sources made claims of disgraceful actions on the part of some supporters. That particular obloquy remains the subject of another campaign, still in the news this week.

Sir Oliver’s letter was, of course, published because of its newsworthiness, following close on the debate in Parliament about the pending release of further papers. But it is the very release of those papers that ensures that the Hillsborough families will not be ‘moving on’ just yet.

Twenty two years later, they do not feel they have heard all there is to hear about why those fans died. Despite the detail of the Taylor report, they do not believe that blame has been fully and finally apportioned. They do not believe they have been told the whole truth. They do not believe they can draw a line. They do not believe they have been given the opportunity to look to the future, to ‘move on’ in their individual ways.

When the documents are released next year, they may be given that opportunity. They may, however, still feel that they have not been told the whole truth, that blame still has not been properly apportioned and that their campaign for ‘Justice for the 96’ must continue. If that is the case, they will still be unable to ‘move on’, which will be even more sad. I can only say that it took me and, I’m sure, many others at Valley Parade a very long time to reach an accommodation with the events of that day. We had the benefit of being able to start on that process quite quickly and yet it still took many of us half a lifetime to make such progress. You have to feel sorry for those who, so long after their own loss, still have not been able even to begin that process.

The Hillsborough families will be given the opportunity to ‘move on’ only when they are satisfied that they know the whole truth. I hope that day arrives soon for them.


Retired Judge Paul Firth is the author of Four Minutes to Hell which presents the details of the fire of 1985.

A reminder, if one were needed

‘Abide with me’ was sung softy. It was a beautiful moment. Until then those gathered to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the Valley Parade fire had kept their emotions in check.

We had muttered and mumbled through the prayers. But, as the words ‘shine through the gloom and point me to the skes’ drifted gently among us eyes were dabbed and tears blinked back.

A reminder, if one were needed, that Bradford City leaving Valley Parade is not merely a mathematical formula.

You cannot buy emotion and attachment. Opposition to a move away from Valley Parade has, thus far, been relatively muted. However, should an abandonment become a real prospect there is bound to be an emotionally charged campaign against it.

Valley Parade is not just a collection of tin clad stands. Although its ownership can be bought and sold, the soul of Valley Parade belongs to the people of Bradford and this Bradfordian is not willing to give it up without a fight.

Mortality

Twenty five years ago I was a twenty one year old heading into town to drink and enjoy City’s championship season. A few hours later I was being dragged over the stand wall by the hood of my coat in a frantic scramble to stay alive.

The twenty fifth anniversary of the Valley Parade fire was always going to be different. For those of us who have become accustomed to the communal commemorations, when bereaved families, civic dignitaries, footballers and supporters stand in an informal huddle, the huge covered stand, packed with invited guests, was a culture shock. It could have become a metaphor for the day – the twenty fifth anniversary overshadowing the tragedy. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and the event managed to strike the right balance between civic occasion and communal commemoration.

As 11am approached a sea of silent and still faces looked on from Centenary Square. The only movement came from the lenses of the media. Perpetual motion. Hunting for tears. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was passion and energy personified. He roused the crowd and even managed to crack a joke. As always we half-heartedly sang You’ll Never Walk Alone, which, despite the links to the fund raising efforts, is still Liverpool’s song. However, Abide With Me was blasted out with some gusto; perhaps at last we have found a song suitable for the anniversary? Something for the club to ponder for the last match of next season. The one thing I would change from the commemoration would be a speaker talking briefly about what the disaster meant for the supporters and people of Bradford. As someone commented, ‘there was a lot of God’.

Our small, but much loved, memorial, given to us by the people of Hamm, was surrounded by a sea of flowers. Many of the families paused to touch the names of their loved ones, briefly closing the space between the living and the dead. The dignitaries placed the official wreaths and then jerkily nodded their heads to show their respect. A police officer saluted. If the official wreath laying has an air of the Cenotaph about it, the flood of ordinary people, dressed in everything from formal suits to ill fitting jeans, always has a slightly chaotic, but solemn air. The emotion is raw, despite the lengthening years.

