Dementia Friendly

“I won’t belong to a club that does not accept me as a member”

I have been a supporter of Wrexham AFC for 35 years. I have ploughed tens of thousands of pounds into the club I love. My relationship with the football club has been the one consistent relationship in my life and  outlasted failed relations with the opposite sex. I believed I would be Wrexham til I die, but unfortunately things don’t always turn out the way you expect them to.

The way the Disabled Supporters Association has been treated over the past few years is nothing short of a disgrace. The DSA is run by a team of dedicated committee members who represent the best interests of football supporters from all walks of life. They have done a sterling job in trying to maintain a community feel around a heartless carcass of a club.

The official club statement below describes the club’s biased view, but there are two sides to every story. I have been busy with the #SaveWILG campaign so have not been able to give this divide my full attention. I only know that instead of welcoming disabled supporters, Wrexham AFC are driving them away and totally failing in their moral obligations to the community at large.

Nothing has happened with regard to the resolution that myself and Ian Parry made to the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST) AGM back in 2018. To read the full story about this, click here.

Because I no longer feel welcomed at the Racecourse, it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to cancel my monthly direct debit to the WST. I cannot justify giving any more money to an organisation that clearly does not value my presence at games. Last season, the club actually used a hashtag at the end of their tweets – #WeAreOneTeam. This is an absolute joke and I encourage everyone with an ounce of solidarity and common decency to listen to their hearts before deciding whether or not to return to the Racecourse while the current regime is in control.

Wrexham fans might be interested in knowing about the eBay auctions that I will be listing soon of all the merchandise I have collected since we have been under the ownership of the WST. I have to find a way of getting some compensation. I will notify readers when these auctions go live.

I will still be writing my book about the history of the club. The volume will only focus on our time in the Football League when it was worth attending the Racecourse. I can’t recall the last time I actually got excited at a Wrexham game. Sadly, I just don’t have the time to waste anymore. The median age of death for someone with Friedreich’s Ataxia is 35. I am now 42 and determined to squeeze the most out of life while I can.

Cheers WST, you may have done me a favour…

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WST STATEMENT | STATEMENT REGARDING WREXHAM DSA & VIEWING PLATFORM

The Wrexham Supporters Trust need to respond to a growing social media storm regarding the club taking over the stewarding of the viewing platform at the Racecourse from the Wrexham Disabled Supporters Association. It is important that the situation is clarified and people understand the background to the decision.

Before the game vs Ebbsfleet

In the run up to the home fixture vs Ebbsfleet United, Wrexham AFC received a request from the DSA for complimentary tickets and a presentation on the pitch before our game against St Mirren Colts on Saturday, 12th October for a group called the ‘Allies in Access’.

Unfortunately we were unable to facilitate this request on this occasion as rules of the competition do not allow for complimentary tickets to be given away, apart from those stipulated by the competition.

The presentation on the pitch was for the ‘Allies in Access’ group who had won an award recently at the ‘Fans for diversity’ awards, which Wrexham DSA attended. The Allies in Access are a group based in the West Midlands, who represent their clubs, Walsall, Wolves, West Brom, Birmingham and Aston Villa. The group support their own clubs with disability requirements.

Unfortunately, Wrexham AFC were further unable to facilitate this request due to the tunnel area being restricted from 2pm onwards on matchday. This operation is standard practice at all of our home games.

As a compromise, the WST and Wrexham AFC offered the DSA to invite the ‘Allies in Access’ group for a pitchside photograph on a non-match day, an offer that is still open.

Upon receiving the news, the DSA contacted the club on Friday, 27th September to inform us they were going on ‘strike’ and would not be attending the Ebbsfleet game the following day in protest.

The DSA also informed our stadium manager and our DLO they were not prepared to supply the names of the supporters attending the platform and intended not to run their Audio Descriptive Commentary (ADC).

This left Wrexham AFC in a difficult position, with no alternative other than to steward the platform ourselves, so some of our most vulnerable supporters received the match day services they have become accustomed to.

Wrexham AFC contacted the suppliers of the ADC to see if we could make alternative arrangements to allow our supporters who use the service an option to have the commentary on the day. As a contingency measure we made plans for the commentators to sit next to the users of the commentary service.

The day of the game vs Ebbsfleet

Thankfully a DSA committee member contacted the club on the Saturday morning to say that they were prepared to organise the ADC, as Wrexham AFC did not have access to the equipment required. Wrexham AFC are grateful to the DSA committee member for providing the service, as we know how valuable it is to those supporters who use the ADC.

