VIDEO: Mansfield broadcaster shares his memories of the Bradford City fire

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A Mansfield radio presenter who was one of the last people to escape the Bradford stadium fire alive has re-lived the horrors as the 30th anniversary of the tragedy is marked this week.

Flames ripped through a stand at Valley Parade during a match on 11th May 1985, killing 56 people and injuring hundreds more.

The fire ripped through the stand at Valley Parade, killing 56 people.

The fire ripped through the stand at Valley Parade, killing 56 people.

The disaster unfolded in front of the TV cameras, but the radio commentary provided by Mansfield 103.2’s Tony Delahunty became a defining moment in his career.

Working for Pennine Radio at the time, the day should have been routine coverage of a celebratory football match for Tony, with Bradford having already secured the old third division title.

More than 11,000 fans had turned out to see their heroes be presented with the league trophy.

But the party atmosphere turned to blind panic as fire gripped the wooden-roofed grandstand at one side of the pitch minutes before half-time.

I could not have moved even if I wanted to, it was not a question of bravery. I waited too long.

With microphone in hand, Tony had been sat at the back of the wooden stand when thick black smoke began rising from mid-way up the stand on his left-hand side.

“I saw a bit of smoke and I just thought it was a smoke bomb, but I was completely wrong,” admitted Tony, who was 35 years-old at the time.

“This was something I’d never seen before. I can’t be sure how quickly it dawned on me that this was a life-threatening situation, but it soon became obvious.”

Despite the intensifying situation, Tony remained live on air for a further 70-plus seconds, providing what became one of the most replayed sound bytes in sporting commentary history.

He then made the life-saving choice to head down the steps towards the pitch, rather than through the exit at the back of the stand, where many of the supporters died.

But it was the fact he was sandwiched between two other media workers, wrapped up in radio headphones and equipment and still live on air that led to him continuing.

“I could not have moved even if I wanted to, it was not a question of bravery. I waited too long.

“At first it was a gradual heat, but it just hot hotter and hotter in a short space of time. People could just not get out fast enough.

“You could just not move against this intense heat haze.”

The heat was so ferocious that the knee of his jeans had even burnt through to his leg, and he witnessed the hat of an elderly gentleman combust as he tried to clamber over a wall to escape.

For Tony, he had another major concern - his son Andrew, daughter Kim and her boyfriend had complementary tickets for the game and were supposed to be sat in the section where the fire started.

But using an old 1980s mobile phone he used for work, he was quickly able to establish that they had not gone to the match.

Following a lengthy investigation, it was determined that the fire had been started by a discarded cigarette.

A supporter had dropped the cigarette butt on the floor and tried to extinguish it with his foot, but it slipped through a hole in the floorboard and onto piles of rubbish that had accumulated beneath.

With smoke rising through the boards, the stewards were alerted, but the flames had already begun to take hold.

Fans began to notice the heat through the floorboards, and police began trying to evacuate the fans as panic swept through the stand.

Many spilled onto the pitch to escape the intensifying heat, but others tried to head to the back of the stand and through the regular exits.

It was here that most perished.

Choked and blinded by acrid black smoke, some had even mistakenly made either way into the toilets, frantically looking for the exit.

Many were trapped by the burning floor and the wooden roof, which went up within minutes and eventually collapsed.

The bodies of most who perished were found near to the exits at the back of the stand. Some had died after being crushed in the panic to get free, while two elderly people even died in their seats.

For Tony, it is a day that has lived long in the memory, as has his voice to many Bradford fans.

He left Pennine Radio shortly after, simply because his voice became synonymous with the disaster.

“It was the fire that caused me to leave that radio station,” he said.

“My voice reminded the fans of the Bradford City fire.

“One person even said to me that every time Bradford City were attacking, and my voice was raised, it reminded them of that day.”

He admitted that the events of 11th May, 1985 affected him, saying: “For a while, it played on my mind, not just at football grounds, but everywhere I went. I’d check hotels and theatres for fire escapes.

“That has diminished now, but that day still comes back as a memory from time to time.”