The Bradford City stadium fire was one of three major footballing disasters of the late 1980s, coming three years after a similar run of misfortunes in 1982, a year in which more than a hundred football fans were killed, mostly in stampedes.
Bradford's performance during 1985 was such that they ended the season top of Division Three, the last match, on 11 May, 1985, a formality on their way to the second division. The match, against Lincoln City, was of no consequence, and the first half was heading for a nil-nil draw. Shortly before half-time a small fire broke out at the Sunwin stand, the oldest part of the stadium, due for replacement the following week for safety reasons - constructed in the 1900s, the stand was mostly made of wood, the roof covered in tar. Although on-site fire equipment was brought into action immediately the blaze grew so fast that, five minutes later, the roof and most of the stand was alight, raining burning debris on the supporters below. Television footage at the time was shocking, the stand quickly becoming a mass of thick black smoke and flame. Within five minutes the entire stand had been destroyed.
The cause of the blaze was never established, although the most widely accepted theory - a cigarette setting light to a polystyrene cup, further setting light to rubbish and debris under the stand - seemed like a portent of the similar King's Cross Station Fire of 1987. 56 people died, mostly from smoke inhalation; over 250 were injured. It was the worst stadium disaster since that at Glasgow's Ibrox in 1971, in which 66 people were crushed.
May 1985 was a terrible month for football; on the 26th, ten people lost their lives in a stampede in Mexico City, and on the 29th 32 people died in the Heysel disaster, the blame for which was placed on the heads of rioting Liverpool supporters. This latter event laid the groundwork for the police reaction during the Hillsborough disaster of 1987, which eclipsed them all.
After the fire a relief fund was quickly set up, raising £4 million for the injured. A benefit cover of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' by local musical stars became the first post-Live Aid charity record to top the charts, released only thirteen days after the disaster. The stadium itself was rebuilt within a year, the next match taking place in December 1986 (Bradford City won; the side has subsequently entered and left the Premiere League and is currently near the bottom of Division One).