The official ceremony done, the Square became a place of meetings. Hands shaken and quiet words exchanged. It’s not long before the football fan in us is spotting Chris Kamara, John Hawley, Stuart McCall, et al. It was pleasing to see the current team in attendance, many of whom would not have even been born when the fire engulfed Valley Parade. Among the crowd was Julian Rhodes, as ever shunning the limelight, happier chatting with the friends and fans alike. This year the numbers attending the memorial precluded the usual teas and biscuits in the Town Hall. Instead a large marquee had been set up where Council staff handed out warming cups of tea and coffee. A number of Bradford’s re-elected, and newly elected, MPs had swapped the political intrigues of London for the anniversary. The Liberal-Democrat David Ward, newly elected to Bradford East, had every excuse not to be in Bradford, yet there he was, though he did have en eye on the Town Hall clock as he was booked on the 12.30 train back to Westminster and the coalition negotiations. The Labour duo Gerry Sutcliffe and Marsha Singh seemed, understandably, to be in no great rush to return to the capital.

At ten to three a much smaller gathering stood at the junction of Hamm Strasse and Manningham Lane. There the Lord Mayor’s of Bradford and Hamm rededicated the road Hamm Strasse. It was named in recognition of the support our German twin town gave us in our hour of need. Previously, the reason for the naming was carried on two small signs on the railings. It was decided that the twenty fifth anniversary was a great opportunity to rededicate the road and reinforce the links between Bradford and Hamm. There has been some misunderstanding about the stone marker, indeed one fan asked me why Lincoln’s civic crest wasn’t on the marker? The answer is fairly simple, the stone is not designed to be another memorial to the victims of the fire, it is there as a reminder of the links forged in the wake of the disaster and in particular the support of the people of Hamm.

At 3pm around one hundred people gathered around the memorial at Valley Parade itself. In probably the most touching part of the entire day the names of the fifty six fans were read out. Then people were invited to take fifty six flowers into the ground. Valley Parade was still and silent as 3.40pm, the time the fire broke out, approached. Only the rain pattering on the stand roofs disturbed the silence. A number of people sat alone with their thoughts as the exact time of the anniversary approached. One person even relived his journey to safety as he stepped over seats and made his way slowly towards the pitch. I stood in almost the exact spot I had been in twenty five years previously. I was in the old Paddock mere feet from the base of the fire. I remembered the smoke, the first flames and then the horror of those few terrible minutes. I stood and watched the ghost of my past make its way to the front wall. Stuck helpless, a hand reached up and pulled me over the front wall where I landed head first on the pitchside. From there I jogged across the pitch, looking back to see a wall of smoke and flame driving thousands before it. It was in that moment that I realised that not everyone was going to get out.

I will be seventy one when the fiftieth anniversary comes around. Nearly half the victims of the fire were over seventy years of age. I wonder whether I will be still making my way up Manningham Lane to Valley Parade at such an age? How many of us will be gathered around the memorial on 11 May 2035? Your own mortality is sobering stuff, but inevitable on a day like today.

The Unknown Hero

No reader of BfB needs to be urged to ‘remember’.

There is by now a whole generation too young to have a memory of 1985. They can still pay their respects and most do.

Among those of us who have the clearest of memories, some would prefer to forget, but cannot. Others can contain the emotions that their memories evoke; some are less good at controlling those emotions.

Some are very private about their memories. Others share them more publicly. Emotions are like memories in that respect. Gone are the days when grown men were not allowed to cry in public. But it isn’t compulsory. Occasionally we just can’t help it.

There are so many sad memories that some of us need something more positive to act as a counterweight. And, just as we keep reading about how many people know so little of the events of that day, this year one of the most positive acts will be touched on in two television programmes.

Excellent as Football Focus was, the only detailed reference so far to real heroism came in the Gabby Logan radio programme. That gentle hero will be seen on both local television news programmes on Tuesday evening. I am privileged to have got to know him and to count him as a friend.

He won’t like my writing this, but he’ll understand. I’ve written about him at length before and I’ve told anyone who wants to listen that he is the only true hero I know. He will share his memories with you, if someone asks him, but he won’t volunteer. He’s far too modest for that.

But if it wasn’t for people like him, many more than 56 people would have lost their lives. One young man in particular will be seen with him and will, I’m sure, express again his eternal gratitude for that bravery.

At some time on Tuesday I shall shake his hand again, the hand that David Sharpe put back together. We might even give each other a hug, although I’m always afraid I will crush the still slight frame. He will go on telling me that ‘anyone would have done the same’ in that stand and it will be the only time I don’t believe him.

He will be somewhere in that crowd in Centenary Square, not a Very Important Person. I shall not even give you his name or a description, because he wouldn’t want the fuss, not on that morning. When you’ve seen him on television in the evening, the day of remembrance will be almost over. In a year’s time he’ll expect to be forgotten by the great majority of those who ‘remember’.

