Liverpool

Latest Mission

During the following 12 months I hope to visit all the 92 football grounds in the Premier League and Football League. I will not try to watch a match at all the grounds, but I do want to bask in the architecture of these differing stadiums and collect memorabilia to auction at the end of my tour.

The charity that I have chosen to benefit from my expedition is Level Playing Field – the working name of National Association of Disabled Supporters. Instead of spending time trying to explain the nature of this registered charity I will share their guiding principles that can be found on their excellent website at www.levelplayingfield.org.uk

Guiding Principles

Level Playing Field (LPF) believe that being a disabled person is a social issue and that an individual only becomes disabled because of the social, attitudinal and environmental barriers that the individual faces (this is known as the social model of disability).

Our efforts are focussed on removing these barriers in all sports. LPF and its members will know they have succeeded when all fans can enjoy an equal experience at live sports events:

  • all stadia and sports venues are fully accessible and inclusive;
  • all customer and/or fan services are equal and inclusive;
  • disabled people are seen as customers with a commercial value


We are guided by the following principles:

  • Anti-discrimination – so that disabled people do not face discrimination arising from poor or misinformed practice.
  • Equality of opportunity or making things fairer – for disabled people in every aspect of their contact with sports clubs and venues.
  • Increasing the independence and choices that disabled people have.
  • Individual needs / Diversity – recognising that a disabled person is an individual who, like all others, has his or her own needs, abilities, human rights and responsibilities.
  • Integration/inclusion – such that services are made accessible to disabled people and offer choice.
  • Involvement in decision-making – so that disabled people, and/or their advocates, are consulted before decisions which affect them are made.
  • The social model of disability explains that it is social and physical ‘barriers’ that cause ‘disability’ not impairments.

LPF is working to remove the barriers that currently exclude disabled people. These barriers can be:

  • prejudice and stereotypes
  • the way things are organised and run
  • little or no access to information, buildings and transport

To download a PDF of the Guiding Principles with footnotes please click here.

 To download a PDF copy of the LPF Governing Constitution click here.

I think you now get an idea of why I have chosen to support this charity. As a disabled person, I know that attending a football match every weekend and having involvement with like-minded fans through a DSA (Disabled Supporter’s Association) can make a big difference to people’s lives.  I want the money raised through this project to make a real difference by giving others the opportunity to attend matches and feel the same sense of inclusion that I feel every time I visit the Racecourse.

There is much planning to be done. Fortunately, I recently discovered Roadrunner Motorhomes which provides fully accessible accommodation on wheels.  It boasts a ceiling track hoist, profiling bed, toilet and wet room, which is all I need to make this epic adventure a reality.  I have booked the motorhome for the first week in October.  This will be ideal for visiting clubs based on the south coast and maybe a few more once I have worked out which are the best campsites to stay in.

For more information see: www.roadrunnermotorhomes.webs.com

I also need to set up an online sponsorship page for all you kind people to support me on my tour of England and Wales.  In addition I will also be booking the few hotels with the necessary equipment needed to transfer me from wheelchair to bed.  This will be needed in order to visit the London clubs and those based in south Wales and the North East.

I will be beginning my quest next week with trips to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Stoke City.  My trip to Wolves is to represent Wrexham DSA who have been invited to Molineux  to meet their counterparts in the West Midlands and foster a positive relationship with this group before enjoying their clash with Nottingham Forest.  My trip to the Britannia Stadium was organised with the help of Eddie Niedzwiecki after my friend Valerie Leney wrote to him to tell him about my 40th birthday.  He kindly got in touch with tickets for his side’s forthcoming game against Liverpool.

This venture will cost me a pretty penny at a time that disabled people are disproportionately feeling the full force of austerity measures. Subsequently, any individual or company that would like to help out with petrol costs, hotel fees and food bills then please do get in touch.

