News and fans' stories #MyMatchday "For me, football is freedom." As part of the CAFE #MyMatchday series, we interviewed Club Brugge fan Dylan Massé. How and when did you become a supporter of Club Brugge? Supporting Club Brugge is a family tradition that goes back to my grandad, who has been following the Club for over 57 years. I first started going to the stadium with my aunt and uncle, but now I go more regularly with my grandparents and sometimes with my mum and stepdad. I sometimes go to matches with my friends too, but more often than not, it’s my family. What are some of your earliest memories of going to live matches? I think my first memory is from the Cup Final against Beveren in 2004, which we won 4-2. As a six year old, it was a such fantastic and memorable day. I can still clearly remember the first goal scored by Gert Verheyen. I didn't use my wheelchair at this game, I was in the stands with my aunt and uncle. I remember my uncle lifting me up so I could see everything. It was an amazing atmosphere. How many matches do you attend on average per season? I go to all of the games played in Belgium, including away games. I also go to as many away games in the Champions League as well, so long as it doesn't interfere with my studies. I am studying a Social Work degree and my dream is to to combine my studies with my passion for sports. I want to help ensure that disabled people can go to all sporting events and enjoy being a sports fan. What have been some of your highlights of attending Club Brugge matches? This season we went to the Bernabeu to see Brugge play Real Madrid in the Champions League, which in itself is just amazing. It was like living a dream being at the Bernabeu, especially when we went two goals up in the first half! We ended up drawing the game 2-2 but no one really cared as we still got an unbelievable and totally unexpected result. This made my whole experience even more amazing. Who are some of your favourite ever Club Brugge players and why? When I was little, my favourite player was Andrés Mendoza, a striker from Peru. He always seemed to be smiling, even when he missed chances. I also loved Bosko Balaban, or Super Bosko as we called him because he scored so many important goals for us. From the current squad, Hans Vanaken and Clinton Mata are my favourite players. My all-time favourite player is Bjorn Engels who now plays in the English Premier League at Aston Villa. I know him personally from his time at Bruges and I am still in touch with him regularly now. I actually went to Greece to watch him play for Olympiacos when he was there. As for the Belgian national team, I think we have a very good squad with some great players in it, but my favourite is definitely Dries Mertens. What does your typical matchday routine look like? I go to home games with my granddad and my grandmother. We go to the pub before the game to meet up with our friends, but I always make sure I get inside the stadium to watch the players doing their warm-ups. For away matches, we travel with the Brugge Supporters Club, using the transport that they arrange. A lot of the time this means travelling by bus, so I get out of my wheelchair to get on to the bus and it is folded up and transported that way. I love travelling to games with the other fans, it is always fun. How important it is for you to be able to attend matches in an accessible and inclusive environment? It is really important. Disabled people love football like everyone else does and just because I use a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to go and watch football like other Brugge fans. I am as passionate about Bruges as other fans who aren’t disabled are. For me football is freedom. When I am at the game, I don’t feel my disability. I am just a supporter, like everyone else in the stadium and we all have the same goal of wanting Brugge to win games and trophies. Sometimes in society, disabled people are made to feel like lesser humans, not as equals and disrespected, which can be hard. However, I don’t feel like this when I go to matches, I feel just as respected as any other Brugge fan, not specifically a disabled fan. How does your disability affect you and your matchday experience? It can sometimes affect my experience at away fixtures as I often have to sit with the home fans as there are no wheelchair user spaces in the away section. I don't like it when this happens as the atmosphere is just not the same as being with our own fans. Sometimes I have to change my behaviour, be quiet or not celebrate as I would do with my fellow Brugge fans. Being placed with the home fans seems to happen more regularly at European away games than domestic games here in Belgium. It can also be harder to get wheelchair user tickets for these games. For instance, as the away team, Club Brugge only received three wheelchair user tickets for the Real Madrid game that I mentioned earlier. What impact has attending matches had on you, your life and wellbeing? Football allows me to be myself. At the weekends, you go to the match and forget about everything for a few hours. It’s something that helps me a lot and that I have missed hugely since the Covid-19 restrictions were imposed. It is essential for disabled people to have social interaction with people who share the same passions, such as supporting the same football team. How did the suspension of live football due to the Covid-19 pandemic impact on your life? I have missed my friends a lot as I’ve not