"I defeated my fear and went to a match. I knew from then that my life had changed"

 

Claudiu Socodol

CAFE recently had the pleasure of speaking with Claudiu Socodol, a disabled ASU Politehnica Timișoara fan from Romania, about his experiences and why attending live matches matters to him.

 

Claudiu is a wheelchair user, and became disabled following a spinal cord injury. After becoming disabled, Claudiu felt excluded from society and didn't attend live matches for a number of years.

 

However, the opportunity to get involved with a new fan-owned club gave Claudiu the motivation he needed to fall in love with the beautiful game all over again.


 

How long have you been a supporter of your club?

I have been supporting Politehnica Timisoara since I was 8 years old. I still remember when my dad took me to a home game back in 1999 against UMT Timisoara. It was a second division game but as a little child I was very impressed by the atmosphere created by the supporters.

 

That was the exact time I knew that I would support this team for the rest of my life.

 

Can you tell us a little more about the story of Politechnica Timisoara?

Politehnica Timisoara was founded by Politehnica University of Timișoara in 4th December 1921. As a football team, we never won the Romanian Championship, but managed to win the Romanian Cup two times.

 

In 2012 our club was divided by politics and the more vocal section of the supporters. Some of our supporters decided enough was enough and that the politics were no longer welcome at the club. The local administration and the mayor of Timisoara created a hybrid club with the name of ACS Poli, but many supporters then decided to support the footbal team of the Politehnica University of Timișoara instead.

 

Since then we founded a supporters association named Druckeria together with the University, and the team has managed to gain promotion from the fifth division to the second.

 

What does Politechnica Timisoara do well for disabled fans?

A few years ago the club worked together with RCM Timisoara - the most important rugby club in Timisoara - the organise a cross-code football and rugby match. All the money raised from the match was donated to the associations in Timisoara that work with children who have autism.

 

In 2013, our club also worked with two basketball teams from Timisoara to support a young wheelchair user named Andrei Heinrich Gerber. We raised funds by selling shirts signed by our players, and also donated the money raised at a home match to support Andrei. Three years later, we were invited to join a friendly tournament to raise funds to help Andrei to buy a new wheelchair.

 

Our club asked a local charity named Ceva De Spus to join us at an away match at Sânmartin. We wanted to help disabled fans to witness an away match with our team. We were able to guarantee the cost of their transport, but unfortunately an accessible vehicle wasn't available. We agreed that this was definitely a worthwhile action for the future though.

 

How easy is it to get around Timisoara as a disabled person?

The infrastructure in Timisoara can be very demanding for a disabled person - it is not the easiest city to get around. Our public transport is not well equipped with ramps for wheelchair users, and parking places for disabled people are often occupied by non-disabled drivers. The downtown area was upgraded a few years ago, but it is still not easy to get around as pavements are not well designed. I live in a village near to Timisoara, but every time I travel to Timisoara I need assistance with my wheelchair.

 

Do you attend home and away matches?

Yes, I attend every home game and many away games. Last season I attended 25 games out of 38.

 

What are your favourite memories of supporting your team?

My favourite memory, and maybe the most emotional one, happened in 2007. After I sustained a spinal cord injury I was in a hospital close to the stadium. I could see the stadium from the hospital, and could even hear the fans cheer. Those evenings were the hardest ones because, for the first time, I felt how it feels to be paralysed and far away from my beloved team.

 

In that year I spent a lot of time connected to life-support machines, and one day the doctors brought me a TV so I could watch Politehnica playing against our rivals, UTA Arad. Politehnica managed to beat UTA 3-2, with the winning goal scored in the 92nd minute. My eyes were full of tears and the medical staff came in to my room to check if I was ok because they heard my excitement.

 

In 2013, when we were in the 5th division, we had a away derby Progresul Racovita who were top of the table. The euphoria was very high because Progresul Racovita were five points ahead of us, but if we won we would still be in the race to win the league. Weeks before the game you could hear every supporter talking about it. The game ended 1-0 to Politehnica and the level of happiness was huge. Every single supporter who had the opportunity to witness such a lovely experience still remembers that game.

 

In 2016, friends of mine talked with the supporters group and with the club to make a surprise for my birthday. After the home game against CSM Lugoj, the players took a banner and presented it in front of me with the message “La muți ani, Clau!” (Happy birthday, Clau!). I was speechless, and also felt extremely privileged. After that we went in front of the other supporters and they started to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. I still get goosebumps when I think about that day and even as I type this!

 

What does your usual matchday routine include?

I attend every game with the help of my father. There is nothing unusual in our routine - we arrive at the stadium by car and watch the game from the athletic track around the pitch. We are offered free entry, but we always buy our tickets as we feel we can help the team this way.

 

How important is attending live matches to you?

For me it is very important to attend live matches, because you get more intense feelings when your team is playing and you are there. I really consider that the most important fact is that, whether you are disabled or not, you have to be there supporting your team because every single supporter is useful for your club.

 

Do you feel you have a fully inclusive matchday experience when attending your club’s matches?

Yes, I do. After my spinal cord injury I refused to attend Politehnica's games because I felt ashamed of being in a wheeelchair. I was supporting the team in front of a TV. But in 2012, when we became a fan-owned club, I said to myself that I have to be a part of this project. I defeated my fear and went to a game. I knew from the first game that my life changed, because Politehnica gave me the privilege to attend with no fear or shyness.

 

What do you think clubs can do to help make the matchday experience for disabled supporters a more inclusive one?

Of course the clubs can help disabled people in attending a match. The clubs can contact associations or organisations who work with disabled people, and ask them to invite disabled people to a home game. I am sure that these organisations can give some advice and guidance, so that the match experience can be a life-changing event for disabled fans.

 

How has your matchday experience changed since you first started attending matches?

When I went to a match for the first time, I was extremely timid. But over time I started to make new friends and the players thanked me for being there for them. I also started to help the club with their social media activity. Today I am part of a beautiful community, I am involved with the club and I have made a lot of priceless friends.

 

What more do you think CAFE and football’s governing bodies can do to support disabled football fans across Europe?

Many disabled people are afraid of the unknown world after a life-changing accident like mine. The governing bodies should interact with disabled people and help them use football to make a first step towards reintegration into the community. I hope that CAFE keeps on with the good work, and I am very happy and proud that Politehnica Timisoara is involved in the CAFE Week of Action campaign.

 

The CAFE message is Total Football Total Access. What does #totalaccess mean to you?

#totalaccess means a lot for me, because football is the number one sport worldwide and it could be the the main factor in integrating disabled people into society.


 

The CAFE team would like to thank Claudiu for his very pasisonate and personal answers.

 

Claudiu, like so many other disabled people across Europe, felt unable to watch live matches for some time and this shows that there is still plenty of work to be done. Improved facilities and services is only part of the mission - it is also crucial that we continue to raise awareness and promote the inclusivity of the sport to enable disabled people to take their rightful places at all levels across football.

 

If you would be interested in discussing your experiences, as a disabled fan, employee or advocate, please get in touch with CAFE's Media and Communications Manager Michael Rice at michael@cafefootball.eu.