So, this is my latest escapade. There is much to organise and at times it is overwhelming, but if the money I raise helps just one disabled person attend football more regularly – subsequently increasing their sense of- self-worth – then it will have been a worthwhile venture…

Memory Match – 02-09-39

Throughout the 2016/17 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

02-09-39

Halifax Town v Wrexham

League Division Three (Northern Section) (abandoned)

The Shay

Result: 1-1

Halifax Town: Briggs, Allsop, Jackson, Green, Craig, Ruecroft, Widdowfield, Bruce, Baines, Barkas, Wood

Goalscorer: Baines

Wrexham: Bryan, Tunney, Screen, Savage, Matthias, Briggs, Williams, Snow, Woodman, Bradbury, Brown

Goalscorer: Brown

Attendance: 6,417

When the 1939/40 season kicked off, the international situation meant that it was unlikely to proceed far. Indeed, after only three matches, war was declared on 3 September 1939 and with immediate effect the assembly of crowds was banned until further notice.

The last game Wrexham played before the suspension of football was at the Shay – home of Halifax Town. The match featured a fantastic display from the visiting goalkeeper Billy Bryan who was in inspired form for the Reds.

Halifax controlled proceedings and spent most of the game on the offensive. However, Wrexham took an early lead through former Nottingham Forest winger, Roy Brown who scored with a fast, rising shot. The Shaymen where shocked by this and retaliated swiftly with Bryan being called upon to make some spectacular saves from Reg Baines.

It was apparent that Halifax’s repeated attacks would bring reward, and it came as no surprise when Baines equalised with a fierce drive that gave Bryan no chance. Before the break the Wrexham custodian had to be on his toes to stop a shot from Tommy Barkas. Writing in the Leader, “Candidus” said that Bryan was “clapped when he left the field at half time by the sporting home crowd, and he well deserved their plaudits.”

 After the interval, Halifax maintained their pressure but could not penetrate the red wall of defenders. In the final stages it looked likely that Wrexham were to lose their hard-earned point when Baines broke through with only Bryan to beat. This was a duel between the two star performers of the game. Thankfully, it was Bryan who came out on top when he confidently ran out of his goal and smothered the centre forward’s shot.

***

Underneath the match report in the North Wales Guardian was the headline: “Welsh FA and Suspension of Football”. Ted Robbins, secretary of the FAW issued the following statement: “It will have been noticed that football has been suspended. This decision is doubtless necessary, but I feel that in a very short time the ban will be raised in certain areas so as to afford some recreation for the people, and to take their minds temporarily off sterner things.”

Robbins was correct in his forecast. The Government deemed football should continue in some format because it was good for morale. Wrexham’s next match was a friendly against Chester at the Cae Ras. They played another friendly against Chester and two against Tranmere Rovers before football was reorganised into regions. Wrexham played in the Regional League (West Division), which included the two Manchester giants as well as Liverpool and Everton.

During the war, registration regulations were relaxed to allow players who would serve in the forces to turn out for a club near to where they were stationed. These players were allowed to appear as guests and each club could field as many guests as they wanted. Indeed, without the guest player system, war time football would have collapsed.

During this period, Wrexham had their fair share of guest players. Famous names to appear for Wrexham included England internationals Stanley Matthews, Stan Cullis, John Hancocks and Ronnie Dix. Welsh internationals included Tommy G Jones, Tommy Griffiths, Ehud Rogers, Tommy Bamford and Don Dearson.

The Town’s best season during this time of conflict was in 1943/44 when they finished top of the North Regional Championship and had the same record as Bath City, who played in the Southern Regional competition. Wrexham offered to play Bath over two legs to decide the outright winner, but Bath bottled it and refused the offer because of the travelling involved. Popular opinion of the time regarded Wrexham as the outright winners because of the strength of the opponents they had overcome compared to Bath.

Stars in my Eyes

It’s just another typical weekend where I enjoy spending my time wallowing in self-pity and bemoaning the structure of our couple-centric society.  My loneliness helps create a vile bitterness that I try to harness and turn into a positive creativity, whether this works or not is for readers of my book and this blog to decide.

I definitely have a “glass half empty” outlook, but deep down – below the negative surface – I know how lucky I am compared to many other people.  Once in a while, I am reminded of this in no uncertain terms and I find it to be quite humbling.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a birthday card and signed photograph from Jeremy Corbyn.  The card was a little late in arriving, but I didn’t mind because someone I admire greatly had taken the time to send me his best wishes. I think this is a measure of the man as even though he must have a hectic schedule in trying to fight the Tories, he still found a minute to congratulate me on my 40th birthday.