At midday in the run up to the game the DSA having previously informed us they were withholding the names of who was due to be on the platform, thankfully changed their stance and provided the names of the platform users to the club.

Unfortunately, Wrexham AFC were unable to provide any assistance with the car parking at Glyndwr University. Wrexham AFC do not have an organising relationship for activities in the car park area, which are usually carried out by the DSA in conjunction with the owners of the car park.

Following the Ebbsfleet Fixture

An email was sent to the DSA the following Thursday, as we had not been informed if they were intending to resume their role providing stewarding on the platform for the fixture vs Harrogate Town. So that alternative arrangements could be arranged in time, a deadline was put in place, if the deadline wasn’t met, the club would need seek to make alternative arrangements, as 12pm is the cut off for making professional staffing arrangements.

The DSA replied to an email after the deadline and as such Wrexham AFC operations had already acted to put alternative arrangements into place to ensure the platform could be used by our supporters, both on Tuesday and for the rest of the season, so we can be certain to keep continuity of service to fans.

The decision was not taken lightly and given the situation, Kerry Evans, Wrexham AFC Disability Liaison Officer has agreed to take over the organisation of the platform alongside her other roles at the club, which will not be affected by her taking the extra work on.

The DSA kindly agreed to deliver the ADC at the Ebbsfleet game and have been invited to continue to deliver the service at the Racecourse Ground on match days. Should the DSA feel unable to provide the receivers to our supporters who use the service, Wrexham AFC will look to source more receivers to ensure ADC can continue.

There appears to be some confusion among supporters regarding the DSA and disability projects that are being run by Wrexham AFC through Kerry Evans.

Wrexham AFC projects include:

  • The Autism Friendly area and quiet room
  • Accessible away travel scheme
  • Kerry has been instrumental in Wrexham AFC and The Racecourse being the first professional football club in Wales to be granted Autism Friendly status
  • Dementia friendly status for the ground
  • Autism friendly football sessions
  • Anti-bullying workshops in schools
  • Representing Wrexham AFC in her official capacity at many community events in the area. Kerry will continue to provide our supporters with all the usual along with these extra tasks.

The DSA’s role on matchdays has been:

  • Stewarding the viewing plaform
  • Handing out receivers for the ADC
  • Working with the WSA on the Blue badge car parking
  • Supporting Wrexham DSA members

In the spirit of openness and transparency, below is a copy of the email sent to the DSA informing them of the decision by Wrexham AFC.

We would prefer to resolve these issues in a face to face meeting and by reasonable discussion, but when individuals resort to social media it is important that the full facts are brought to the attention of our supporters. That is why we have taken the unusual step of making this statement.

Ultimately all of us want to provide the best facilities for all our fans and our DLO in particular has worked tirelessly to help bring that about. In fairness to her (and our other volunteers) it is important that the full facts are aired in response to what others have chosen to publish.

“Thanks for your reply Andy.

Unfortunately as the DSA did not reply until after the 12pm deadline, which was required by us, Wrexham AFC had no alternative but to ensure the services were available for some of our most vulnerable of supporters.

As such, the DSA presence will not be required on the platform for Tuesday evening at Wrexham AFC and for the remainder of the season. Our disabled supporters rely on the provision of services and we have to ensure they continue to receive a high quality service without the potential for any possible disruption as it really makes a difference to their match day experience.

Wrexham AFC will continue to strive for excellence with regards to inclusion and diversity as anyone would expect as a minimum. This has been a difficult decision to take by Wrexham AFC but we must ensure the services for some of our most vulnerable supporters are never placed in jeopardy and taking these services in house is the most sensible solution at this time. Wrexham AFC will strive to improve on the services currently offered which I am sure you would welcome.

I would like to add our gratitude to Darren for facilitating the ADC on Saturday. The continuation of this service is a high priority for Wrexham AFC and if you can commit and guarantee to providing the service you would be welcomed to do so on behalf of the football club. Should you be unable to guarantee providing the service to our supporters who gain an enhanced match day service, Wrexham AFC will have no option other than to source alternative arrangements. Feedback from the supporters who use the ADC has been so positive, we know how much they value the service and will take all steps necessary to ensure its continuation.

With regards to any meeting, Wrexham AFC were unaware of any issue until the request one made by the DSA for tickets and pitch presentation for the St Mirren Colts game, unfortunately this was unable to be facilitated. Alternative arrangements were offered for the allies in access group to attend the ground on a non match day to have a pitch side presentation but we have not heard back regarding the offer which still stands. Should you wish to email a request with an agenda for items you wish to discuss at a meeting we would look to meet you at a convenient time and date in the near future.

