Bradford City and Lincoln City are up in arms about a programme made in the USA regarding the Bradford fire. David Pendleton finds out why
Over the 14 years since the Bradford fire I can barely remember any adverse publicity. It became a private disaster, rarely talked about and only in the public domain on the anniversary when a sombre ceremony is held at the memorial in Bradford city centre.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire we did receive a glimpse of the worst excesses of sensationalist journalism; the Daily Star screamed I Saw Killer Smoke Bomb Thrown, a claim quickly dismissed as pure fantasy. But thankfully we never experienced anything like the disgraceful allegations that were bandied about in the wake of Hillsborough.
At least that was the case until last month, when a Burnley fan in the US posted a message to the City Gent website telling of a Fox TV programme, When Good Times Go Bad, which contained a clip of the fire during which the voice- over claimed it had been started by the rival groups of supporters.
Members of the Bradford and Lincoln City internet mailing lists were incensed. Fox TV, of course, is part of the Murdoch Empire. An immediate worry was that Sky would show the programme (they had already screened earlier episodes of the series) with potentially traumatic consequences for unsuspecting viewers who had been associated with the disaster.
The result was a display of unity and solidarity among fans of different clubs. With the aid of the Burnley fan, a tape of the programme was secured from the producer of the company who made it, the appropriately named Termite Productions. The transcript served only to confirm the reports. At the key point the narrator says: “In this horrible case, fans actually set fires in the wooden bleachers, turning this English stadium into an inferno.”
The certainty of knowing what had been said meant the gloves were off. Local papers and national broadsheets carried substantial stories. Officials from Lincoln and Bradford roundly condemned the programme. Yorkshire TV expressed surprise that the clip, to which they hold the copyright, had been used without their authorisation.
The initial reaction from the producer was dismissive. No changes would be considered, and the programme would be sold in the normal way. If Sky wanted it they could have it. Sky prevaricated and refused to say it would not be shown. However, the rising tide of publicity and anger eventually caused a volte face. Danny Wolf, the producer, said: “We obviously feel bad but we would never show a death itself. We should have been more sensitive, we should have made it clear that in this unfortunate tragedy, 56 people died.” A spokesman for BSkyB said the show was unlikely to be screened in Britain without major changes, including the removal of the Bradford footage – a small victory for the combined efforts of the fans. Thanks to Guy Thornton
From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month