***

Cerys Matthews has been a very important figure in my life.

In 1999, I had a car crash in Huddersfield while listening to Road Rage by Cerys’ band Catatonia.   To read the full story of my accident in West Yorkshire, simply click here.  Then in 2008, I went to watch Cerys, who was now a solo artist, perform a concert in Llangollen while my wife at the time went to Birmingham to meet an old friend.

It was a great concert and Cerys was absolutely sensational.  I still have fond memories of that evening even though my ex-wife later admitted that she had been snogging the face off her old friend.  It’s a pity she couldn’t see what me and Cerys had got up to in my dreams.

In 2010, I went to see Cerys perform again in Glyndwr University and was annoyed to find out that my sister had stayed behind and met Cerys while I rushed home to placate my newly employed Personal Assistant.  I hope I will get the chance to meet her again soon.

Therefore, imagine my surprise and delight when I received a parcel from none other than Cerys Matthews that included two signed albums and a note apologising for the late arrival.  I was overjoyed to receive this and I will treasure these gifts, from such a talented beauty, always.

However, the real star of the show is none other than my good friend Valerie Leney who organised my celebrity surprises.  I am also going to watch Stoke City against Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on April 8 thanks to Valerie contacting Eddie Niedzwiecki – former Wrexham goalkeeper and Stoke City coach – and encouraging him to mark my birthday with an unforgettable surprise.

I am lucky to have a friend like this.  Valerie is such a special person that I am fortunate enough to have in my life.  Indeed, the biggest achievement of my time at the University of Nottingham was not achieving a 2:1 in American Studies or spending a semester in the University of Illinois, but making such a close circle of friends that I am still in touch with.  These people helped me to enjoy my 40th birthday celebrations and reunited especially for the occasion.  This will no doubt serve as a constant reminder that when the chips are down, I can always rely on the bonds I created over 20 years ago…

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.

My Racecourse – Stuart Roberts

Nathan Lee Davies is a key member of the Wrexham Disabled Supporters Association, who is right behind our My Racecourse campaign. Despite a debilitating condition he does all he can to contribute to Wrexham AFC’s success. He has agreed to pen for us a series of short stories over the summer detailing what the Racecourse means to fans and former players alike. This week Nathan talks to WST board member Stuart Roberts about the day his love for Wrexham AFC and the Racecourse was cemented:

28-12-87

Wrexham v Hereford United

League Division Four

Racecourse Ground

Result: 0-0

Wrexham: Morris, Williams, Cunnington, Hinnigan, Cooke, Bowden, Buxton, Hunter, Kearns, Russell, Emson (Preece)

Hereford United: Rose, Jones, Devine, Powell, Pejic, Spooner, Rodgerson, Bowyer, Stevens, Stant, Dalziel

Attendance: 2,443

 Being a child in a forces family, attending the Racecourse regularly wasn’t an option as we were living outside of the area. I got to see a few of the bigger matches, but I grew up as an armchair Liverpool fan as they were the dominant team of the seventies.   At school in the Midlands, I almost succumbed to the pressure from my classmates to join them as Molineux regulars, but after watching Wrexham lose there in the FA Cup Fifth Round in 1981, I found that my hometown team was more important than the men in old gold could ever be.

My first game without a guardian was at Christmas time in 1987. I got a lift with my cousin and his father-in-law, and absolutely loved my first experience of the quirky architecture of the old Mold Road Stand. People were spilling out of the Centre Spot and the Turf full of festive cheer and that is where the excitement started for me.  Then it was around the corner to the Kop….

WOW.

Even though the Kop was still fairly subdued, it gave me such a buzz to push my frame through those cold, iron turnstiles. Those of you reading this now will know that once you have felt the enigmatic mystique of the Racecourse combined with the intoxicating stench of fried onions and tobacco, not to mention the rush of pre-match adrenaline pumping around your body, there really is no going back.  The emotion of the event won me over in less than five minutes. We were only playing Hereford United in front of a couple of thousand beleaguered souls, but there was no where else I’d rather be showing off my new Christmas clobber.

