Often Partisan

29 years

On this day twenty-nine years ago St Andrew’s went through what for me is its darkest hour. 15-year-old Ian Hambridge of Northampton, a Leeds supporter, was killed when a wall fell on him during riots between Blues and Leeds fans. I sincerely believe if the tragic events which befell Bradford at Valley Parade that day had not happened the club would have had the book thrown at it.

I was seven when the Leeds riot happened; my family weren’t into football so I wasn’t at St Andrew’s – I was at home watching the television in horror as the Bradford fire was reported. What was meant to be a day of celebration in Yorkshire became a day of tragedy; 54 Bradford fans and 2 Lincoln City fans died in what is the worst fire disaster in English football. I remember watching the reports from the game on Grandstand and seeing the fire take hold; a truly scary sight for someone so young.

For Blues fans the worse tragedy was what happened at their own ground. Only one person died, and it wasn’t as widely reported; it is remembered with a single blue plaque on the Main stand side of the ground close to where the wall came down. However I have no doubt that the events of that day robbed the club of a generation of fans. My dad wasn’t a football fan at all and the only football fan in my family supported the mob from across the city. I might have been a football nut but there was no way my dad was going to subject a seven-year-old to that sort of trouble; if he’d been a hardened football fan he might have thought about it but he wasn’t and so I was 16 before I started going to St Andrew’s with any regularity. I’m sure that story was repeated across the city – and I’m sure that unlike me, many fans never picked up the bug of going to the football.

Fast forward to where we are now. I’m considerably older – nearly middle-aged at 36 and with a daughter of my own. For some reason I remained stubbornly a fan and as soon as I was allowed to go on my own to the football I did; as I went through my 20’s and early 30’s I became more and more of a diehard; buying season tickets when I could afford them and travelling away more as I could afford that too. I had a young family but football was important to me and I tried (successfully) to imbue it into my daughter; I think those years (20-40) are the biggest years for football fans to attend games. We don’t seem to have that bedrock of support though; there seems to be a gap between the older diehards and the new young kids coming through lured by Premier League football and days out at Wembley – and I do wonder just how much of that is to do with the events of 1985 and the years immediately following that.

In saying all that, I think as Blues fans we should remember this day quietly. Not with a maelstrom of grief – after all, it was some of our number who helped cause it – but with the attitude that it should never happen again. While it’s good for the atmosphere to have hostility on the terraces it should never boil over to the point where a teenage boy loses his life – and longer term where a football club suffers for the actions of a minority of fans. I’m guessing this piece might be controversial in some eyes as I think some look back on those days with fond nostalgic eyes but I can’t do that. Bill Shankly was wrong – football isn’t more important than life and death.

Edit 11:25 BST May 11 2014

Courtesy Sweepover on SHA, a piece on the kid who died here in the Northampton Chronicle and some slightly grainy video footage of what happened.

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43 Responses to “29 years”

  • Ali says:

    Absolutely brilliant post Dan. RIP to all 57 fans

  • RichardM says:

    It was a disaster waiting to happen, having seen some of the antics at St Andrews in the early 1980’s, including a pitched batte between Blues and West Ham fans during an FA Cup 5th round tie. I think what happened at the Leeds match was a symptom of the prevading cultures at the time – the hooligan culture that had it’s hand gripped round football, the attitude of police towards football fans (keep ’em penned in!) all being played out in decaying stadium’s that were badly in need of investment.
    I can remember being 14 and having the very breath squeezed out of me, pushed up against a crash barrier as the full weight of about 15,000 fans on the Kop descended after Ian Handysides scored against the Villa. Fortunately, me and a few others managed to scramble underneath the barrier and avoid serious injury. Years later, I could easily see how the disaster at Hillsborough happened so quickly and without anyone realising the tragedy that was unfolding.
    That said, I don’t agree with the lost generation statement. I think the reality of life today (and the last 20 years) has been the impact of media and choice to the younger generation. In 1982, there wasn’t much to rival the buzz of going to St Andrews on a Saturday afternoon at 3.00 pm – could we say that now? A successful exciting team is what is needed to attract the next generation.

