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A true City hero

12 January 2014

Mention of May 11 1985 will always awaken the saddest memories for Bradford City fans.

But in the midst of the tragedy there were numerous acts of bravery that are equally worth remembering. Among the selfless individuals who rescued those in that burning stand was a man well known to City fans for another reason – his ability to score goals.

BBC1 at 11.45am on Monday (13 January).’ - a programme to be shown on Real Lives ReunitedJohn Hawley is very modest about that day back in 1985 when, without question, he saved the lives of more than one fan. If you want to know more about his bravery and to judge just how modest he is, you should make a note to watch ‘

The programme was filmed at the Coral Windows Stadium last June and shows John being reunited with one of the people he rescued from the fire. Arnold Whitehead is now 93 years old and first went to Valley Parade back in the 1920s. Just short of his 65th birthday on the day of the fire, Arnold had somehow made his way down to the front wall before ‘just running out of breath’. He simply couldn’t make that last climb. Like several others who got so close to safety, Arnold would not have survived if the City striker, braving the intense heat, had not pulled him to safety.

The two men had not met in the twenty eight years that had passed since that fateful day. Their reunion was filmed as it happened, with no second takes, no script, no chance to decide what each would say to the other. The emotion, the gratitude and the modesty are equally plain to see and so obviously genuine.

Before their meeting, they were asked to give their individual accounts of the rescue. Their two stories and the filming of their very special reunion form a poignant contrast to the excitement most fans experience in that stand during a game. More importantly, they both remind us of the place football holds in the wider context of our lives and prove that Bradford City has more than one type of footballing hero.

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