Blog by Mike Adams
Last Friday the Premier League released its progress report on accessibility in stadiums. As I suspected, things have started to improve but we need to see progress accelerate at a much faster pace. There is also significant disparity between clubs, a bit like the current Premier League table!
As an ardent Brighton and Hove Albion fan I am still living the dream of being in the Premier League. I remember 34 years ago (just!) when we were last in the top flight, and someone saying not to worry and that we would be promoted within 2 years!
The Goldstone Ground, where Brighton then played, would definitely have been in the relegation zone for disability access. There were spaces for 8 wheelchair users stuck in one exposed corner of the ground where if the wind blew I would be lucky to retain my hat and scarf. There were no accessible toilets so no Bovril drinks at half time for me! And if you were blind there were no radio commentaries to listen to like now, so I quickly learned to describe the game I was watching so a guy who came to every match could follow what was happening. I once said to him why did he continue to attend when provision was so poor. He looked at me with one of those expressions . . . once a fan always a fan, no matter what!
Fast forward to 2017. Along with everybody else, trying to get a ticket these days is incredibly difficult. As a disabled supporter I still struggle to buy tickets online – I usually have to ring a number and be put through to someone who ‘deals’ with disability. And taking more than one person with me, and us sitting all together, is still impossible. I can’t ever see me taking my son (who is 4) to the football until he is old enough to push my wheelchair and attend as my helper. At least in the Premier League when we go away I am able to be located in the away section. On a couple of occasions last year in the Championship I ended up sitting with home disabled supporters which was fine until we scored!
In terms of disability confidence, I strongly believe football clubs have a huge role to play as community leaders and in setting a tone for younger generations. I am pleased Purple is actively engaged with a number of clubs from the Premier League to the Conference that are doing exactly this.
We are not far away from validating a London club’s Disability Confident Level 3 status (the highest accreditation available), and we have seen a conference club with fantastic provision for those with dementia; and a club who, through their Foundation, are doing tremendous work in their community with a wide range of disabled people.
Football clubs need to do more than make their facilities accessible. Many are large employers, so they have a role to play in ensuring their workforces reflect their fanbase. I used to live in Coventry where it was well known the father of goalkeeper Chris Kirkland had placed a bet on his son (when he was 8) playing for England. He cashed in years ago. However, last week Kirkland talked openly about his battle with mental health and the pressures associated with being a professional footballer. He is not the only one, and it reflects a growing trend across organisations as a whole where 1 in 4 people will experience a significant mental issue in their lifetime (for those interested in hearing more on this topic, I recently hosted a webinar on mental health in the workplace which can be viewed here).
I have three hopes for the future. Firstly, that clubs – not just in the Premier League clubs but all tiers of football – will pick up the challenges set out in the progress report and become beacons among their communities in relation to disability issues. Second, all football clubs think about the steps they can take to become disability confident. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Brighton stay up this season and remain a Premier League club!
Together we can turn football clubs Purple. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can support your disability confident journey.