  • Alex T says:

    Obviously losing a life is more tragic, but from a football perspective I remember reading that the majority of Ron Saunders transfer budget was swallowed up by cost of required renovations after that riot…… then we all know what happened the following year and years after that. Perhaps things could have been so different if events hadn’t turned out the way they did that fateful day. Typically of blues that we always have to pay for success with years of abject failure.
    again, the cost to that poor lad and his family is far far greater, so totally agree with OPs last comment

  • Richard Granfield says:

    I was at St Andrews in the Main Stand on 11th May 1985. The Leeds fans were intent on causing trouble from the start and demolished a stall selling tea etc.
    Their fans really kicked off when Martin Kuhl scored for Blues and the unruly element of the home support responded with a pitch invasion. The game was abandoned and the score of 1-0 subsequently stood.
    The cause of the trouble lay squarely with the Leeds supporters, but Blues fans shouldn’t have responded.

    • JOHN BRADBURY says:

      You are spot on there Richard.I was on the Kop and horrified what was
      going on.The fence at the Tilton end was swaying back and forth
      because the Leeds fans had climbed all over it.I though it was going to
      collapse…then the Police locked the Leeds fans in and stupid Blues
      fans were throwing rocks at them from the outside.
      I was last out of
      the ground or as near to it…..I went on to the pitch way after all the
      fans had exited the ground and went to the fence to see if it was
      solidly constructed….to my astonishment it was…..the force the Leeds
      fans applied to it was unbelievable and the police were powerless.
      The young lad who died was from Northampton and it was his first and only game he ever went to.
      R.I.P.

  • mark says:

    stood in the kop on that day probably one of the most scary moments of my life…….
    We are there to support our teams respectfully….probably one of the most disgraceful scenes ever to be witnessed at the stans……………..

  • bluenose08 says:

    unfortunately it was a regular event seeing st johns staff carrying fans on stretchers around the pitch thankfully we don’t see that anymore and I think football games are a lot safer to attend now, you can even safely go to away games wearing your teams colours. valley parade and Hillsborough should never be forgotten but the neither incident was caused was caused by hooligans unlike at st Andrews.

  • bluesbot says:

    I was that that match with my family as a young naive teenager, the atmosphere was horrible, you could see during the match the leeds fans tearing up the away end, including the snack bar at the back of stand, you could see large parts of it cascading down the terraces like ants carry leaves – yet the police and stewards let them carry on. I think this as much as anything antagonized the home support/thugs that day.
    Noticeably in the lower part of the old main stand fans were flocking to the boxes to see through the windows to see the bradford disaster happening of the TV’s.
    Just glad we left a little early that day so we didnt get caught up with the happenings thereafter !!

  • Art says:

    Brilliant post Dan which brought back many sad memories -those days were pretty scary and supporting the club through the violent days was not very pleasant.Sadly the loss of a young life combined with the Bradford and Hillsborough disasters were responsible for the politicians getting involved and the relative peace and safety we now see at most of the games,.

    You also make a very good point about the impact the violence had on the match attendance as many fathers refused to take their kids to the games for fear of getting embroiled in the fights.

  • grumpy old git says:

    I was there, 29 years ago today, stood on The Kop with the friends I had then, watching from a distance the dreadful events that unfurled with the pitch invasion, not knowing that a lad who had gone to St. Andrews to watch a soccer game would not be going home. Some time later as a serving Police Officer I saw a video of the Bradford City fire, the subject matter being how people in uniform handle stress in the workplace. The video, shot by The Fire Brigade at Valley Parade, was never, to my knowledge, shown to the public as it was too graphic but I saw scenes that still haunt me even now,
    Dan, I can only say ‘Hear hear’ to your comment, we should all quietly reflect that fans should be able to gather together to watch this game we love and view it in safety, at the same time remembering those 57 who who lost their lives on this day and on other occasions before and since.

