Huddersfield Town legends' tragic memories of Bradford City inferno
May 8 2010 Huddersfield Daily Examiner
Next Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the Bradford City fire, which claimed 56 lives. Here former Town manager Peter Jackson and coach Terry Yorath recall the fateful day.
PETER Jackson’s voice cracked momentarily and he paused to gather his composure.
He was recounting the horrors of the Bradford fire and the memories were proving too painful.
Jackson, now 49, was captain of hometown club Bradford on the day 56 spectators died at Valley Parade on Saturday, May 11, 1985. His father and two brothers were sitting in the main stand when it was engulfed by flames shortly before half-time in the final game of the season against Lincoln.
They had looked on proudly a little over half an hour earlier as their brother and son, the youngest ever City skipper, had been presented with the old Third Division trophy.
Bradford had secured the title the previous week and a bumper crowd of 11,076 had turned out for a party. Instead, they watched in disbelief as one of British football’s worst tragedies unfolded.
The Jacksons and thousands of others were left scrambling for survival as an inferno, sparked by a carelessly discarded match or cigarette, ripped through the stadium’s 74-year-old wooden stand.
Jackson said: “It doesn’t feel that long ago since the disaster. It was a really, really sad time.
“I was captain. It was supposed to be a day of celebration because we’d won the old Division Three title the week before at Bolton and at kick-off there was a carnival atmosphere.
“Thirty-five minutes later hundreds of people were running for their lives.
“If you witness something like that you never forget. I had family there and I lost them in the melee, my dad and two brothers. Thank God they all got out alive.
“Certain things stand out on that day, the images. You never really get over something like that.
“I found my dad and both my brothers about half an hour after the fire started. There were so many people running round in that stand.
“One of my brothers was trapped at the back of the stand and just managed to get out. He was a lot luckier than some of them.”
Jackson, 24 at the time, was heavily involved in the aftermath when people began to come to terms with the enormity of the disaster and its affects on the city of Bradford.
He said: “Afterwards there were lots of funerals. The whole community really came together. It was the last game of the season and between then and the first game of the next season, which was at Carlisle, the players were making visits to hospital and attending funerals.
“As captain I organised a players’ roster. We had a very young side, but the players all did what they could. There was also a lot of fundraising.”
Jackson went on to blossom as both a leader and uncompromising central defender and when Newcastle paid Bradford £250,000 for him in 1986 realised a lifelong dream of playing in the top flight.
He returned to Valley Parade for a second spell before moving on in 1990 to Huddersfield, where he was also made captain. He was voted player of the season in 1996 while at Chester and ended his playing career at Halifax in 1997.
Jackson later carved out a successful career as manager and had two stints in charge of Huddersfield – famously saving them from relegation in The Great Escape season of 1997-98 – and then a spell at Lincoln.
It was while manager at Lincoln in 2008 that Jackson was diagnosed with throat cancer.