Stafford Heginbotham

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Template:Unreliable sources Stafford Heginbotham (12 September 1933 - 21 April 1995) was a British businessman and chairman of Bradford City football club at the time of 56 deaths in the Bradford City stadium fire, which occurred immediately after the club won league promotion that mandated a costly upgrading of spectator facilities. A 2015 book revealed the extent of Heginbotham's fire insurance claims before the disaster, which had led to him being the subject of local innuendo about arson. Although the head of a 1985 public inquiry into the disaster, later described Heginbotham's history as very suspicious[no citations needed here], they maintained there was still no reason to think there had been anything sinister about the stadium fire[no citations needed here].

Career and businesses

In the mid 1950s he worked as a salesman for a soft furnishings company, and by the age of 24 he was regarded as the firm's best salesman.[1] In 1971, Heginbotham set-up the Bradford-based company Tebro Toys. Six years later he claimed today's equivalent of £3 million for a fire that destroyed the premises and a large amount of stock just before Christmas. He did not use the insurance proceeds to re-open the business.[2] He did not reopen the business, despite Bradford City Council's attempts to save the company and a proposed merger with a Welsh based toy company.[3]

Heginbotham became chairman of Bradford City football club, where he was a popular figure, the current official mascot for Bradford City A.F.C. was introduced by Heginbotham in 1966, the 'City Gent' character was modeled on him..[4] He was credited with saying that 'Football is the Opera of the people".[5][6]

Bradford City stadium fire

In the penultimate game of the 1984-85 season the club had secured promotion to Division Two, thereby making the replacement of existing spectator terracing that dated from 1911 a necessary expense under safety regulations. Hegginbotham received an estimate of £2 million for a new stand, but according to author Martin Fletcher he was at that time having difficulty meeting the wage bill and running costs at the club.[7][8] Just before half time in the final game of the season a fire started at one end of the stand that would have to be replaced. The wooden structure was quickly ablaze; heat and smoke meant spectators had only minutes to escape. Interviewed immediately afterwards, Heginbotham, who had been in the director's box about 50 yards away from where the fire originally started, said he thought two flares or smoke bombs had gone off before the fire started.[9][10] Bradford City received insurance proceeds and local government grants totalling £7 million in today's terms to rebuild facilities. An inquiry concluded that a lit cigarette had fallen through the floorboards of the wooden structure and ignited accumulated paper rubbish.[11] The club which was seeking to comply with grant issuing bodies so as to secure funding had already carried out repair work to remedy the potential for fire posed by the accumulation of paper under the stand being ignited after having been warned of it by the local authority safety officers, and it is not clear how much inflammable debris remained under the stands at the time of the disaster.[12][13][14] Heginbotham resigned after the fire, but returned for a second spell as chairman before finally leaving in January 1988.[15]

In his autobiography, The Real McCall, former Bradford City A.F.C. player Stuart McCall talks of agreeing a tax-free payment with Stafford Heginbotham which was not honoured by Jack Tordoff. McCall took the club to the Football League and, after a second hearing, won his case. Speaking about the issue, Jack Tordoff stated that: "Stuart was very close to Stafford Heginbotham, and he and Stuart arranged a deal while they were on a club end-of-season holiday. Stuart signed a three-year contract, but Stafford promised him privately that if we didn't get promotion he could leave the club. Stafford also promised him a signing-on fee of £50,000, and that went into his contract, but Stafford didn't tell the board that this sum was tax-free. At the end of the season we allowed Stuart to break his contract and leave for Everton to further his career because a promise had been made to him. Stuart took us to a tribunal. The tribunal ruled in favour of the club, but Stuart appealed against this decision and got Stafford to go with him. Stafford told the tribunal he had promised a tax-free payment to Stuart so the club paid up on the same day."[16]

Following the sale of his shares in Bradford City A.F.C. Heginbotham converted his then home in Tong called Pastures into a hotel in late 1987. Two years later the Tong Village Hotel opened, in 1990 he sold the hotel in a shares transaction deal to Whitbread, receiving a million shares, he then moved to Jersey as a tax exile.[17]