    • fingles says:

      I had not gone to the game that day, living 80 miles away, with nothing to play for.

      I watched in horror the tv pictures from Bradford, but only later learned of the tragedy at St Andrews.

  • mark says:

    I also remember about a Chelsea fan died after being pushed under a bus at Birmingham match

    • Paul Carter - Voice of Reason says:

      Vernon Brown. One of the Trooper lot did time for it. Another Chelsea fan lost an eye in The Crown.

      • Harborne bluenose says:

        Wasn’t he a Chelsea fan from Birmingham? Can remember the sick songs that were sung about it after as well!

    • RichardM says:

      Yes I remember that also, pushed under by Blues fans I’m sorry to say

  • Abbotsbromleyblue says:

    I am a fair bit older than you Dan but I too think that day was a very dark day in my time as a football supporter. To have seen first hand what happened at St Andrews that day and then later to see those terrible scenes at Bradford I remember thinking ‘football isn’t worth this’. A truly sad day in the history of BCFC but football in general RIP all those that died 29 years ago. KRO

  • mark says:

    how can you not be touched by the scenes that evolved at Bradford RIP 56……….

  • the_garbage says:

    I was there as a 17 year old with my Dad and sister, we left early with my Dad saying “never again!” And we didn’t return for many years. When we got home, my Mum was crying her eyes out as she’d been watching the Bradford fire and was also worried about us (no mobile phones to say we were alright in those days). Very sad day for BCFC.

  • Kazakblue says:

    Very sad memories of both events

  • Andy Purcell says:

    I was there too
    I live in NZ but went back to Brum in 81 aged 19 to see the Blues and the music. Never missed a blues match in the five years I was back. From memory Leeds needed a result and as soon as Martin kuhl scored that was it. Police on horsebacks and batons and riot shields. Leeds fans were absolute nutters. I was in the kop and all the blues fans were yelling out for any blues fans joining in to get off the pitch. It was so sickening.
    If it weren’t for the Bradford fire disaster it would definatrly have been a lot worse for us.
    I don’t think the game was abandoned as someone said. From memory I thought it was stopped for about 45 minutes.
    I do remember the Leeds fans pulling all the away end to bits but it wasn’t till I was in the pub after till I found out a kid had need killed.

    • RichardM says:

      You are right, amazingly the match was re-started when the Police regained control, the players played on for another 45 minutes and it ended 1-0 to Blues.

  • Paul Carter - Voice of Reason says:

    Sad to say that in those days large scale trouble was a weekly occurrence. The away following at Blues games was almost 80% firm and Blues in particular were one of the worst for trouble. Everybody knew what was coming in that Leeds game and it was kicking off at 10am up town and long into the night after. One of my worst away games was our next trip to Elland Road after the riot. That was hairy. Trouble between Blues and Leeds has been happening since the 70s and Elland Road for the away leg League Cup semi was another major outbreak. Happily things are calmer now.

  • Royalblue says:

    Sadly I remember that day and game very well. The atmosphere in the ground was menacing and only got worse as the game continued. We were already promoted and Leeds had a very remote chance of clinching the third and final promotion place if they won and other results went for them. There were thousands of them in St Andrews and it all kicked off when we scored just before half time. It was frightening and if it had not been for the mounted Police holding both sets of idiots back from one another many more would have been hurt if not killed that day. West Mids Police got rid of their horses some years after this but that day they held the line. I hope I never see the violence and sheer thuggery I witnessed that day again.

    Many supporters I know never returned to St Andrews after that. It was a body blow to the club and we spiralled downwards from that point. It was not until David Sullivan and the Gold brothers arrived in 1993 that the club started to recover. I agree that a generation of fans were lost at that time.I remember the late gentleman Jack Wiseman talking about the impact that day had on the club. Sponsors pulled out overnight, box holders cancelled and season ticket sales fell sharply. Ron Saunders had several players lined up to join in the summer who included Chris Waddle and Gary Mabbutt allegedly but the money for these signings disappeared. Poor old Ron was never the same again after that and set up his SOS (Save Our Society) campaign fair play to him. I rated him as a manager and really wondered what might have happened if the riot had not occurred.

