Through eight half hour episodes on the 900 Degrees podcast, investigative journalist Mobeen Azhar looks at the 1985 Bradford City Stadium fire where 56 football fans lost their lives. Nearly 40 years on, many of those who were at the stadium that day are no longer alive, but Mobeen is tenacious in finding people willing to talk to him about why the fire started.
He interviews those affected by the fire, others who have an association with it through family connections and with sports journalists who too have looked at the fire over the years. The continued repetition of the audio of the words spoken by the sports commentators at the match that day is hauntingly effective in evoking the panic and incredulity at the pace and ferocity of the fire enveloping parts of the stadium.
It is incredible to learn that the inquiry into the cause of the fire lasted just five days – in huge contrast to the Grenfell Tower Fire inquiry which sat for more than 300 days. The inquiry concluded that the disaster was caused by a discarded cigarette. Mobeen tracks down and talks to the now 96-year-old Sir Oliver Popplewell who chaired the inquiry and it’s a tense encounter.
Mobeen spends a lot of time talking to Martin Fletcher who was just a young boy in 1985; he was at the stadium that day and lost three generations of his family to the fire. Martin published a book in 2015 called 56: The Story of the Bradford Fire and listening to him talk about that day it is hard to believe it was four decades ago, such is the clarity of his memory.
The other key focus across the eight episodes is Stafford Heginbotham, he owned Bradford City football team at the time of the fire and Mobeen contends that Heginbotham had a history of fires in buildings he owned. The Bradford City owner died in 1995 and Mobeen talks to others about whether the fire really was caused by a discarded cigarette or if it could have been deliberate.
It’s a grimly fascinating listen and one where you must draw your own conclusions.