It is one of my most vivid memories of the day. My mum turned to me in the queue and said she was sorry we could not afford to go in the main stand, so we went into the Kop, a standing terrace. I remember getting a drink when the first smoke appeared. Everyone cheered thinking a smoke bomb had been let off in celebration of winning the league. The only other emotion after that was fear. I remember my mum climbing over the eight foot barriers penning supporters in. Turning back and feeling the intense heat, sixty metres away and it felt you were right next to the fire. I have no memory of getting home, or much of the next few days. Numbness and shock. It was the 11th May 1985 and I had witnessed the horrific Bradford City fire.
Those same feelings of numbness and shock came back watching the fire at the Grenfell tower block. The way it inexplicably took hold and devastated the whole building. Something like this should not happen. None of these tragedies should happen. The key is to make sure they don’t happen again. It took Juventus fans dying at the Heysel stadium and 96 Liverpool supporters dying at Hillsborough before people really took notice about the appalling standards at football grounds. In the way they were treated and the way they were housed in the ground and outside. It is immeasurably better now and tragedies happening in stadia elsewhere in the world show how far we have come in this country.
We need to learn quickly with this disaster and the people in Grenfell need support and re-housing immediately. They are currently in shock and desperate for support, as well mourning for lost family and friends. Unfortunately, they are now being taking advantage off by the heartless press. I remember no anger after the Bradford fire, just numbness and how an accident can be so devastating. Yet a word banded around immediately by the press was anger. I have seen emotions fanned in newspaper columns, without evidence, ‘finding’ the person whose fridge started the fire; blaming the EU for the cladding, even though they are banned in Germany and throwing dirt at anyone they think it might stick to. This is not about fighting for justice, it is about selling newspapers and they feel no guilt with the callous nature they do it in.
What is needed now is a time to reflect on what has happened. This will allow the people to come forward with information without a climate of fear. It will allow the experts to assess and make judgements about what happened with this particular fire, without feeling they need to rush and possibly misdiagnose the cause of its devastating nature.
This means the truth will be easier to find. The truth being in all likelihood, that this was an accident made by a series of small, in themselves, insignificant errors that led to this catastrophe. No one person is likely to be ultimately to blame, no one aspect will have caused this. But with everything already written the residents are likely to feel that there has been a cover up, that the establishment is against them and again the papers will fan this hatred.
It is irresponsible to play with the emotions of people who are at their most vulnerable. They do not need to used when they are at their weakest. We need calmness and leadership both locally and nationally. There will be people going to sleep in fear, because they think, or have, this cladding on their building. It will be weeks before everyone is identified and with this void needs clear instructions and guidance from public bodies to the people affected. They need housing and compensating and everything that can happen to get their lives back to where they were. We need a transparent and open enquiry that is quick and concise and provides clear answers and directions. It also needs to identify any blame to bodies or people and hold them to account. I will repeat though it is unlikely to be one thing that caused the fire, but a multitude of issues that confounded each other to create this tragedy.
30 years after the fire, a book was published showing how the then Bradford chairman seemed to lose lots of business’s to fires and the book brought this together to say that the chairman must be to blame. The author lost several relatives in the fire and I have every sympathy for his feelings, but the police found the man whose cigarette started the fire and caused the deaths of 56 Bradford and Lincoln fans that day.
It is far easier to speculate the blame immediately, to sell newspapers, than it is to be patient and wait for answers. The tragedy has shown a detachment of officials in government and the council to show empathy, which has led to an increase in anger. This has been inexcusable and at least Sadiq Khan fronted up to talk the residents and dealt with the anger face on. When the counsel and Theresa May failed to meet the residents, although they were doing everything they could physically, the perpetuated the feeling of being ignored and filed to empathise and show their humanity to the victims. The truth will come out in the coming weeks and months, but the people in that tower will need support for a lot longer, for the lives that disappeared on that night.