been able to see them at the games. We are playing in the Cup Final and to not be able to go with my friends and family is really hard. Watching such an important game on the television is never quite the same. Club Brugges were crowned Champions of the Belgian league again this year, but it didn't feel the same winning the league in such circumstances, without fans in the stadium. How important is it for you to be able to attend matches and be sat with a group of your family or friends? Unfortunately, most of the time I am sat separately from my family or friends. At home games I sit with just my grandmother, and my granddad has to sit separately from us. At away games, it’s the other way around, and although we are able to travel together to the game, once at the stadium we usually have to split up and see each other next after the game. I hope when we get our new stadium, I will be able to be sat with both my grandparents or a group of friends if I go with them. Has your experience of attending matches changed over the years? I think it is improving at a lot of the bigger teams' stadiums, but unfortunately this is not the case for most of the smaller teams in Belgium. Often when going to a smaller team's stadium, they do not expect disabled fans to attend the game, which means we end up having to wait and get our tickets printed at the stadium. However, Brugge have definitely improved their accessible facilities and services since I started going to matches. The club has recently increased the number of wheelchair user spaces available to 70. Have you ever encountered a negative experience when attending a live match as a result of your disability? Thankfully I have never encountered or witnessed anything like this at a football match. Do you feel it is important for clubs to speak regularly with their disabled supporters on all matters relating to access and inclusion? Yes, I think it is really important. Through our experiences as disabled fans we can help clubs understand what it is like and how to make it an easier and better all round experience for disabled people. Twice a year, disabled fans meet with Club Brugge representatives to discuss new ideas around disability and areas for improvement. There are currently a lot of conversations around the new stadium and its accesibility. Due to Coronavirus, our most recent meeting with the club was via Zoom rather than at the stadium where these meetings are usually held. What do you think football clubs can do to help improve the matchday experience for all disabled supporters? It is vital that clubs increase the number of accessible seating areas for disabled fans to be able to attend matches. As recently as last season, I was unable to attend a Champions League game as the home team didn't have enough wheelchair user spaces. At Brugge, there used to be only three or four disabled fans looking to attend away matches, now we have a waiting list and a point system for ticket allocation. I tend to get a ticket as I go to most matches and have gathered a lot of points. How have you found visiting stadiums across Europe in terms of accessibility and the services and facilities provided for disabled supporters? Really good most of the time, even if I am not always able to sit with our fans. The view of the pitch froom the accessible seating areas are usually better than at matches here in Belgium. For example, PSG this season was enjoyable. We had ten tickets for wheelchair users, very close to the away section and with great views of the pitch. Growing up, my dream was always to attend a match at Old Trafford as my team in England is Manchester United. When I finally got the chance to live my dream, it didn’t disappoint and it was a great experience. Do you find attending national team matches differs from attending Club Brugge games with the services and facilities available? Getting tickets for national team games can be difficult as wheelchair users have to apply so far in advance, and there are not many spaces available. I sometimes attend national team games with friends, but they have to sit up in the stands whilst I sit alone in my wheelchair user place, which isn’t great. What message would you give to a disabled person who has yet to attend a live football match? I think he or she should not be afraid to go to a match of their favourite team. When I am at games, I feel like I am part of a family who will help if necessary. They don’t see me as disabled, but just as a Club Brugge fan like them. I am one of them and I am not alone with my disability. You become part of a community when you go to matches, so there isn’t anything to be afraid of. We would like to thank Dylan for sharing his powerful story with us and taking part in the #MyMatchday series. Dylan's story highlights some of the common issues faced by many disabled fans, as well as specific barriers affecting wheelchair users. Dylan discussed some of the physical barriers such as a lack of accessible seating areas, as well as how the location of seating can impact a matchday experience, showing the importance of ensuring an accessible and inclusive game for all. If you are a disabled fan, or know a disabled fan who would like to participate in our #MyMatchday interviews, please feel free to contact CAFE’s Fan Liaison, Access and Administration Officer, Amy Wilson, by email on [email protected] or call +44 (0)208 065 5108. You can also contact CAFE via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.