He knows a few of us need no reminding. He is never forgotten by those who know what he did. Those less fortunate, those who do not know him, may prefer to think of him as the Unknown Hero, as a symbol of all that is best from that dreadful afternoon. I find it helps get me through the day to know that he was there and that, amidst all that sorrow, his bravery shows there are a few moments that display the human spirit at its very best.

Now that really is someone worth respecting.

A happy ending of sorts

Who would have believed, as we trooped out of Valley Parade despondently on Easter Monday, that the 2-1 reverse to Macclesfield we’d just endured would turn out to be the last defeat of the season?

That evening anger and frustration were the overriding emotions as the season was seemingly petering out towards a worst league finish since 1966, with a squad decimated by injuries looking increasingly disinterested. But instead the final six games have produced the second-best results sequence of the campaign, offering genuine grounds to feel optimistic about the next one.

Of course we’ve been here before. Strong ends to the season, after promotion hopes were long since dashed, are far from unusual in recent years. And the praise directed at the players now is somewhat tempered by the fact that, when it really mattered earlier in the campaign, they failed to deliver the goods. But still, the way we felt after Macclesfield were clumsily allowed to record that Easter Monday victory is a reminder that players showing little pride in wearing your club’s shirt is one of the most unforgivable crimes they can inflict.

City were comfortable winners at Gresty Road today in an encounter which had nothing riding on it, but that’s not been the case during other impressive recent results. Various League Two clubs entering the closing stages of the campaign still biting their nails have received little but misery from a seemingly guaranteed three pointer with the mid-table Bantams. The good run has left City in a final position of 14th – still a bitterly disappointing under-performance for a club with the resources to do better, but it could have ended much worse than this.

Ryan Kendall – brought on as sub in the first half due to an injury to Gareth Evans – got the only goal of the game mid-way through the second half after a quickly-taken free kick from Michael Flynn afforded the on-loan Hull teenager time and space to fire a low shoot past on-rushing home keeper Adam Legzdins.

But it could easily have been a more comfortable away win. Flynn had forced an excellent first-half reaction stop out of Legzdins; Robbie Threlfall’s long-range effort was too straight to beat the Alex stopper; Adam Bolder’s header was deflected over shortly after half time; Flynn’s low shot from a well-worked corner was blocked soon after City had gone a goal up; Kendall twice should have hit the target with close range half-volleys which he fired over.

Crewe were not without their chances, a free kick just after half time was tipped onto the crossbar by Jon McLaughlin and, seconds after City scored, Calvin Zola had an effort disallowed; but the visitors carried the greater vigour and work rate throughout. The approach play from the Bantams was generally impressive, though a lack of players willing to support Evans/Kendall in the penalty area often meant good passing moves broke down. And with the back four in excellent form – Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams especially solid – a late equaliser never looked likely.

It was a performance similar in approach and overall standards to the previous four. The six-game unbeaten end to the season began unpromisingly with a poor performance at Burton Albion. The point picked up was almost entirely due to an inspired performance from McLaughlin, who was brought in for Glennon, and who kept up his form to the final whistle at Crewe.

No one has had a more purposeful end to the season than the former Harrogate Railway stopper. A year ago on the last day he started at Chesterfield almost as a token gesture. Despite largely playing second fiddle to unconvincing keepers from Huddersfield, he ends this season in pole position to be number one for the next campaign.

And another meaningful moment that day was what initially seemed disappointing news. On-loan Luke Oliver, scorer at the Perelli Stadium, was recalled by Wycombe as the team travelled home. But with the giant defender having been converted to giant striker due to injuries, his leaving turned out to be a blessing in disguise. No longer could City hit the ball directly to a tall frontman in a depressingly ugly style, suddenly they had to play football.

Against Morecambe a few days later Peter Taylor employed a 4-3-3 formation that relied on wide players Gavin Grant and Leon Osborne supporting Evans, and the subsequent success has been significant. All three have shown a great level of work-rate, and the movement has caused opposition defences problems. Evans has recaptured early season form, benefiting from increased faith in his striker prowess, instead of being asked to play as a wide midfielder, and might have equalled injured top scorer James Hanson’s haul but for that early injury today.

