The day celebration turned to tragedy - two fans relive the Bradford City fire 30 years on

Two football fans who experienced at first hand the Bradford City fire which killed 56 people 30 years ago have spoken of the horrors of the day.

By Gayle Rouncivell
Sunday, 10th May 2015, 8:00 pm
Denby Murgatroyd, who was at the Bradford City FC fire 30 years ago, pictured with cuttings and programmes remembering the fire and the shirt he wore on that day.
Denby Murgatroyd, who was at the Bradford City FC fire 30 years ago, pictured with cuttings and programmes remembering the fire and the shirt he wore on that day.

Scott Thornton was only eight when he went to the game at Valley Parade on May 11 1985 with his mum Sue and dad Brian.

Denby Murgatroyd was 14 when he took the train with friends Gareth Williamson, then 18, and Simon Attwood, then 19.

They were caught up in one of English football’s worst disasters when the ground’s Main Stand caught fire, killing 56 fans and injuring more than 250 others.

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Bradford City fan Scott Thornton, who was at Valley Parade on May 11 1985.

The match against Lincoln City had started in a celebratory atmosphere, with the home team receiving the Football League Third Division trophy in front of a record gate of 11,076. However, at 3.40pm, a small fire was spotted under the Main Stand, and in less than four minutes it had engulfed the whole stand, trapping people in their seats.

In the panic that ensued, fleeing crowds tried to break down locked exits at the back of the stand to escape.

Scott, who lived in Bradford until he was 15, said: “I remember everyone in the town was buzzing because we were due get our trophy that day. Everywhere you looked people were smiling and as an eight-year-old that was brilliant.”

Scott and his parents stood on the terracing behind the goal, to the left of the Main Stand. Two of his brothers, however, went into the fateful stand.

Scott Thornton as a nine-year-old Bradford City mascot.

Scott, who is branch manager at Castle Windows on White Lund, said: “I remember smelling smoke and telling my mum but we didn’t think anything of it. It was just a little flicker of flame and we thought it was under control.

“No one realised quite what was coming – it was a day of celebration that turned to tragedy.

“When I looked again it was the size of a bonfire and people started spilling onto the pitch.

“We pushed towards the back of the goal and I remember my dad grabbing my hand and saying not to panic.

“I looked over at the stand again and the fire was massive and people were scrambling for their lives.

“People were in tears, it was crazy scenes as at my age it was hard to understand.

“I remember a guy on the pitch on fire and a policeman with a cape trying to put him out. The heat was immense, and the smell of smoke seemed to linger across the city for days afterwards.”

Scott and his parents made their way out of the ground and caught a bus home.

Scott, now 38, said: “People were hugging each other and someone told my mum they had seen my brothers and they were safe.

“We lost a close family friend that day. He had got out but went back in again to help people and was hit on the head by burning embers; he died a couple of weeks later.

“I remember when I went to school the next week my teacher picked me up and squeezed me for so long.”

Scott, who now travels home and away watching his team with his wife Caroline and children Daniel, 14, and Georgia, eight, said the disaster brought the city together.

He said: “It was a poor area but everyone pulled together.

“It can never be forgotten and although I don’t talk about it, I will have my quiet reflection on May 11.”

Morecambe FC head of security Denby says he can still remember the immense heat and thick black smoke.

In a twist of fate, Denby and his friends had picked the opposite end of the stand to where they normally stood in order to be closer to the pre-match trophy presentation.

Their usual spot was right at the heart of the fire.

Denby, now 44, said: “We initially thought that a fight had broken out in the stand.

“We climbed over the wall at the front onto the pitch but we still couldn’t see what was happening.

“We just followed other people. We were standing on the pitch in front of the stand, but as things unfolded we ended up standing back against the other side of the ground because the grass was getting singed.

“The heat was just unbelievable – it’s something you never forget.

“It seemed to be happening in slow motion. It only took about five minutes but it seemed to be so slow.

“As the stand really got engulfed, that’s when we started to realise how bad things were.

“We knew that people had gone to the back of the stand and we knew that the gates would be locked.”

Having been separated from his friends in the confusion, Denby eventually made his way outside the ground and to the train station, where he was reunited with Gareth and Simon.

Denby, who still attends several games a season with his wife Kelly and 15-year-old daughter Demi, will be visiting Valley Parade next week to attend a memorial service.

He said: “I try not to think about it very often but I wanted to be there for the 30th anniversary.

“I always wish I had been a little bit older, because I don’t feel like I did anything. I have always felt that maybe I could have helped in some way.

“I think I was too young to understand the enormity of what was going on.

“It’s a private thing for me. I have friends of 25 years that don’t know I was there and I haven’t looked at my old papers for maybe 20 years or so. Even my wife hasn’t seen all my newspaper cuttings before.

“It’s something I can only really share with those that were there.”

To donate to the Burns Unit at Bradford Royal Infirmary, which was set up after the tragedy, text VPFA56 and the amount (eg VPFA56 5 for a £5 donation) to 70070.