    The truly horrific events that occurred at Bradford that day rightly overshadowed what happened at St Andrews. It is sickening to think that a young lad lost his life watching a game of football.

    Let your heart beat strong and all that.

  • Robert Cannell says:

    I was a 15 year old on the Spion Kop with my older brother. My dad was in the main stand and it took about an hour after the game for us to be reunited. Never seen my dad so relieved to see us. My dad didn’t go to a game again until the ground was redeveloped. The fans calling for the return to terraces should remember days like that terrible day at St Andrews and Heysel and Hillsborough. Learn from the past don’t live in it.

    • mike b says:

      spot on ….why does anyone in their right mind want to bring standing back..?? BUT i think i am right in saying that most televised matches already have a proportion of fans standing illegally or not……mike b

    • Chas says:

      Spot on. You can see what would happen if they brought standing back, there would be more deaths,

    • Shirley Blue says:

      Totally agree. They can bring back terraces but you won’t find me watching a match from one.

  • DoctorD says:

    I grew up in Birmingham in the 1980s and only went to a handful of games in my teenage years — my family were not into football, danger was truly round the corner all the time, and the stadiums were crumbling disaster-zones waiting to happen. Plus football was deemed (by the media and politicians) as a perverse minority pastime of interest only to thugs and idiots. Hardly surprising Blues went downhill after this incident. I think the five years English clubs spent out of European competition were hard to take but helped the country to realise change was needed — it was just tragic that it took Hillsborough for change to really happen. That was precisely four years after the events at St Andrews, Valley Parade and the Heysel stadium.

  • Roy Smith says:

    I took my young brother that day, standing on the corner between the Kop and Tilton. The atmosphere was so hostile that we moved and within a minute whole house bricks were landing where we had been standing. The most appalling scenes I have ever seen in an English stadium. Amazingly Leeds got off scot free despite their fans being the cause of it all. Let’s hope those days are gone for ever.

  • Raymondo says:

    I was there at the same end as the Leeds fans (Tilton). Even before the kick off it was clear the Leeds fans had come to cause trouble. There was a wooden tea bar in the corner of the ground which had been there for many years and the Leeds fans pulled it to pieces in 10 minutes and were throwing the pieces on to the pitch. The reason for their mood was that if they lost they were in danger of relegation. As soon as we scored they started rioting.. It was they who pushed the wall down and killed the boy. Not us. The only thing that could have stopped them was a water cannon. Pity the police didn’t have one. Their own manager, Eddie Gray, went on to the pitch at their corner of the ground and begged them to stop but they took no notice at all. Finally the ground was cleared and the match continued behind closed doors. I blame their fans entirely for the whole business and I have hated Leeds fans ever since.

    • David says:

      Correct, I was in a box in the Main and the antics of the Leeds fans were disgraceful.

      • Chas says:

        Correct as well, and I can never understand how Blues get blamed for the actual Death. Altho our idiots were on the Pitch, the wall was a long way from them and it was down to Leeds Fans entirely.

        • Shirley Blue says:

          As bad as the Leeds fans there were plenty from our side wanting a go as well. I think there were 25,000 there that day which was by far our biggest crowd of the season and I reckon a fair few of them were there for one reason only.

    • supertrevsrightboot says:

      I was there too Raymodo and it was nearly a life changer thats how bad it made me feel that day. I have never felt so appalleed at

  • Andrew Pugh says:

    Very sad day. Was there and walked out gutted on what should have been day of celebration . Unfortunately I don’t think we learned from it as a club as identical scenes happened when stoke scored a dubious let minute winner against us a few years later.thankfully we don’t think twice about taking kids to stans now as its much safer place

  • Shirley Blue says:

    I was there and I would have been 17. I remember being absolutely terrified. I also remember my Mom going absolutely mental at me when I got home later than usual because she had heard a young lad had been killed and I hadn’t rung (long before the days of mobile phones). The mounted police on the pitch prevented a full scale battle on the pitch with baton charges keeping the sets of fans apart and probably the worst riot in British footballing history.