Those feelings were probably enough to make sure I made a return to the Racecourse but it was pretty much guaranteed after making my way to the back of the Kop. I remember walking up the steps on the right hand side with people laughing and joking and obviously enjoying the experience as much as I was.  There were kids who were also starting their education in football and I don’t doubt that they soon learnt what supporting your local team meant and why they are probably taking their kids or grandchildren on a Saturday now, as I do with my daughter who shows as much passion for our great club as any proud dad could ask for.

Once at the back of the Kop I came across THAT guy who starts the songs. Everyone knew him and everyone wanted to stand by him.  He was and still is, relentless.  If a few minutes passed without a song, then you just knew a terrace anthem would soon be booming out. I think his name is Jacko…

“Everywhere we go
People want to know
Who’re the boys in red and white”…

As for the game in question, I had chosen to attend the only 0-0 draw of the whole season – home or away. This was just my luck. The day be0fore this game we had drawn 1-1 at Stockport County and now we struggled to find a way past a Hereford side that sat deep with ten men behind the ball at all times. I don’t remember any real scoring chances and this was a very depressing way to say goodbye to 1987. Dixie McNeil said afterwards that “1988 has to be an improvement on 1987!”

The fact that I wanted to come back for more shows that there is more to being part of a community of football fans than the “entertainment” we often have to endure.

***

Over the summer months, Nathan Lee Davies hopes to compile a series of articles about our treasured Racecourse memories. We hope that this will promote the My Racecourse brand by showing how much this venue means to so many people and illustrate that it can be used by all of the community to create more memories in the future.

Memory Match – 10-09-05

Throughout the 2015/16 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

10-09-05

Wrexham v Cheltenham Town

Coca-Cola League Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 2-0

Wrexham: Ingham, Linwood (Spender), Smith, Ferguson, Bennett, Warhurst, Jones (Mackin), Williams, Walters, Foy (McEvilly), Holt

Goalscorers: Holt 8, Walters 69

Cheltenham Town: Higgs, Gill, Victory, Taylor, Townsend (Caines), Wilson, Melligan, Finnigan (Bird), Spencer (Vincent), Odejayi, McCann

Attendance: 3,671

Wrexham actually had to postpone the previous match against Lincoln City as they had three players on international duty. Michael Ingham (Northern Ireland) and Simon Spender (Wales) both reported back for duty in time for the Cheltenham game, but Dennis Lawrence (Trinidad and Tobago) was not so lucky.

The club captain had been playing for his country in Costa Rica, but his flight home had to be diverted after smoke was smelt in the cabin. This meant that our defensive lynchpin missed his connecting flight and did not return to Manchester until shortly before kick-off.

This was another headache for Wrexham manager Denis Smith as the start of the 2005/06 season had already been ravaged by injury and suspension. Lee Roche, Shaun Pejic, Dean Bennett and Lee McEvilly had all crowded the treatment room while Simon Spender and Dave Bayliss had both seen red in the opening matches.

Smith had subsequently been forced to bleed a number of youngsters and make some emergency loan signings such as Paul Linwood from Tranmere Rovers who replaced the absent Lawrence for the visit of unbeaten Cheltenham Town. Despite being promoted from the Conference in 1999, this was actually the first League meeting between the clubs.

Our patched up team certainly proved their worth with a magnificent performance full of slick passing and attacking intent to record their third home win of the season. The Red Dragons were fiery from the first whistle with Paul Warhurst and Jon Walters – whatever happened to him? – both having shots blocked inside the box.

After only eight minutes Andy Holt scored the goal we’d been threatening from the outset when he met Darren Ferguson’s corner with a bullet header that went in off the underside of the crossbar.

It was all one-way traffic as the midfield trio of Ferguson, Danny Williams and Mark Jones dictated play. In a hectic four minute period we had four chances to double our lead. Walters headed over from Holt’s cross, Robbie Foy – on-loan from Liverpool – had a shot saved by Town goalkeeper Shane Higgs, Walters was then denied by Jamie Victory’s block and his next attempt was well-dealt with by Higgs.

Wrexham’s passing and movement was exceptional, but on the stroke of half-time they were almost made to pay for not extending their lead when Kayode Odejayi saw his shot turned around the post by Ingham. The fleet-footed Odejayi also threatened early in the second-half when he raced past Linwood only to see his shot hit the side netting.

