Stoke City

The 20 Tour – Cancelled

It is with great disappointment that I have had to cancel my proposed tour around the 20 Premier League football grounds of England and Wales in aid of Level Playing Field.  This is due to a number of factors.  To begin with, I am just too busy with other projects such as my disability activism and Tanka poetry.  I am also preparing another season of my popular Memory Match column for the Wrexham AFC matchday programme.

I have already received a sign shirt from Stoke City thanks to former Wrexham AFC goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki.  This will be auctioned in the next few weeks on the popular auction site, eBay with all proceeds being donated to Level Playing Field.

It used to be a ambition of mine to tour all the football grounds throughout Britain.  Such was my obsession that I have visited close to 100 British stadiums.  However, I have recently become disillusioned with the once beautiful game that has now been thoroughly and indecently raped by capitalism that the fun and innocence that was once present on a Saturday afternoon is now a thing of the past.  My heart just isn’t in it anymore and my efforts are more urgently needed in the field of disability activism.

I can only apologise to Level Playing Field and the various clubs who are expecting visits from me, but my priority at the moment must be to promote independent living for all disabled people – whether they are football fans or not.  Thank you for your understanding.

 

These were my original plans:

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.

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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…

 

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…

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.