For Grant and Osborne, who had yet to convince supporters of their worth, it’s been an especially good period. Grant looks a promising proposition who Taylor will likely sign permanently this summer, while Osborne is showing potential and had arguably his best game yet for the Bantams at Gresty Road. Meanwhile the midfield has began to pass the ball around patiently on the deck again in recent weeks, with Bolder recapturing his form and Lee Bullock and Flynn enjoying strong ends to the season.

The scorer of the first goal against Morecambe was Rehman, who had his name booed when it was read out before kick off. City’s captain has also rediscovered his form and looked excellent over the last few weeks, including when asked to play the less comfortable role of right back. Back in the centre today with Matt Clarke gone, he barely put a foot wrong recovering from his only obvious mistake to retain possession when it appeared he’d overrun it. Taylor has arrived at City with a reputation for employing dour tactics, but the freedom Rehman and Williams have been afforded to play the ball out of defence is a long way removed from the row Z approach League Two is known for.

All of which has helped City end the season looking more of a cohesive unit than they have all season. And what’s really encouraging for the 2010/11 campaign is that most of the players appear to be staying. While there has been calls for a culling of the squad, the good work Stuart McCall had initiated is being continued and developed.

Sure, there are positions Taylor needs to strengthen this summer and the lack of depth has been shown to be a problem all season, but the nucleus of a good side is already here and the immediate priority has to be securing the signatures of Flynn, Simon Ramsden, Bullock and others to maintain it for the next campaign.

Is it a good enough squad to build from? The table shows a big improvement is needed next season, but the 62 points the Bantams ended with is only five less than last season. Not a bad return considering the playing budget was slashed by a third.

As the final whistle blew, the players, subs and management walked over to applaud the travelling fans with great gusto, and in return received a warm reception. There was a real bond between players and supporters, exemplified by Flynn’s example; and even though things haven’t worked out this year, the signs are the players genuinely do care about playing for Bradford City.

We’ve seen the opposite when seasons have tailed off badly, and we know how horrible it feels to know the players you’re cheering on couldn’t care less about your club. The last six games might not have involved anything to play for, but at least the current crop have shown playing for City still matters to them.

But the final word should go to the away support. Some 700+ City fans travelled to Crewefor a fourth division game with nothing riding on the result. The atmosphere, from the pre-match pub sing-along to applauding the players off the pitch at full time, was outstanding. On the day Mark Lawn publicly declared cheap season ticket deals are over and questioned whether the Bradford public had the appetite for watching affordable professional football, he and others should keep in mind the strong hardcore of support this club enjoys and ensure efforts are concentrated on maintaining and building it. Rather than solely worrying about floating supporters who cannot be relied upon when the chips are really down.

During the final 20 minutes, almost everyone joined in the continuous chanting of “We’ll always remember – the 56.” It was hugely moving, bringing tears to some supporters’ eyes and immense pride in everyone.There may not be a great deal to remember about this season, but at least we can be proud of the manner we’ve remembered our past.

Remember

“Remember” it said on the t-shirt that arced from the arm of a Northampton Town supporters at the young Bradford City fans who stood in front of them, taunting them, jeering at them.

“Remember” is what on the t-shirt of the man who jogged back towards the Kop moving with only a little pace past a father – one assumes – who took a photo of his daughter in front of the goal posts.

“Remember” is what it said on the shirts of the men who walked back behind the cordon of yellow high-vis jacketed stewards who would separate supporters from players as the team walked a lap of appreciation. Unlike the young people described in not too favourable terms elsewhere who charged the length of the field to and from the visiting fans these men walked back calmly, casually, arrogantly.

“Remember” it said on the t-shirts of the people who had remained in the stands and watched events on the field -a shameful ten minutes in the history of Bradford City where visiting fans were subject to utterly needless abuse – and they might have wondered why after years of watching this wretched ritual of misbehaviour that happens after the home game of every single season why the club are so lax on the offenders.

During the week, before the game, during the pitch invasion there were warnings about the legality of invading the pitch and the possibility of lifetime bands. Still, we know Mark Lawn’s thoughts on yobbishness and we know that he will pursue the people who invaded the pitch with the same vigour and promise of life bans that he did people who attacked his car. The Accrington Stanley car park might not have good CCV but the Valley Parade pitch does and a good hundred people could not see inside the ground again, with every justification.

Because “Remember” is not just a word, a word on a t-shirt, a word to talk about the people who died in the Bradford City fire and in a way it never should be. No one effected by 11th of May 1985 needs a t-shirt – no matter how well meaning – to tell them to remember.

