'It was a split-second decision', says football crowd firework hero

A football fan who suffered life-changing injuries in a firework blast has thanked the Fylde coast community for their support – and feels it’s time for the availability of such pyrotechnics to the public to be reviewed.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 4:14 pm

Paul Markham was hailed a hero after intervening to deflect an airbomb firework away from a group of children only for it to explode while still in his hand during a celebration by Blackpool supporters after last Sunday’s final game of the League season.

He has lost most of his right thumb but specialist medics at the Royal Preston Hospital are hopeful that when the bandages come off, two fingers which were also badly damaged in the blast might be largely saved.

The incident has cast 50-year-old Paul’s future as a roofer in the family business into doubt and a Just Giving fund-raising campaign by a former schoolmate has topped £9,000 after the initial £1,000 target was shattered within hours.

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Paul Markham is convalescing at his parents' home in North Shore
Paul Markham is convalescing at his parents' home in North Shore

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Blackpool fan who took brunt of stray firework blast hailed a hero

“I’m so grateful for all the kind messages and the donations to the fund-raising on my behalf and can’t thank all the staff on ward 4 of the Royal Preston enough for what they have done for me,” said Paul, known to his mates as ‘Speedy’.

“But I’m also so grateful I was there at the time to stop that airbomb reaching those kids because I dread to think what the outcome would have been then.

“I’ve never had any children myself but I’ve always been very protective of mates’ children on football trips and think it’s really important to look after them.

“I used to organise fireworks display at Anchorsholme years ago and I know the difference between a flare and an airbomb. I knew I had to do something to try and get it away.

“It was the first time in months I had been near the home of the club I’ve loved all my life, a chance to see my mates there for first time images and I had my back to the main stand as we were celebrating after the match.

“Out of the corner of my eye I could see this device rolling along the path and I knew right away it was airbomb.

“There were groups of kids all over and there was a group no more than 10 feet away to which I could see it was heading.

“I knew I had to do something, so leaned towards it with the first thought of kicking it away but then decided it would be better to pick it up and get it to a safe spot.

“It was a split-second decision and next thing I knew it had gone off. From then, everything went into slow motion and it seemed so surreal.

“I could hear voices, muffled because the blast had affected my ears and there is still some ringing in the right own now, and I remember there being lots of blood and people rushing around, with shots of “call an ambulance”, “call an ambulance”.

“One mate got a scarf, another a belt and I remember mates’ voices asking if the police could take me to hospital and then someone saying I would be quicker to go by car as an ambulance was some distance away but I was semi-conscious by that stage and it’s all intermittent.

“I do remember asking my mate Joel ‘Am I doing to die?’ and he reassured me, but I don’t remember much after that and when I woke up at the Royal Preston Hospital, I thought I was still at Blackpool Vic, as I had no real memory of the transfer.

“In fact, at one stage, I thought I was in a hotel above Preston Railway Station and thought I could leave when I liked. It was obviously a dream.”

Paul, who normally lives alone in central Blackpool, is now convalescing at the home of his parents Billy and Diane in North Shore and has been catching up with messages from well-wishers.

“I can’t believe how many there have been and thanks for them all,” he said. “My phone was smashed during what happened on Sunday so it was only after getting back from hospital a couple of days ago that I was able to log on to a tablet and see all the messages.

“I had no idea until then about the fund-raiser, either and I really am so grateful.

“I’m not even halfway through reading the messages yet but I’m aiming to answer them all.”

Over the coming weeks, via outpatient appointments and follow-up consultations with the micro-surgery specialists who treated him,it’s a case of waiting and seeing exactly how the injury will affect his working future.

“The medics were do good to me and have done their best. Much of the right thumb has done but hopefully there will be better news of the fingers.

“But like I say I’m glad it was me that was there to recognise that firework and step it getting to those kids – and I really hope the authorities will look at some kind of legislation over how easy it is for the public to buy fireworks.

“Organised displays only would be a great idea and there is certainly no place for them in public hands at football grounds.

“It has been a case over the years of the availability and buying of bigger, more powerful ones and they are dangerous. Something really needs doing.”

Paul’s dad Billy, founder of the family roofing business and a Pool fan for six decades, hailed his son a hero and has also praised fellow Seasiders supporters and the Blackpool community generally for their backing.

“This really is a special place, with special people who care so much, as proved this week with the response to the dreadful Jordan Banks tragedy,” said Billy.“There has always been a great sense of community which is reflected among the Blackpool supporters and their great sense of togetherness through thick and thin.

“We’re all so grateful for everyone’s support.”

The Just Giving site set up to help Paul by former schoolmate Jay Latham is set to remain open throughout this month and donations can be made via www.justgiving/com/crowed-funding/jason-latham

Police have appealed for information about the events which followed Pool’s win against Bristol Rovers at Bloomfield Road last Sunday. Contact them on 101 quoting log 0345 of May 9.

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