Pair reunite 29 years after tragic fire

John Hawley

John Hawley

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A Beverley man, who experienced the tragic Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 first hand, has come face to face with the man whose life he saved.

Former Bradford City striker John Hawley, 59, pulled Arnold Whitehead, 93, out of the burning stand at Valley Parade during a game between Bradford City and Lincoln City on May 11 1985.

The pair’s first meeting will be shown in a BBC1 documentary called Real Lives Reunited on Monday at 11.45am, in which Arnold and John discuss their memories of the tragedy which claimed 56 lives.

John said: “It was nice for me to meet Arnold again, because he is a fabulous bloke. I didn’t realise it was just him and me on the documentary, I thought it would be a lot of people, but to catch up with him and speak to him was great.

“I have to say I think it is a self-preservation thing, but my memory of the day is very hazy. I can’t remember a lot about it at all.

“I remember seeing smoke and saying to someone ‘It’ll be alright’, but then a few seconds, it could have been a minute, later I picked someone up and threw them over my shoulder.

“I don’t know how many people I helped, but I received letters afterwards from different people.

“After that, I remember that I was thinking about my five-year-old son Adam who was in the stand. Thankfully someone who knew him took him and put him almost in the net in one of the goals and came to find me. I picked him up, and I must say that I don’t think I’ll ever top that feeling for the rest of my life.”

John, who also played for Hull City, Leeds United, Sunderland and Arsenal throughout his career, was born in Patrington and now runs Hawley’s antiques in Beverley, and his next auction is on February 9 at Beverley Racecourse.

Speaking to the Beverley Guardian, Arnold Whitehead, who lives in Bridlington, said: “It was great to meet John again. I had met him before, but obviously not formally. We had a really good chat. He is a very nice person, and was very concerned in helping people on the day. People didn’t know what was happening, but if it wasn’t for him I would never have got out of the stand.

“We were on the back row of the stand, me and (friends) Paul and Robert. We saw a whisp of smoke and we were a bit dubious, then we saw a policeman come across and we started to move.

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