‘The heat was unbelievable’ - Morecambe man recalls horror of Bradford City fire 30 years on

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.

A Morecambe dad who experienced at first hand the horrors of the Bradford City fire which killed 56 people 30 years ago says he still wishes he had done more to help.

Denby Murgatroyd was just 14 when he took the train to Bradford’s Valley Parade ground on May 11 1985 with friends Gareth Williamson, then 18, and Simon Attwood, then 19.

The trio were caught up in one of English football’s worst disasters when the stand they were in caught fire, killing 56 fans and injuring more than 250 others.

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

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.

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.

He said: “I remember seeing [then Bradford captain] Stuart McCall outside the ground in his football kit looking for his dad.

“I always think about that, and I have met him a few times since but never mentioned it to him. His dad was badly burnt in the fire and I think now that I could have helped to find him, but I was in a daze.

“That was when I first thought to phone home. Of course it wasn’t like nowadays when everyone has mobiles, and everything was just such a mess on the day.”

Denby said the fire brought everyone together in Bradford.

He said: “There was a sense of unity afterwards.

“The following season we had no home ground, and the first two months we played every game away from home.

“That season was amazing, we went everywhere and everybody came together in the club and the town.”

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.”