Personal life and death

Heginbotham married Lorna Silverwood[18] and had two sons, James and Simon, who still reside in West Yorkshire.[19] In 1995, following a heart transplant operation at St George's Hospital in Tooting, Heginbotham died. He was 61.[20][21] His funeral was held at Bradford Cathedral in early May 1995 and he was interred at Undercliffe Cemetery overlooking Valley Parade.[22]

Stafford was famous for wearing a toupée, speaking of his time at Bradford City A.F.C., former player John Hendrie recalled that: "We all lived in each other’s pockets back then. Stafford Heginbotham would come in the dressing room before a game and offer us £200 for a few drinks that night if we won. We wouldn’t see him again until 2.50pm the following week and he’d make it double or quits. Looking at his “syrup”, we’d always ask when he was going to pay (toupee) – it would go straight over his head!".[23]

A keen cricket fan, in 1977 Heginbotham created the "Stafford Heginbotham Castle Trophy Highest Aggregate Wickets" in the Bradford Cricket League. The trophy is still running to this date.[24]

Book revelations

Shortly before the 30 year anniversary of the disaster, a book (published by a survivor of the Bradford City Fire), made allegations concerning a number of fires at Heginbotham's premises in and around Bradford between 1967 and 1981, which had been the subject of large insurance payouts. After two fires in 1977 the Bradford Telegraph & Argus had quoted Heginbotham as saying "I have just been unlucky." One of the major fires were found to have been started by children, a young man was convicted of at least one other.[25] It is a matter of dispute how seriously innuendo about Heginbotham being a serial arsonist and insurance fraudster was meant, but when Bradford businessmen saw smoke in the sky they joked "that will be one of Stafford's"[26] In the aftermath of the Bradford deaths Heginbotham's reputation for setting fires received little or no mention in the media despite an accusatory graffiti campaign targeting his businesses.[27][28] Heginbotham had a sign in his office that read: ‘There are three types of people – those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened’.[29][30]


References

  1. Extract from The 56 the story of the Bradford City Fire
  2. Guardiam 15 April 20015, [1]The Story of the Bradford Fire: ‘could any man really be as unlucky as Stafford Heginbotham?’]
  3. Archive from T&A on Tebro toys
  4. Paraders History of The City gent
  5. Quotation source for Stafford Heginbotham
  6. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/imre-varadi-sacked-by-rotherham-1616673.html
  7. Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire, 2015, Martin Fletcher
  8. BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Bradford City Stadium fire
  9. Guardian 27 April 2015Bradford fire: Sir Oliver Popplewell says new inquiry would find nothing sinister
  10. ITV, 15 April 2015Archive: Late Bradford City chairman speaks after 1985 fire tragedy
  11. Fire Hazards in Industry By Norman Thomson p8-9
  12. Inglis, Simon (1987). The football grounds of Great Britain. Willow Books. ISBN 0-00-218249-1. p119
  13. Guardian Blog, 18 April 2015Bradford fire: the horrors and the silence that had to be broken
  14. Football Nation book excerpt on the Bradford City Fire
  15. Stafford Heginbotham's later life courtesy of The 56 book by Martin Fletcher
  16. T&A report on McCall's biography
  17. Stafford Heginbotham's later life courtesy of The 56 book by Martin Fletcher
  18. Telegraph and Argus Obituary on Heginbotham's wife
  19. Mirror interview with Heginbotham's sons
  20. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/valley-parade-disaster-survivor-of-bradford-city-fire-martin-fletcher-casts-suspicion-on-chairman-in-new-book-10179599.html
  21. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/imre-varadi-sacked-by-rotherham-1616673.html
  22. Chapter 14 of The 56 by Martin Fletcher detailing the death of Stafford Heginbotham
  23. John Hendrie team spirit article from the T&A
  24. Bradford Cricket League Heginbotham Trophy
  25. Fletcher, M., Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire (2015)
  26. LBC Friday, 17th April 2015 My dad is no arsonist
  27. Guardian Blog, 18 April 2015Bradford fire: the horrors and the silence that had to be broken
  28. ITV 18 April, Bradford fire: Lead detective dismisses fresh claims
  29. Guardian 15 April, [2]
  30. Guardian 15 April, [3]