Premier League

The 20 Tour: Signed Stoke City shirt

I was delighted to receive a signed Stoke City shirt in the post this morning. This is my first piece of memorabilia that I have collected for my tour of Premier League football grounds in support of Level Playing Field.

The shirt was kindly donated by former Wrexham AFC goalkeeper and current Stoke City coach Eddie Niedzwiecki. I really appreciate his support and I am looking forward to collecting more such items from the country’s biggest clubs to auction when my journey around England and Wales (providing Swansea City survive) comes to an end.

I am currently working on a JustGiving page, but I am not sure when to launch it. The sooner the better I suppose…

 

The 20 Tour

After much thought I have decided to change the nature of this tour.  Instead of traipsing around all 92 grounds in one season I will now focus purely on the grounds of the Premier League clubs.  This will decrease the pressure on me and allow me to spend more time at each ground.  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.

I recently wrote an article for the April edition of When Saturday Comes that touched upon the inadequate disabled facilities at Premier League football grounds.  If this tour can help to make clubs think about their responsibilities to supporters then it will have been a success.

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.

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.

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…

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.

In Pursuit of Perfection…

On Thursday morning I was interviewed by Channel 4 News who were putting together a report on the excellent wheelchair platform at the Racecourse – the world’s oldest international football stadium.

This was my TV debut and I didn’t prepare. I never do for speeches at meetings and just tend to go with the flow. However, this can be a dangerous game as I always come away wishing I had said and emphasised a particular point to a greater degree. This is exactly what happened on Thursday and now I am kicking myself for not saying everything I wanted.

 A fellow member of the Disabled Supporters Association was present and told me not to worry as everything I said was spot on. My PA also added encouraging words, but I am my own worst critic. It is not easy when you are put on the spot to think of an amazing, free-flowing answer to a question, but when I was asked why the majority of Premier League clubs do not cater for disabled fans I missed a golden opportunity to talk about Capitalist greed.

 What I should have said was that Premier League clubs put profit before the needs of their community. Wrexham is a community run club where I am just as important as any other supporter, whereas football’s elite are too concerned about maximising profit and pandering to the image-conscious media. I could have spoke for ages about this and it would have made great footage, but instead I just said that I didn’t understand why the Premier League clubs haven’t invested in facilities to accommodate all fans.

 Maybe I am worrying about nothing? I hope Channel 4 have enough footage of me talking semi-sense. If not, I would be happy to contribute more via telephone as the last thing I want to do is miss the opportunity to promote our club and our facilities in a positive light. You can judge for yourself whether or not I made a hash of things on December 6th or 7th. I will let you know when I get confirmation of the date.

 On a personal level, I am also obsessing over my posture in my wheelchair. It is embarrassing that my powered chair is obviously not suitable for my ever-changing body. My long legs tend to flop to the sides and my hips roll forward leaving me in a slumped seating position. On top of this, I do not have enough trunk support and constantly lean towards my left side. And I wonder why I do not have any luck with the ladies.

 I am putting as much pressure as I can on the wheelchair posture department at the Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre, but it looks like I will have to wait until after Christmas for an appointment. I have been on the waiting list for about 20 weeks now. I did hope I could get this sorted before my 40th birthday in February, but it looks like I will have to be a little more patient.

 It is hard work being a disabled perfectionist…

When Saturday Comes – Equal access

Below is an article I wrote for the May 2015 edition of When Saturday Comes magazine on disabled access at football grounds.

EQUAL ACCESS

My first away game holds memories of standing room only on a crumbling terrace. It was 1989 and things were very different back then. There were about 500 of us crammed together under a low-hanging roof with obstructive roof supports hindering any decent view as Hereford United and Wrexham played out a turgid goalless draw – apparently.

I’d spent the afternoon craning my neck, deciphering the work of graffiti artists and paddling in piss at Edgar Street. It may sound the stuff of nightmares but it has become a treasured memory from my formative years due to the camaraderie and sense of belonging that was conjured by following my team out of north Wales. It was this notion of shared identity and togetherness that led to more disappointingly brilliant visits to architecturally elderly football grounds during the early nineties. I was part of the crowd.

Fast forward seven years and I’d become a lonely and isolated figure after being diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia – a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system – which eventually confined me to a wheelchair. I quickly learnt to accept the limitations placed on me by Mother Nature, but I struggled to adapt to the social limitations of a disabled-unfriendly society, which are perfectly illustrated through my experiences as a football spectator.

Away travel quickl0y became a hassle. I could no longer decide on the day of the game whether or not I fancied attending. Instead, I had to telephone the relevant club in advance of my impending ‘pain-in-the-arse’ presence to pre-book tickets. There was one occasion that I was unable to claim a space in a 20,000 capacity stadium despite the official attendance being a paltry 6,729.

When I did manage to secure a match ticket I was determined to travel with my fellow fans on the inaccessible coach, even if this meant losing my dignity by crawling onboard and struggling onto a seat. After expending all my energy with such manoeuvres I couldn’t face the prospect of repeating the process for toilet breaks. Frustratingly this meant no beer for me. To make matters worse, the majority of football grounds didn’t have disabled toilet facilities before the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, meaning that I’d often have to wait until I returned home to relieve myself. Lucky I’ve got a strong bladder.

At least I had the game to look forward to. Annoyingly though, instead of mingling with mates over 90 minutes of social interaction I’d be forced to use a makeshift wheelchair section – wi00th inadequate views from pitch level – in the depths of rival territory and accompanied by hostile stares. What do you do when Karl Connolly converts a late penalty to secure a precious point to the distress of everyone around you? I celebrated. It was worth the bloody nose…

The final whistle signalled another slap in the face. I would regularly travel hundreds of miles to watch my local team but due to my segregation away from the main body of visitors, my efforts would go without applause or recognition by travelling players. It wasn’t their fault. I was merely an invisible needle in a haystack.

My frustrations weren’t just limited to on the road. Things were just as bad at the Racecourse where wheelchair bound fans were plonked at the side of the pitch with only a rickety looking corrugated-iron structure for protection from the elements. It was hard enough to come to terms with my disability without being treated like a second-class citizen by my own club. Instead of accepting this situation, I allowed two club stewards to break all manner of fire regulations and carry me up into the main stand where I could enjoy the game with friends.

These were my experiences in the twentieth century. Surely, the picture is brighter in 2015? It would appear not. More needs to be done to include disabled people – whatever their disability – in the matchday experience. As sports writer David Conn underlined in a recent article, the vast majority of Premier League clubs have not made the required improvements in line with the Equality Act 2010. The money is there to make the necessary architectural improvements to football stadia – as shown in the new builds at Swansea, Leicester and Arsenal – but the socially responsible drive and purpose is missing.

As is often the case, football mirrors society and sporting arenas will continue to be an ugly place for those with disabilities until society at large becomes more accepting and accessible for all. Coalition welfare cuts, a shortage of accessible housing and shocking statistics on disabled hate crime mean I won’t be holding my breath for a return to the inclusion I experienced at Edgar Street…