Remembering May 11

By Zack Goldman

Yesterday was a day of celebration in the Barclays Premier League, but it could, and should, have been so much more.

Manchester City won their second league title in three years with a 2-0 victory over West Ham United, who supplied a challenge con brio but sans any real threat to the champions.

As the clock hit 90, Eastlands drank in the sweet spirit of victory and a wave of sky blue spilled onto the pitch. City fans in replica shirts and silly hats cheered, hugged, took selfies, and attempted to shower their heroes with well-intentioned, but ultimately unwanted kisses.

Those sorts of scenes are always beautiful moments that encapsulate football at its most electrifying, with the distance between fan and hero collapsed and the impenitent thrill of victory on show.

But, this day, for many of us, the moment had a secondary significance—and one that should have been noted far more than it was.

On May 11th, 1985—29 years ago today—Bradford City played Lincoln City in the English Third Division at their home ground, Valley Parade.

Like yesterday in Manchester, it was also a day of celebration, as Bradford’s Bantams had done the city proud by winning the league title.

At 3:40pm, however, five minutes before half-time, there was a fire toward the back of the main stand. That small ember soon grew larger and larger.

And larger.

Coupled with the windy conditions, the whole stand was engulfed in flames in a matter of minutes.

The scene was one of utter chaos. Some fans began hurtling themselves (and others) onto the pitch to escape the blaze. Some managed to ram open the padlocked gates behind the seats.

Some weren’t so lucky.

As the stand burned to the ground, 56 people died and at least 265 were injured.

Yesterday, the Premier League chose not to honor the memories of those individuals—nor the heroic deeds of many who thankfully prevented the catastrophe from being worse than it was.

There was no minute’s silence. No black armbands. On its most important day of the footballing calendar, the Premier League opted to pretend the worst fire disaster in the history of the English game didn’t happen to preserve its carnival atmosphere.

With the eyes of the world trained on the Etihad and Anfield, the league that had so vigorously and laudably accorded Hillsborough its full weight in memoriam at long last a few weeks ago—the league that had finally seemed to recognize that honoring tragedy doesn’t mean dampening triumph—failed in its obligations to the sport and its fans.

And that was a mistake that they deserve to hear about.

To fully glean and treasure football’s unique lightness in our lives, we must know and honor its darkest periods.

To fully glean and treasure what not only Manchester City fans—but everyone in a stadium around England—experienced yesterday, we must recognize what others had to endure and suffer.

Win or lose, it’s a blessing to be able to watch a match in comfort and safety. It’s a blessing to lose your worries watching a game you love in the company of friends and family, who you know will be there when the final whistle blows.

We mustn’t forget those who were robbed of that blessing 29 years ago.


This article was written by AFR Contributing Editor, Zack Goldman. Expect to see hear more from him as we get closer to kick off in Rio.

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