At the other end of the pitch, Walters had a penalty appeal turned down following a challenge by JJ Melligan. He was promptly booked for diving.

Warhurst, Dean Bennett and Foy all had opportunities to increase our advantage, but it was left to Walters to do the damage on 69 minutes with his first competitive goal for the club. Smith found Jones who played a superb ball through for Walter’s to dispatch beyond Higgs.

Reflecting on the game, Smith said: “I think it was a performance which deserved a better crowd than we had and people who didn’t come today missed an absolute treat. That’s as good a football game as you’ll see at most levels, never mind this level. I thought some of the football was outstanding.”

Cheltenham manager John Ward said: “I said before the game that Wrexham shouldn’t be in this League, but because of administration they are. This is a good side and anyone who gets a point or three here will have to be very lucky or play very well.”

 

Memory Match – 27-02-82

Throughout the 2015/16 football season I will be contributing to the Wrexham AFC matchday programme. I will be penning a feature called Memory Match, a look back at classic Wrexham games from the past that I will share in this blog over the coming months.

27-02-82

Wrexham v Chelsea

League Division Two

Racecourse Ground

Result: 1-0

Wrexham: Niedzwiecki, Jones, Bater, Davis, Dowman, Ronson, Leman, McNeil, Fox, Vinter (Hill), Carrodus

Goalscorer: Carrodus (66)

Chelsea: Francis, Locke, Hutchings, Nutton, Chivers, Pates, Rhoades-Brown, Britton (Mayes), Lee, Walker, Fillery

Attendance: 3,935

Star-studded Chelsea may be experiencing a season of turmoil, but it is still hard to believe that back in 1981/82 we played them five times. What’s more, the Stamford Bridge hot-seat was occupied by a certain John Neal…

It all began with a disappointing League trip to Stamford Bridge that ended in a 2-0 defeat before a trio of tussles in the FA Cup fourth round. A goalless draw in West London was followed by a 1-1 draw at the Racecourse and a second replay took place at the same venue on the toss of a coin. Home advantage did not help on this occasion though as we lost 1-2 and missed out on a lucrative fifth round home encounter with Liverpool.

The fifth meeting between the sides came at the end of February 1982 on the back of six straight defeats. The mood around the Cae Ras was one of resignation as the club were staring relegation in the face under Mel Sutton, had not won at home since their 3-1 victory over Cardiff on November 24 and had only won three home games in the League all season.

Writing in the Leader, Les Chamberlain said:  “It now looks a certainty that there will be Third Division football at the Racecourse next season.  Only a superhuman effort by the team and the collapse of teams above Wrexham can now save them”.

Ahead of this must-win game, Wrexham were without Wayne Cegielski through suspension but Billy Ronson and Steve Buxton, who had both been suspended, come back into the reckoning. Wrexham fans also had their first chance of seeing Denis Leman who was on loan from Sheffield Wednesday.

The match was only nine minutes old when Joey Jones brought down Clive Walker in the penalty area for what seemed a certain penalty, but fortunately the referee ignored passionate appeals from the Pensioners.

Two minutes before the interval, Mike Fillery beat Eddie Niedzwiecki with a thunderous drive, but the ball hit the side of the bar, bounced on the line and back into play. Once again Chelsea players felt aggrieved as they felt the ball had crossed the goal line.

Wrexham’s goal started from a mistake by Fillery as his under strength pass to Gary Locke was intersected by Steve Fox who took the opportunity to whip in a pinpoint cross to the unmarked Frank Carrodus who calmly drove it past a helpless Steve Francis in the Chelsea goal.

Mel Sutton said: “We played the ball about today and the goal gave them confidence.  Now this has given us a lift and I think it has given the players a lift.  We have now got to work on that and make it pay.”

There is no doubt that this victory gave everyone at the club a confidence boost as the Reds had still to play fellow strugglers so their fate was largely in their own hands. Unfortunately, despite an immediate upturn in fortunes that saw us undefeated in March, we conspired to win just one of our last eight games and we were relegated along with Cardiff City and Orient.

***

1981/82 was also the first season that the three points for a win system was introduced.