56: the story of the Bradford fire

Reflecting on this tragic event 30 years ago, Stephen Town adds another thought provoking read to his Nightshelf collection.


Fletcher, M., 56: the story of the Bradford fire, in the University Library at G 1.823 FLE

Memorial to the Bradford City fire disaster
by Tim GreenUsed under a
Creative Commons licence
Football has been a large part of my life since childhood. I share the earliest memories of the author of this book of a father ‘going to football’, and later being taken along.  As a Leeds United supporter through that great period of success for the team in the 60s and early 70s, one of the players I watched was Terry Yorath, who later was in the Bradford City team on the day of the disastrous fire in 1985. Having been in the crowd as a fourteen-year old when the stand I was in burned down at Nottingham Forest’s ground in 1968, I appreciate the rapidity with which fires could destroy those wooden structures. There were no deaths at Nottingham; 56 people died at Bradford, including the father, brother, uncle and grandfather of the author, Martin Fletcher, who was twelve on that day and survived.

This book is unsurprisingly an emotional read. Fletcher describes his subsequent life in the shadow of that tragedy, and his search for understanding of why and how the fire happened. The Bradford fire is very much the forgotten tragedy in that 1980s decade of disasters, presided over at the time by a government that fostered a culture in which northern football associated deaths seemed to be considered unworthy of any serious investigation. Given Fletcher’s shocking findings, the reluctance of any authority now to reopen a search for the truth on this particular tragedy reflects badly on our continuing inability to deal with our past.

Fletcher does not draw any conclusions in the book about responsibility, but his discovery (largely through research in the British Library’s newspaper collections) of the previous record of the Bradford City Chairman, who had received the equivalent of £27m in today’s money from nine separate fires in his businesses prior to the Bradford fire, seems beyond coincidence. The cursory enquiry into the Bradford fire at the time was set up, conducted and concluded in inappropriate haste, without any serious scientific investigation. This book raises questions that need to be answered, but it is also a very personal and human story of loss. In the process Fletcher demonstrates how a good education and research skills can be a route to what one hopes is at least some redemption.

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