“Remember” is a message. A message which rings through from a different age of football supporting where yobbishness was the plague of the age and football fans were penned in behind high fences to prevent them from getting onto the field in celebration, in exuberance, in emergencies.

“Remember” is a requirement for anyone who lived through the 1980s when at Valley Parade, at Birmingham, at Heysel, at Hillsborough, at Furiani to pass on.

“Remember” why it is easy to step from the Kop at Valley Parade onto the field, remember what would have happened twenty five years ago if it had not been. Remember what did happen and remember how the game changed to try ensure that people could go to football matches in safety.

Football changed after the 1980s and supporters were afforded – at long last – a respect that they were not a part of a homogeneous whole of misbehaviour. That happened so that facilities were improved, that safety was improved, that fans were not assumed to be animals to be caged in shoddy, dangerous environments and it happened because supporters and clubs made it clear that the behaviour that had taken use that point could no longer be tolerated.

Ultimately the offence on Saturday was not a sullying of the day where this club was supposed to remember it was a realisation that to some people – the people who invaded the pitch and not just those who taunted the visitors but the dad and his daughter and similar – “Remember” was just a word, hollow and meaningless.

If it is worth the football community – as opposed to the families – remember the fifty six people who died at Valley Parade then it is worth doing it in the context of how we make sure the circumstances that brought it about never occur again.

By bringing closer a situation where you and me when going to a game are less people and more crowds, are less individuals and more a mob, are less who we are more who they were then another Bradford or another Hillsborough becomes more likely.

That is what the people on the field needed to remember. The things these criminals did when they invaded the field was not just an insult to the people who did lose their lives twenty five years ago, they made it more likely that a loss of life at football will happen to fans again.

Disrespectful idiots have no place at our Football Club

It started off as a day of remembrance.

At 7am – with many other City supporters – I was ever the eager fan who logged on to the Bradford City website to look at the new home strip for next season, a season which brings such promise.

Under the guidance of Peter Taylor, I’m sure that he will bring in more players of the good calibre over the summer and something to build on his already amazing start.

Later in the day watching the reflections on the twenty five year anniversary of the fire of 1985 on Football Focus I was reduced to tears, in remembering those hallowed days of 1985, with pictures I thought I would never ever see again.

The whole sombre mood was put across so eloquently by the BBC.

At the ground the brass band in the middle of the pitch, You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick off and a minutes silence set a mood. We won, 2-0, and the goals were exceptional.

However there were bad things to come and the whole mood was spoilt.

The highlight of this day would be to see the team do their lap of honour at the end of the game. Honour, such a fitting word for such a fitting day.

Come the final whistle, mindless idiots stormed the pitch from the Bradford City stands and ran to the visiting Northampton supporters, shaking their fists at them, taunting them.

Little kids and grown men alike, all stood on our hallowed turf shaking their fists at people, showing total disrespect to the 56 that died twenty five years ago.

They aren’t fans, they are disrespectful brainless idiots and have no place at our Football Club.

Bradford City Fire Disaster – Anniversary Service of Remembrance at Cathedral

Bradford Cathedral, in collaboration with the Football Club, is marking the 25th anniversary of the Bradford Fire with a special Service of Remembrance to be attended by the Lord Mayors of Bradford and Hamm, members of the team’s management and players, and other invited guests. The Cathedral will also be open from 8.30am until 5.30pm – with a candle under the memorial plaque in the North Transept – for anyone wishing to spend quiet time in prayer. A tenor bell will be tolled at 3.40pm, the time the fire was first noticed, and a half-muffled peal will be rung before the service which starts at 7.30pm.

The Dean, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, will lead the service which has been arranged to complement the big public memorial event being held in the morning in Centenary Square. This service will provide a quieter opportunity to remember, including the lighting of 57 candles – 56 to remember each person who died as a result of the fire, and one for all those injured, in body or mind, on that terrible day.

David Markham, the T&A reporter who was there on the day with his two sons, will talk about his personal experience of the day and Ben Miranda will speak about the achievements and aspirations of the Burns Unit.

All are welcome, for more details please contact the Cathedral Office on 01274 777720.

In no mood to speak as City go to Macclesfield

The week had started with a chatter around BfB with articles upon articles about the sending off of Lee Bullock last weekend, about the game in which he was sent off when the Bantams beat Hereford, about the stewarding of the game and on to suspensions and how they work and Leeds and what is going on there.

