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The 49-year-old was playing for the club on the fateful day in May 1985 when fire claimed 56 lives, and is hoping the Bantams create history against Swansea City on Sunday

EXCLUSIVE
By Russell Stoddart

Former Bradford City midfielder John Hendrie will hold his wife Linda that little bit closer on Sunday when they watch the Bantams try and create history in the Capital One Cup final against Swansea City at Wembley.

The 49-year-old Scot was playing for the club on the fateful day in May 1985 when fire ripped through the club’s dilapidated wooden main stand claiming 56 lives.

Linda, who John was to marry just three weeks later, was in the stand and survived by the skin of her teeth.
"A team from the lowest tier beating three Premier League teams on the way to a major final is surreal. I still cannot believe this is happening"

On Sunday, the current Bradford side will wear tracksuits with the number 56 on the back in tribute to the victims of the Bradford City fire disaster and John knows it will bring a lot of emotions flooding back.

"It will be a real tearjerker for me," Hendrie told Goal.com. "Never a day goes by without me thinking about the fire.

"We had won promotion and the end-of-season game with Lincoln was supposed to be a party for the players and the fans, but it turned into a nightmare. It is the worst day of my life."

As the fire took hold, the game was stopped and the players fled to safety, but most had loved ones in the fire-ravaged stand and it was a nerve-wracking wait to know they were safe.

Hendrie added: "The players were told to make our way to the rendezvous point at the Belle Vue pub near the ground.

"We were still in our kit and boots and I remember walking around the stadium in a state of shock hearing the fire engine sirens, seeing plumes of black smoke from the stand and passing people grieving for loved ones.

"It was half-an-hour before I was able to meet up with Linda. I’ve never been so relieved to see someone in my life."

While John found Linda safe and well, his Bantams team-mate Don Goodman was told that a former girlfriend, who had phoned him to request tickets for the game, had lost her life in the fire.

The name Bradford City has been synonymous with the disaster ever since. Whatever the future holds for the proud West Yorkshire club, it cannot escape its past.

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He continued: "The emotional scars have been with me ever since, and will remain with me until the day I die.

"To be fair, I don’t think the club, players or fans have tried to hide from it. What happened is part of all of us.

"I became a better person and better footballer because of the disaster. I was still as desperate to win football matches, but I learned to put it in perspective."

Bradford have a chance to write some new history on Sunday in arguably the most unlikely final of all time. If they win, they will become the only fourth tier side to lift the cup.

While Bradford have not won a major honour since the FA Cup in 1911, opponents Swansea are still waiting for their first.

The Swans will start strong favourites, but City, who lie 11th in League Two, have been underdogs in each round they have played.

Along the way they have beaten Premier League hopefuls Watford, gone to Wigan and won, and beaten Arsenal at Valley Parade and Aston Villa over two legs in the semi-final.

"A team from the lowest tier beating three Premier League teams on the way to a major final is surreal. I still cannot believe this is happening," Hendrie continued.

"The club has been in the doldrums in the past decade or so. It has gone through two administrations, three relegations, while the city has been beset with economic, social and cultural problems, too.

"The beauty of football is that sometimes it is the only thing that can bring everyone together. Sunday will be that day for Bradford.

"When I played for the club, I don’t recall seeing any Asians wearing a Bradford scarf, but what struck me about seeing the cup wins over Arsenal and Aston Villa is the number of Asian kids with grins on their faces and Bradford scarves round their necks.

"Whether Bradford City lift the trophy or not, it will reach out and bring communities closer together, and that would be a great result."

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