  • Chris W says:

    I remember that day, Blues supporters were in party mood as we had won promotion to the old First Division, the Leeds supporters were always looking for trouble throughout those dark years of the hooligan element.
    If I remember correctly the Leeds supporters started looking for trouble just after the Martin Kuhl goal, but the wall collapsed as the supporters were leaving, I heard about the Leeds supporters death when I got home, however, it was overshadowed by the even more tragic events in Bradford.
    I had a young family then and I was reluctant to take them to matches due to all the violence.
    I was working on the night the Chelsea was killed, was hoping to make the match but ended up attending the incident, I also remember a night match when all the windows of the Oxford Pub were put through by marauding supporters and we took cover under the seats.
    Dark days in football all over.
    KRO+DNM

  • Andy W says:

    I am glad you posted this Dan. I heard a lot of mention about Bradford yesterday, rightly so, but this equally appalling event always seems to get overlooked. And you are right. Football is just a game. It never has been, and never will be worth the life of any supporter. I too was there, and so was my wife who has had a dislike of football and those who follow it since. It’s something I believe we should remember, so we never visit those dark days again.

  • Mr Blue Sky says:

    The Leeds riot was pre-orchestrated, and was not just Leeds fans.

    I worked in the Home Counties at the time and was told by a West Ham supporter that he was going to the game with the Leeds contingent, and a significant number from their Inter City Firm firm were too (he claimed to be an ICF member, but I was never able to verify that). He also told me that their ranks were being bolstered by the Chelsea ‘Headhunters’.

    The coalition had been agreed between sworn foes because of a greater animosity towards the Zulus, and an overwhelming desire to damage their reputation on their own patch.

    I was in the Tilton that day, and we were subjected to a barrage of pieces of concrete that had been broken from the steps of the terrace. The West Ham supporter was these as forecast with other WHU supporters. Then the cabin was wrecked, then the fencing was breached, then the goal which signalled the riot.

    With a coalition bent on violence, it was not surprising that it was the worst riot in a football match in the history of the English game.

    The transfer budget for Ron Saunders was redirected towards the damage, and repairing the reputation of the club. Saunders publicly stated without new players, the club would get relegated, and so it was. It was just the start of a long decline.

    As tough as it was witnessing the demise of my football club, it doesn’t come close to what the parents of Ian Hambridge have gone through. Just a 15 year old kid going to watch his first football match. Not as well known as the Bradford fire victims, certainly not as public as the Hillsborough fire victims, but for his parents, family and friends, every bit as heart-breaking.

  • swissmrs says:

    I remember both incidents with horror.Thank God mobile phones were not widely available at this time as God only knows what tasteless jokes would have been in circulation.On a lighter note, 36 Daniel? I want to see your passport!!!

  • garconsavage says:

    As a active Bluenose of some 60+ years I was in the Cattel Road end on that horrible day!! I completely lost interest in football for about six months. There was a lot of speculation in the media that the Blues fans were not the target of their opposite numbers. The game took place at the height of the Miners’ strike and Bobbies from the Midlands had been involved in violent clashes with miners in the North of England and a group of the away “fans” saw the match as an excuse to gain revenge on the police.

    What -ever the truth of the matter it was a sad day for football and BCFC!!

  • lappy1967 says:

    St Andrews and Bradford on the same day, Hysel a couple of weeks later. not only did I stop watching football I stopped playing it too. I did see the point and didn’t want to associate with it again. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t a mermorial of some kind at the ground, sometimes you need to acknowledge your dark days to make sure they don’t happen again.


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