It was like old times, a little too like old times, and thus it arrived in the form of US Sports Academy in Alabama and an obnoxious report. Mark Lawn speaks for us all saying

“If they want to mention the fire and quote what actually happened then by all means do, but to connect it with hooligans is wrong and for him to actually do that is derogatory to the people who lost their lives.”

What is to be done about such massive mis-representation. The Bantams supporters simply do not have the numbers of Liverpool supporters who so often find themselves in similar situations and cannot mount the boycotts and rapid responses. People write the odd letter and they fire off emails and they are right to do so but unlike the Comeuppance Steve Cohen had visited on him we will never cause a quake that can shake financially and so are left to appeal to whatever good nature might be found in places like Sport Journal.

Mis-representation then that sours a week and very little in the way of a solution aside from this suggestion. Misinformation in the form of the Sport Journal or When Good Times Go Bad 3 is not going to go away nor will the clips be removed from You Tube and the likes. They will not be removed but misinformation can be competed with and better with information.

Information similar to Paul Firth’s book on the subject – well researched, truthful, honest – which stands in competition to the misinformation to allow those curious to find that truth. The club could do this but better that it works with supporters – the same supporters who are rightly activated and appalled by events like this week – to create a web resource of information for those who want to know the truth and put right shocking, shameful, disgusting lies.

So to Macclesfield and the mood is soured. The Bantams are looking to build on last week’s hard win despite the absence of the suspended Bullock who will be replaced by James O’Brien who signed a new 18 month deal with the Bantams following three months of excellent play after his arrival from Birmingham City while Chris Brandon – who is said to be keen to press his abilities in central midfield – will make a three with O’Brien and Michael Flynn.

The midfield three will have Scott Neilson dropping back from a three up front to join in with James Hanson and Gareth Evans – who faces the club that he credits with turning around his career after his release from Manchester United – in the forward line.

Jonathan Bateson will retain his place at right back with Simon Ramsden still injured. Zesh Rehman and Steve Williams are in the middle and Luke O’Brien at left back. Simon Eastwood is in goal.

Maintaining dignity

It came to me as I played with a new phone on the way back from a gig on Friday night: “Have you seen this: It is unbelievable.”

It was the jigsaw, of course, it is stunningly crass for all the reasons that everyone would think it is and it is probably a good thing that Amazon.co.uk have withdrawn it from sale.

Likewise YouTube – owned by Google – withdraw the video of the 11th of May, 1985 when they are asked to and when it is posted and when it is posted it sometimes comes with off colour comments or voiceover. Fox TV sanctioned this with When Good Times Go Bad 3 some years ago. They got the footage from the Fire Brigade who got it from Yorkshire Television who kept it “under lock and key” until such a time when Granada bought the safe.

YTV’s inability to maintain a cordon around the footage was prescient of the post-Internet age ownership of media rights and the continued misappropriation and reuse of the 11th of May, 1985 footage – appropriated to being a jigsaw in this instance – is a part of that problem. In a media world where a mass of people believing they have the right to download an album of someone else’s work or a movie someone else has made and use/keep it without paying a pay a penny how does one instil a sense of ownership of an image or of some footage or of the grief that accompanies that? Appeals to good decency are almost always met with the same response from Fox, from Diaddora who used the footage in an advert, from people selling on eBay and probably from Amazon.
“We are sorry, we did not know you would be offended.”

Bradford has no organisation to swing behind it in the that Liverpool supporters do. One could argue that we do not need it with our tragadies not being the subject of inter-club rivary as Hillsbrough is but the fact that we also lack the boycotting power means we are – for want of a better phrase – ignorable.

The Sun still suffers with sales in Liverpool, as far as anyone can tell The Daily Star does not suffer similarly in Bradford. One would think that tragedy was treated even handedly but this is not the case.

However one doubts the people from Bradford and Lincoln who lost loved ones and the wider communities would like to live with the constancy of reminders about Hillsborough. The fire of 11th May, 1985 has always been more local, more individual, more Bradford.

The infrequency of the transgressions such as the jigsaw is regrettable but it is infrequent. Our riposte as a community – take a lead from the praise given to the families involved and the people of Bradford by Justice Popplewell – is to meet these situations which are sadly inevitable with a dignity, brushing off the debris of people who would seek to profit financially, or chillingly in enjoyment, from the fire.

Maintain dignity. A dignity that cannot be tarnished by this or a thousand assaults such as this.

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