Monday, 18 December 2006

Saturday, 3.40pm

I stumbled across this post about the Valley Parade fire today, and suddenly realised that the TV pictures of the disaster on the Six O'Clock News must be among my earliest football memories - nothing much to speak of, just the bulging inferno etched somewhere on a childhood memory under the name Valley Parade.

The archive film remains absolutely shocking, though I'm not sure I've seen it since I was really young. Perhaps it's no wonder that I used to have nightmares about fires as a child. But it's particularly sobering when I consider how I love these old ramshackle football grounds nowadays; many of the most atmospheric grounds I visit with Darlo still have an old wooden stand or two - and Everton cram thousands into the thundering wood-floored Bullens Road balcony, which dates back to the 1920s, and gives Goodison Park a real sense of memory.

3.40pm - when the fire started - signifies a Saturday reverie for me. I'm generally people-watching, reflecting on how dull the match is, or just generally ignoring the game. In all likelihood my toes are freezing and I'm contemplating a half-time cup of tea.

Granted, things have changed since 1985, but it's sobering to watch the initially unremarkable footage - management and supporters sat or stood looking equally glum - and know that in four minutes' time over 50 of those people would be dead or fatally injured. Then Heysel happened just days or weeks later.

I'm sure that thought will cross my mind again, and I have found myself wondering what would have happened if that grandstand had been filled with plastic seats in the name of safety - and only the occasional stairway along which to flee, as is the case with the majority of grounds 'improved' since Hillsborough.

Nothing less than chilling.

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