United again: one family's special day at Old Trafford
There were at least five Manchester United fans for whom, regardless of the result on the pitch, Saturday felt like an unforgettable victory.
It was in 2014 that Martin Emery was informed by United that his dream of taking his three children together to Old Trafford for a match could not be facilitated because one of his sons, Jordan, was a wheelchair user and there would only be space for one adult companion to sit with him inside the ground.
The fact that United had only 120 spaces for wheelchair users – less than half the recommended minimum – also made accessing even one ticket especially difficult.
In correspondence with Emery, a United official attempted to highlight the space constraints by saying that “there are some clubs that would welcome you with open arms and possibly ask you to bring as many family members as possible, the downside is it wouldn’t be at Old Trafford, most probably Rochdale, Oldham or Stockport”.
The story was highlighted last May in The Daily Telegraph, as well as the separate revelation that United were facing the threat of legal action over alleged discriminatory practices, but the club have since responded.
A new family area of the ground was opened for wheelchair users, as well as one of only three changing facilities for disabled fans in the entire Premier League.
And Saturday was the first chance for Emery, his wife Cerys, 18-year-old Jordan, Ethan, seven, and five-year-old Zac to all sit and watch a game together.
“It might sound funny given what happened on the pitch but it was the best game I have ever been to,” Martin said. “This simply was not possible two years ago.
“Ethan and Zac have been desperate to take Jordan to Old Trafford and were literally counting the sleeps last week before we went.
“A win would have made it even better but it was a brilliant day and shows the very real difference that football clubs can make to disabled people.”
David French, the director of venue at Old Trafford, has also met regularly with Emery and others to discuss what further changes can be made.
The new family area was achieved by installing 16 new seats specifically for use by family and friends of wheelchair users. The club have also freed up the seats immediately in front of each of the four wheelchair platforms in the quadrants so that they can also be used by the family and friends of wheelchair users.
There have also been changes to the stewarding arrangements so that designated and trained staff are on hand to help improve the experience and deal with any issues. This followed an Arsenal fan initially being refused access to Old Trafford last year and then having his walking aid taken away from him during the game.
Along with the rest of the Premier League, United have also pledged to meet minimum guidelines for wheelchair space inside their ground by the start of the 2017‑18 season. It will mean adding at least 162 additional wheelchair spaces.
“We take these issues very seriously and will continue to try and improve the experience of coming to Old Trafford for all supporters,” a United spokesman said.
Emery, who had previously felt alienated by the club he supported all his life, said that the changes were restoring his faith.
“It felt like they weren’t interested for a while but they really are listening now,” he said. “There is still more to be done but they deserve credit for addressing this. It really feels like my club again.”
Article originally published by Daily Telegraph at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-united/12119071/United-again-one-familys-special-day-at-Old-Trafford.html