If you can’t stand, you can’t sit

Lord Holmes

Friday saw the 2nd reading of Lord Faulkner of Worcester’s Accessible Sports Grounds Bill.

Across the chamber there was support for what the Bill was seeking to achieve- reasonable access for disabled spectators to sports grounds, not least those of football’s Premier League.  I was delighted to take part in the debate on the Bill.

It is an excellent Bill, a straightforward Bill, a Bill which demonstrates many things, not least Lord Faulkner of Worcester’s long standing support for those who simply want to access sport.

The mechanism for achieving this aim simple, that clubs failing to meet the minimum guidelines would not be licenced with a safety certificate and so be unable to stage matches.

Just three of the 20 Premier League stadiums currently reach recommended spaces for wheelchair users. The Football Task Force, of which the Premier League was a part, said in 1998 that these numbers should apply to all grounds and these guidelines were then also outlined in the 2003 Accessible Stadia guide for new stadiums.

During the debate, I set out new cases of potential discrimination at some of our top flight clubs:

  •  Liverpool: During the last match of the season at Anfield, there was a planned pre-match celebration in recognition of Steven Gerrard’s last game for the club. A small group of fans displayed a large banner in front of disabled fans which completely blocked their view of the pitch. When the disabled fans asked a steward to intervene, a fan became extremely abusive and violent. He said: ‘F9ck Off. I will punch your lights out. We will get all you wheelchairs out of this ground for good. I’m going to put you in the ground.’
  • Manchester United: In May, an elderly male, in his 80s with a walking stick and a male in his 20s who had a cast on his foot and was on crutches were refused to Old Trafford due to the walking stick/crutches they had. Manchester United stewards, who claimed they could be used as weapons, were dealing with the incident. The walking sticks/crutches were taken off them and given back at the end of the game, posing a significant health risk should there have been the need for an evacuation. A statement from a police liaison officer from the time questioned a complete lack of ‘common sense’ given it was obvious the individuals required these aids. It said: ‘to say they (the stewards) were unhelpful would be an understatement. The steward’s attitude and their lack of helpfulness were astounding.’

I have no desire to necessarily single out the stewards, although I would be very interested in the diversity and inclusion training they received.

  • Chelsea: Despite its wealth, the club has recently told its disabled supporters that there is no intention to make further improvements until the stadium redevelopment is completed in 2022 as it can’t move existing fans from their preferred seat. In response, a Chelsea disabled fan who was too scared to be named, said: “This is completely unacceptable and the club never seems to have a problem in moving fans to make way for new hospitality and media spaces.”

Poor access and discrimination against disabled fans has tarnished the reputation of football for too long.  Unless action is taken soon to address the glacial speed of progress, major sponsors should think long and hard about whether it remains ethical to continue with  their relationship with football.  Following the debate I have written to all Premier League sponsors and broadcast partners to seek their views on this matter.

The time for the same old feeble excuses has passed, particularly hiding behind the age of stadiums to explain inaction.

It seems clear that, when there is a need to bring in new technology, more camera positions, space for different rights holders, changes are made in a trice. Many stadiums have been virtually rebuilt from the inside out, with significant additions to VIP, hospitality and media areas.

If you can make the Cambridge college that I went to accessible, with buildings that date back to the 15th century, it is entirely possible to solve this problem. It’s time for Premier League clubs to show leadership and stop treating disabled fans like 2nd class citizens.

Football is our national sport.  Sadly, all too often, for many disabled supporters, the beautiful game is an ugly, ugly experience.

2 comments for “If you can’t stand, you can’t sit

  1. maude elwes
    20/07/2015 at 1:51 pm

    Reading this doesn’t surprise me at all. This attack on the disabled is happening all over the country in every day life. And in full view of people around.

    I went with an elderly relative of mine to a Homebase store where she lives. This lady uses a mobility scooter, she wanted to look at wallpaper and blinds to redecorate her bedroom. One of her sons was offering to do it for her and she didn’t want to keep him waiting. She had worked all her life until struck down in her sixities with a virus that attacked her spine and left her unable to walk.

    Whilst in this huge shop, with plenty of room around her, she and I was standing looking at the rolls on display and low and behold ‘a woman’ came over, shoved her scooter along the aisle and said ‘you disabled get in the way all the time, you should be at home not taking up space in shops. Its bad enough trying to get around as it is, without scroungers like you hogging all the space.’ I was gob smacked. I would never have believed an ordinary looking, 40 something, middle classish woman, would have behaved so dreadfully to a person in such a distressed condition.

    However, when we later discussed it she told me this has got so much worse under this government constantly blaming the disabled and afflicted for the state of the economy, because of so called massive welfare hand outs to skivers. The Daily Mail, she added, banged on about the poor and the disabled being the cause of the welfare budget being so high and that as a result the country was in financial dire straits.

    What a terrible indictment of any government to have the population turn on their vulnerable and remove any sense of compassion toward the sick.

    Of course Wall Street and gross banking fraud and their bail outs had nothing to do with the financial crash. Or, of course, did the added massive influx of migrants to the tune of millions all needing to be serviced on entry. Those two incidents didn’t affect our system at all. You cannot add 10 million people over a period of twenty years without the grotesque strain on infrastructure, health service and schools the way we are experiencing today. Only to find it is now being taken out on ‘our’ elderly and disabled by those who feel they have a right to plonk themselves on us because of their ‘human rights’ requirements. Which somehow never seem to include others who supplied the wherewithall in the first place for these human rights.

    The most disgusting display of vulgarity I ever saw in our filmed House of Commons was the gleeful air punching response of Duncan Smith in the budget speech when Osborne and Little declared more poverty on those dependant on welfare. I so hope his wife kicks him out and he ends up as an old man on benefit, as all he amassed was lost on some kind of shares crash and legal fees hike. What a glorious snapshot that would make.

    So, I blame government for this dreadful change in our culture of lack of compassion. One can only hope it will backfire on those who presented it.


    And the obvious psychosis we currently live under. Does Parliament really believe we swallow this guff?


  2. MilesJSD
    20/07/2015 at 3:49 pm

    Disabled persons have a prior-right to access all Public Performance shows.

    This is simply because “disableds” have to rely for their wholiostic-health & wellbeing maintenance and improvement upon a certain “spiritual vicariousness”, of perceiving able others “doing it exemplarily (if not herein ‘emulkably’) right”;

    whereas many if not most of the able-bodied spectators would do better, for us all round, by refining their able-bodied abilities and maybe improving them too, by attending some other more-appropriate place such as the modernly business-like olympicised and human-bodies-huge-throughput sized “Life-Centres”*.

    [* Pretentiously So-Called: they tragicly have no avenues for humanself–moveability foundation-creating and developing, beginning with the small but absolutely essential trio of Gentleness, Slow-sustainedness, and Flexibility,.

    For the “movement bible” whole range of Human Movements see Laban & Lawrence’s “Effort” –
    {even if a used copy does now cost over £100, it would encompass all ranges of human-movement, and make ‘ultimate wholistic-balancing’ available for the completion of one’s personal-movement-optimisation, including balancing-off after using a “still-something-missing” regimen from the going “holistic body-mind disciplines” such as Pilates, TaiChi, Feldenkrais,
    And would nourish more physically-passive self-improvers such as”Mindfulness” and its various meditations].
    So here’s wishing every-one a better self-balancing own-body future, knowing that one is not goiuong to be a “dog in the manger”, a “cuckoo in the nest”, or a “neighbor-from-hell”.

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