“My family emigrated from Kenya in 1966. I was 10 years old. I had grown up playing football in Mombassa and couldn’t believe that we’d moved to live next to a football ground. We bought a house on Thorne Terrace which backed onto the Kop. From the attic I could see half the pitch at the Bradford End.”
My family emigrated from East Africa – Kenya – in 1966, just before the World Cup. I was 10 years old. I had grown up playing football in Mombassa and couldn’t believe that we’d moved to live next to a football ground. I found that interesting. All I knew about Bradford was that it was a textile town.
My father worked in a woollen mill. We rented a house in Bateman Street not far from here and when he had earned enough money we bought a house on Thorn Terrace which backed onto the old Spion Kop. From the dormer attic I could see half the pitch at the Bradford End. We could see a little bit more over the Spion Kop entrance if we climbed on the wall on Burlington Terrace.
From about 1968 onwards I found out more about English football. The first division got most of the coverage and Leeds United were very successful at that time so a lot of my friends became Leeds fans. But I stayed loyal to where I lived and have supported Bradford since 1968.
I remember the 1970s when we had the skinheads and the Paki-bashing. I was slightly fearful on match day around here at that time. I couldn’t really afford to come to games as a teenager but I was aware of racial elements and fights among fans on William Lane. Attitudes to violence really changed after Hillsborough in 1989.
I remember the first black players coming through – Lawrie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis at West Brom in the higher leagues, but we had our own Ces Podd, an excellent full back. I also remember Joe Cooke, a big centre forward. He got some stick from opposing fans because they feared him as a player. Black players coming through was a turning point in racism at football matches.
I remember Bradford playing Tottenham in the third round of the FA Cup. I got a ticket for that and it was freezing. We drew down here but we were beaten in the replay. We played some non-league teams too – Tooting and Mitcham I remember. I remember those because it is an achievement for a lower division team to reach the third round of the FA Cup.
I was standing on the Kop on the day of the fire. My brother-in-law is not a football fan but, unknown to me, had attended with a friend because of the presentation of the third division trophy. They were in the area where the fire started. They went to get out at the back of the stand and a policeman managed to kick a door down leading to Burlington Terrace. My brother-in-law believes that if the door hadn’t been kicked down he would have perished in the fire. He ran up Burlington Terrace. As he got half way up he turned round and the roof was ablaze where he had just been sitting. I don’t believe he has been to a football match since. It’s had a profound effect on him.
I could see the paddock and the fire spreading in the stand itself. I have a very clear memory of it so it’s had a profound effect on me as well. I have graphic images of people climbing over the wall and coming down onto the pitch and a policeman with his hair on fire. I left sometime after 4 o’clock and it hit me even more when I got home because it was all over the news. ITV were filming the game and their footage was on national TV.
I followed all the fund-raising events and funerals in the weeks afterwards and I attended a multi-faith memorial service on the pitch. That was very moving and emotional. I’m of the Muslim faith but all faiths were represented. It helped to bring different parts of the community together.
I remember when Bradford won at Wembley in 1996. When the victory parade passed through the Manningham Park area all the Asian ladies came out and joined in the chanting. It is followed by people who never come into the ground. People of all cultures follow their town team and associate with it. The club is the most regular advert the town has got locally and in the national media.
I went to Wembley in 1996 – a lot of the Muslim community went down. I wanted to see Wembley and after Bradford had turned a 2-0 deficit at home into a 3-0 win away at Blackpool I had to go. We hired a van and set off early in the morning. It was a good day and the win capped it off nicely.
I remember the goalkeeper Tomlinson – he was a good player. Bobby Campbell was a legend – a very good, physical, typical centre forward. He had his own views on football and played it his way. He led the line very well, scored goals, got stuck in and was very popular. I remember Stuart McCall making his debut as a 17 year old. I saw a really good engine on a young player. He started at full back but in midfield he could run all day.
When he left it was just after we missed promotion to the first division. He and John Hendrie both moved on. We actually went to the first game he played for Everton at Goodison Park against Newcastle who had Peter Jackson and John Hendrie. Quite a few City fans went because we saw several City scarves coming back on the M62.
I’ve followed Stuart McCall’s career closely – two goals in the FA Cup final and a goal in the World Cup Finals. When you’re a lower division club and one of your players goes on to a successful career in international football it is something to take pride in. John Hendrie was a good winger – a good crosser of the ball, scored goals and was an intelligent player. He created a lot of chances, especially for Bobby Campbell.
When we got into the Premier League it was a bit of a shock. I have friends who support Leeds and Barnsley and I told them I never thought I’d see Bradford play in the Premier League – never thought we would have the resources. To achieve it with that win at Wolves was fantastic. I watched the whole of the Premier League seasons.
It’s disappointing what’s happened since, when you see the likes of Burnley in the Premier League. I see Barnsley as similar to us and I think I would like to see us in the Championship – that’s a very good league. There would be lots of derbies to generate money. I’d love to see Leeds, Huddersfield, the two Sheffield clubs and Bradford in there – we could have our own mini-league.
There are more coloured faces in the crowds than there used to be. How do we get more Asian players? There is a lot of Asian football going on, mainly in their own teams. Can we get good level coaching to these at a young enough age – say 10 years old? Zesh Rehman is a good role model at Bradford, but it might take a top Asian player to play for England to really inspire youngsters to make the breakthrough like the African Caribbean players have done. Breakthoughs have been made in cricket with Adil Rashid and Shezad at Yorkshire and in the Bradford League which is a really good league and has lots of Asian players. It can happen in football too.