Wrexham AFC would like to thank you for your past presence on the viewing platform and hope we can continue working together in providing services to some of our most vulnerable supporters in the future.”

Issued jointly by: Wrexham AFC Operations and Wrexham Supporters Trust Governing Body.

When Saturday Comes – Restricted access

I wrote the following article for When Saturday Comes magazine, regarding disabled access to football grounds.  They have used a picture of Wrexham fans enjoying the view from the wheelchair platform at the Racecourse, which just so happens to feature the fantastically gorgeous Nathan Lee Davies.

This is the original article that I wrote.  It has been edited a little in When Saturday Comes, but here it is reprinted in all its glory.  Enjoy.

Restricted access

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee [CMSC] published a report on Access to Sports Stadia in January, which highlighted substandard facilities and archaic attitudes towards disabled football supporters, especially amongst clubs plying their trade in the glitz and glamour of the Premier League.

In 2015, the league promised to improve the matchday experience for disabled fans, stating that clubs would comply with official guidance – set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the  – by August 2017. With this self-imposed deadline fast approaching, the CMSC survey suggested that several top-flight clubs were unlikely to meet even basic standards before the new season starts. It seems as if profit and greed has been frequently favoured by club owners over any sense of social responsibility.

This is particularly hard to stomach when you consider that the estimated costs facing the entire Premier League to bring their stadia to standard are as little as £7.2 million. No wonder fans are disgruntled when their clubs are currently in the first of a three-year television deal worth £10.4 billion.

Committee chairman Damian Collins MP said: “Sports fans with disabilities are not asking for a large number of expensive changes, only to have their needs taken into account in the way sports stadia are designed and operated.”

There can be no doubt that the majority of our elite clubs are ignoring the needs of a section of their fanbase. We only need to consider the Premier League Handbook of 2016-17 for evidence of this. This is a hefty 655-page document that includes immense detail regarding stadium requirements for accommodating TV companies, yet includes only 11 words on disabled access. This is a depressing reminder of the modern game’s priorities.

Of course, the Premier League is defensive. A statement argued that clubs are showing commitment over, what it deemed to be, an ambitious timescale.  This is hard to swallow when you consider the inclusive work being done further down the pyramid. The CMSC report regards Championship club Derby County and non-league sides Tranmere Rovers, Wrexham and Egham Town as “exemplars of best practice”. My club, Wrexham, may have played some of the worst football ever seen at the Racecourse during the 2016/17 season, but I have never been prouder to support our truly inclusive, community-owned club.

Not only does the oldest international football stadium in the world now boast an accessible viewing platform for non-ambulant supporters, but we also have plans for two more platforms. In addition, we have purchased audio descriptive commentary equipment for fans with visual impairments and have recently become a dementia friendly football club.  This is good going for a club owned and run by its fans and shows that it is possible to open a stadium to everyone.

A Premier League report – released on Transfer Deadline Day in the hope that no one would notice – revealed that 13 of its 20 clubs’ grounds do not incorporate the minimum number of wheelchair spaces recommended in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG) and that nine of the clubs will not make the necessary improvements in time for the league’s August deadline.

Thankfully, the threat of legal action by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) seems to have done the trick and shaken many clubs from an inactive slumber. David Isaac, EHRC chair, issued an uncompromising statement: “The time for excuses is over. Clubs need to urgently demonstrate to us what they are doing to ensure they are compliant with the law and how they are making it easier for disabled fans to attend matches. If they don’t, they will face legal action.”

Improvement schemes have subsequently been hurriedly announced by clubs that currently fall short of the minimum standards. Only four of these clubs – Liverpool, Stoke, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion – hope to meet these standards by the August deadline.

Positive plans are in the pipeline at Manchester United, Everton, Arsenal and Leicester City, but these proposed works will not be ready within the tight timeframe.  Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea both pledge that their newly built grounds will be fully compliant with the ASG when opened.  Middlesbrough believe that the Riverside Stadium already complies with the regulations while the other two promoted teams from 2015/16, Hull City and Burnley, have been given a further year to make the necessary improvements.

Progress is being made and this should be welcomed. However, it is hard not to be cynical and question why such improvements have taken so long.  It is all well and good for football grounds to be hospitable to disabled patrons, but the change that really needs to happen is attitudinal so that no one feels excluded from watching their football team ever again.