Firefighters lay wreaths to mark anniversary of Valley Parade disaster

Firefighters today pledged to never forget the football fans who died 38 years ago in a devastating fire at Valley Parade.

Station Commander Dave Cookson laying wreath at Bradford City Hall

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) laid a wreath this morning at Bradford City Football Club to remember the 54 Bradford City supporters and two travelling Lincoln fans who died in the fire on May 11, 1985.

Firefighters then joined dignitaries and the families of those who had lost their lives to lay wreaths at a service in Bradford’s Centenary Square.

Dave Cookson, Assistant District Commander Bradford, was at the memorial event and said the incident is one that will never be forgotten by the service.“A crew from Bradford Fire Station and I were at the ground this morning to lay the first wreath on behalf of those firefighters who attended on the day, as well as those who are now responsible for present day attendances at the club,” he said. “None of them will ever forget that day and it is important to take this time to remember those who lost their lives.

“At Centenary Square we came together with others to not only honour those who died, but also the people that are still affected by the tragic events of that day. There was also a party from Lincoln, who attend every year, as when they talk about the 56 who lost their lives that includes two Lincoln fans - it is just as important that they are never forgotten.”

On the day of the fire, Bradford City were celebrating their promotion as league champions, at the final game of the season. Just before half time a small fire broke out in the main stand but very quickly spread at roof level, with the heat radiating down into the spectator areas.

The fire spread so quickly that many people could not make it out of the stand in time. As a result of the fire, all stadiums are now subject to legal changes regarding construction that would have a different outcome from the effect of fire.
ADC Cookson said: “This was the last time I am going to lay the wreath on behalf of the fire service, as I retire in July, and I am just glad I had the opportunity and honour at what is always an emotional event. Even though it is 38 years since the fire, the memories and feelings for many are still raw, and it is just as important now as it ever has been to remember what happened on that tragic day.”

The memorial service today to mark the 38th anniversary of the Valley Parade fire disaster was jointly run by Bradford City AFC and Bradford Metropolitan District Council.
It took place at 11am in Centenary Square, Bradford, by the Bradford City Fire Memorial - the second such physical service since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attendees included relatives and friends of the 56 people who lost their lives and were affected, as well as club and council officials and members of the public.

The Lord Mayor of Bradford, Cllr Martin Love, hosted a Civic Party from Lincoln. They attended the service together, alongside Bradford City manager Mark Hughes and City’s first-team players and staff. Representatives from Lincoln City, the club playing against Bradford City that fateful day, also attended, as did the family of the late Professor David Sharpe OBE, founder of the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, following his death last month.

The Act of Commemoration began with 'Abide with Me' and 'You'll Never Walk Alone', as the City Hall clock bells tolled, with the service conducted by the Dean of Bradford, The Very Reverend Andy Bowerman.

He was assisted by Bradford City AFC club chaplain, Pastor Oliver Evans, while a blessing was given by the Right Reverend Toby Howarth, Bishop of Bradford.

The Lord-Lieutenant laid a wreath on behalf of His Majesty, The King, followed by Cllr Martin Love on behalf of the City and district, and chief executive officer Ryan Sparks on behalf of Bradford City AFC.

Wreaths were also be laid by the High Sheriff, the Mayor of Lincoln, representatives of Lincoln City FC, Professor Ajay Mahajan on behalf of Bradford's Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, bereaved families, and representatives of the emergency services. Once these wreaths were laid, others who wished to lay their own wreaths or floral tributes were encouraged to do so.

Bradford City were playing Lincoln City in their last home match of the season when the disaster claimed the lives of 54 Bradford City supporters and two travelling Lincoln supporters, injuring hundreds more, in one of the world’s most devastating sporting tragedies.

The club’s chief executive officer, Ryan Sparks, said: “After the return of a physical memorial service for the first time since before the pandemic last year, we once again came together to remember the 56 lives lost on 11th May 1985 in person “As with each and every year, it is hugely important for us to be able to pay our respects to those who sadly lost their lives, and the families who remain affected by the Valley Parade fire disaster to this day, in the most fitting way possible.

“This year, of course, the service was made even more poignant following the sad passing of two hugely significant figures linked to the tragedy recently, who all of us at Bradford City hold so very dear.

“It is important that this year, while we honour all those affected by the disaster on the 38th anniversary, we also pay tribute to Professor David Sharpe OBE, founder of Bradford’s Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit, and Jockel Reisner, who sculpted the Bradford City Fire Memorial which stands in Centenary Square.”

Lord Mayor of Bradford Cllr Martin Love said: “It is important to the City and district that we take time to remember those who were affected and those who continue to be affected by the tragic events on 11th May 1985. This service will be particularly poignant for me as I was one of the 11,000 at Valley Parade on that day.”

The Morrisons Family Stand (West) at the University of Bradford Stadium was also open today to allow supporters to visit and observe personal reflection time.