Express & Star

How Wolves plunged to the lower leagues and nearly ceased to exist - Part 12: Bradford tragedy highlights Molineux stands unfit for use

In more detail than ever before, the Express & Star tells the full Bhatti brothers story – a troubled era that saw Wolves plunge to depths of the lower leagues and face financial oblivion. In Part 12, an appalling tragedy at Bradford highlights stands at Molineux that are unfit for use.

The fire at Valley Parade shook football to its core and led to a major safety review of grounds

On May 11, 1985, there was a carnival atmosphere at Bradford City's Valley Parade. The Bantams had just clinched the Third Division title, and captain Peter Jackson was presented with the trophy in front of more than 11,000 fans, the best crowd of the season, ahead of their game against Lincoln City.

The game was being screened for television, but neither side had a great deal to play for. Five minutes before half-time, with the score still at 0-0, commentator John Helm noticed that a small fire had broken out in the main stand.

Within four minutes, the entire stand was engulfed in flames, the spread of the fire exacerbated by the windy conditions, and the antiquated design. Most of the fans ran to the pitch for safety – one police officer's uniform was visibly aflame as the events unfolded. Less fortunate were those at the back of the stand, who headed for the exits, only to find they had been locked shut. The turnstiles were also locked, leaving scores of fans trapped inside the burning building. A total of 56 supporters lost their lives, and at least 256 were injured in one of the worst days in football history.

The fire was believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette butt, which had fallen down a crack in the wooden floor, and set light to rubbish which had built up below. The wooden construction of the stand led to the rapid spread of the fire.

Bradford City were well aware of the problems with their ageing ground. Lying behind the ill-fated stand were the metal beams which the club had bought to replace the wooden roof. Work had been due to begin just two days later. The subsequent public inquiry revealed how the ground had suffered from a shocking lack of maintenance over the preceding years. A search through the mass of rubbish that had built up beneath the stadium's wooden floor found a peanut wrapper with pre-decimal pricing, and a newspaper dating from 1968.

An inquiry heard that the old stand at Bradford was an accident waiting to happen

The Bradford fire disaster led to a frenzied examination of football grounds across England, with the Third and Fourth Division grounds – which had been exempt from the stricter regulations of the top two divisions – coming under particularly close scrutiny.