Why ac­tion must now be taken to stamp out flares and smoke bombs

Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - SPORT -

BRAD­FORD CITY’S last game of 2018, away at Rochdale, should have been re­mem­bered en­tirely for the at­tack­ing foot­ball in the Ban­tams’ 4-0 win.

In­stead it was tainted by the ac­tions of a few who gave no thought to the safety of the rest of the away fans packed into Spot­land.

So it is that I find my­self writ­ing as a life­long Brad­ford City fan and as a sur­vivor of the Val­ley Pa­rade fire of 1985, but with my le­gal back­ground re­fus­ing to go away.

Dur­ing my years as a lawyer I never found it good enough to know that some­thing or other was ‘the Law’.

I al­ways wanted to know why it was so.

So why does an Act of Par­lia­ment make it a crim­i­nal of­fence to pos­sess a flare or smoke bomb in a foot­ball ground dur­ing a game?

And why is the of­fence pun­ish­able with im­pris­on­ment?

The an­swers are not that dif­fi­cult. Flares and smoke bombs burn at very high tem­per­a­tures.

Flares, in par­tic­u­lar, can reach 1600 de­grees C and are de­signed not to be put out quickly.

Smoke bombs, not in­tended to be used in the mid­dle of a packed stand, can be dan­ger­ous to asthma suf­fer­ers and those with other breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

As ev­i­dence of just how dan­ger­ous these de­vices can be, one City fan suf­fered bruis­ing and a burn near to his eye and an­other had to leave the con­course un­der the stand, un­able to breathe in the smoke­filled at­mos­phere af­ter a de­vice was ig­nited in an even more en­closed area.

And ‘at­mos­phere’ seems to be the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for let­ting off these de­vices.

The young fans in­volved – and it seems al­ways to be young fans – claim that the py­rotech­nics add to the at­mos­phere of a game. Some of us, never mind that the law is against them, might dis­agree.

Take, by way of con­trast, flags and ban­ners.

There is a good ar­gu­ment that they are a way of show­ing sup­port for the team, thus im­prov­ing the at­mos­phere.

But would those sup­port­ers who bring in their ban­ners want to claim the right to drape them over other fans in the rows be­low, so that those other sup­port­ers could not watch what was go­ing on?

And therein seems to be the cru­cial point. What, if any, con­sid­er­a­tion do the smoke bombers have for their fel­low fans?

I have seen the ar­gu­ment that we, the more con­sid­er­ate group are just killjoys.

Even if we are killing some of their joy, we are at least try­ing to pre­vent them from truly killing a real per­son. As re­cently y as 2013 a 14-year-old boy was killed in Brazil.

The son of a man killed in Cardiff in 1993 says ‘noth­ing has been learned’ from the tragedy.

And as soon as the word ‘tragedy’ comes up and the con­cept of learn­ing from deaths at foot­ball grounds, it is in­evitable that all Brad­ford City sup­port­ers who were around in 1985 are taken back to the ul­ti­mate tragedy, in­volv­ing thick smoke and in­tense heat.

I do not need to be told that the Val­ley Pa­rade fire could not hap­pen in these days when wooden stands are out­lawed.

I know quite a bit about that day, not least how thick, acrid smoke in a con­fined space is a killer.

Four years ago I was work­ing k as pro­gramme ad­viser on a doc­u­men­tary about the 1985 fire.

I was con­stantly re­minded how dif­fi­cult it was for some to dis­cuss or watch the scenes from that day.

Equally, I re­alised how lit­tle knowl­edge so many peo­ple, in­clud­ing ld the h younger peo­ple l of Brad­ford, have about those events.

I was even asked one day dur­ing film­ing if any­one had been in­jured.

I helped the pro­gramme mak­ers mainly be­cause they wanted to tell the story of the fire through the voices of those most deeply af­fected.

The film, like my ear­lier book, was sim­ply a his­tor­i­cal ac­count from sur­vivors.

The more hours I put into that film the more I knew we had to em­pha­sise how quickly the fire spread, how fe­ro­cious the flames were and how lethal was the blind­ing smoke.

None of this should be for­got­ten, painful as it is for so many.

The mes­sages clearly have not reached those who let off flares and smoke bombs.

It isn’t enough to call them id­iots and shrug one’s shoul­ders.

More needs to be done to de­ter this thought­less and dan­ger­ous be­hav­iour.

Mak­ing these acts crim­i­nal is not enough in it­self.

De­tec­tion, con­vic­tion and some tough sen­tenc­ing is es­sen­tial.

Long ban­ning orders keep­ing them away from foot­ball grounds will be grate­fully re­ceived by the rest of us.

One last, but sig­nif­i­cant, part of the deter­rent is pub­lic­ity.

So far as is pos­si­ble, given that some of these mis­cre­ants will be ju­ve­niles, names have to be pub­lished – by the press and by any club seek­ing to re­store its rep­u­ta­tion.

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