Many years ago, as a schoolboy at Charterhouse, I used to admire the expert wicket keeping of Oliver Popplewell. Still more admirable was the superb batting of the captain of the cricket team, Peter May, who of course went on to captain the England test team, an effortlessly fluent run maker.
Both of these players went on to win Blues at Cambridge University, where May also captained the University football team. Popplewell went on to enjoy a highly successful legal career ultimately becoming a Lord Justice and as such – we are now coming to the point – presiding over the inquiry into the appalling fire at Bradford City in May 1985 which tragically caused the death of 56 supporters.
Popplewell’s inquiry suggested with assurance that the fire had been accidentally caused by someone dropping into a crack in the floor of the old stand a lighted cigarette which, falling on to the piles of rubbish which had been allowed to accumulate there over the years, ignited the horrifying blaze.
Now a diligently researched book 56 The Story of The Bradford Fire has been published by Martin Fletcher who, as a 12-year-old child, somehow managed to escape the inferno but lost four doomed relatives including his younger brother.
After 15 years of research, Fletcher has come up with what must at least be recognised as alarming circumstantial evidence, though Popplewell himself has ridiculed it.
The stark facts are, as Fletcher has discovered, that a series of fires involving properties belonging to the late chairman of Bradford City, Stafford Heginbotham, had destroyed no fewer than five properties owned by Heginbotham. In each case he pocketed large sums of money from insurance companies.
At the time of the Bradford City fire, his toy business was failing and with City gaining promotion from the Third Division, it was known that they would have to spend some £2 million in bringing their stadium up to the required standard.
You do wonder how it was that the various insurance companies appear to have paid out without suspicion. Could they not at some stage at least have perceived what was plainly a clear pattern?
Popplewell himself has already ridiculed the book insisting that there was no evidence of any malfeasance. But we do know that the Bradford Council had warned City three times that they should clear up the rubbish beneath the stand and ultimately the club was found two thirds responsible for the blaze.
A later inquest had initially held by a coroner who considered bringing a manslaughter charge against City but ultimately, and bizarrely, the verdict was death by misadventure.
The enormity of the suggestion that Heginbotham had deliberately had the blaze ignited at the expense of so many lives is such that it is hard to believe. Yet Heginbotham’s previous record is such that though Fletcher inevitably comes to no ultimate conclusion, you cannot help but wonder.
My brilliant colleagues of Insight at the Sunday Times have come up with fresh appalling revelations of how Mohamed bin Hammam bribed Qatar’s way to the 2022 World Cup. (Lucky Russians whose own highly dubious acquisition of their 2018 World Cup so far goes un-investigated.)
Yet the appalling fact is that Blatter is certain to breeze home once again for a scandalous fifth term as FIFA President as he now goes around the football world receiving the nauseating sycophantic plaudits of the leaders of peripheral football countries with their snouts in his trough.
The Insight team who now publish the book of their investigation The Ugly Game have now unearthed a dossier presented in 2012 by FIFA’s lawyers to the Court of Arbitration in Sport which states that Bin Hammam played an important role in Qatar securing the 2022 World Cup.
Meanwhile at a CONCACAF congress in the Bahamas, Osira Guzman of the Dominican Republic compared ineffable Blatter with Moses, Jesus Christ and Nelson Mandela.
Of course in an ideal, rational world UEFA’s countries would withdraw from that World Cup en masse but with the invertebrate Michel Platini in the UEFA, seat there is no hope of his doing what he should.
Having allegedly under pressure from ex France President Sarkozy backed Qatar not only in the winter, with its European disruption, but even over the proposed summer.
Honte is the French word for shame.
Tim Sherwood’s glorious achievement in revitalising a waning Aston Villa and beating Liverpool at Wembley utterly on merit, means that at least there is one English club manager, and a young one at that, potentially able to run the national team.
If Arsenal play as they sluggishly did against brave unlucky Reading in the Final, Villa with surely win that too. Arsene Wenger’s over confidence was plain in his preferring an ineffectual Danny Welbeck to lead his attack while keeping his chief bombardier Giroud on the bench so long.
Only that sad goalkeeping error saved the Gunners from potential humiliation. Against underdogs from whom so little was expected and so much displayed.