To coincide with World Down Syndrome Day on 21 March, CAFE is delighted to share the latest interview in the #MyMatchday series with Ella and Neil Markham. Ella is a 17 year old Tottenham Hotspur fan with Down Syndrome, who loves to watch her favourite team’s matches with her family.

Ella made headlines during the 2018-19 season, after receiving online abuse on a video posted from inside the Spurs stadium. In this interview, Ella’s father Neil discusses the impact of the abuse received and some of Ella’s more positive experiences of attending live football matches.


Ella and Neil MarkhamHow did Ella become a Tottenham supporter?

Both of Ella’s parents, and both of her brothers, are big Tottenham fans so she was a supporter from birth! I am a season ticket holder and so is my son Danny, and Ella will probably attend about ten games a season.


What are some of your earliest memories of attending live matches with Ella?

Ella’s first game was against Watford at Wembley in April 2017, and she was hooked straight away. When the stadium announcer read out Harry Kane’s name, she gave the biggest cheer. Harry is Ella’s favourite player – she says “he’s my hero”.


What does a typical matchday routine look like?

We usually try to get to close to the stadium two hours before kick off. There are a couple of pubs nearby that we like to visit, and they always make Ella feel very welcome. We will then walk to the stadium about 45 minutes before the game starts, and Ella usually wants to get some pizza from the food areas and we will take our seats around 20 minutes before kick off.

If it is a weekend game, there is usually some live music being played outside the stadium. We will usually go there and Ella will dance along with the band, sometimes for up to two hours!

Inside the stadium, Ella is very aware of what is happening on the pitch and joins in with all of the songs from the crowd. Win, lose or draw, Ella will always be dancing and enjoying herself.


How important is it that you can attend live matches in an inclusive and accessible environment?

I think it is vitally important. If I ever felt that the environment wasn’t suitable to take Ella or either of her brothers then I would not take them. It would make me consider whether I would even want to go to the match myself. Clubs seem to be taking accessibility a lot more seriously nowadays and making some great improvements, and the new Tottenham stadium has helped massively with this.


What do you think football clubs can do to improve the matchday experience of all disabled supporters?

I think that public transport is still a major issue that we face. Trains on matchdays are always completely overcrowded, and this can make Ella very anxious. I don’t think that it is particularly safe. I don’t know how much the clubs themselves can do about this, but it is certainly something that we have to consider each time Ella comes to the stadium.


As a football fan and as a father, what impact has watching your team had on you?

Everybody who knows us knows how close Ella and I are, and taking her to watch Spurs has made that relationship even more special. When I collect her from school, her teachers always tell me how excited she is about going to the next match and she has usually been showing them Spurs clips on YouTube. Football is a hugely positive impact on both of our lives and on our relationship.

I have been a Tottenham fan my entire life, and to pass that down to all of my children makes me feel very proud. I remember when I was young and Glenn Hoddle was my favourite player, and now I get to see how much Ella loves Harry Kane and the rest of the team. It is a great feeling to experience.


Can you tell us more about the online disability abuse that Ella was subjected to?

Spurs played at home against West Ham – it was the first time that Ella had been to a match at the new stadium and it was also the first match we lost there. Ella was dancing along to the music on the concourse, and I recorded a video of her. I posted the video on Twitter and said “Sometimes the result isn’t the most important thing”.

A few fans who were upset about the loss decided to reply with some rather unpleasant comments about Ella and her dancing. It was the minority, and once these comments were seen we received more and more positive messages, but it wasn’t a nice experience for Ella or for the rest of the family.


What response did you receive from the wider public after the incident? Did the club reach out to you?

The next week or so was a real whirlwind, and we were invited to take part in a number of television and radio interviews as the story went around the world. We received literally hundreds of thousands of messages of support. Ella was aware of some of what was being said, and she said “I don’t like bullies” in three separate interviews. The huge support we received made an awful situation much easier to deal with.

Harry Kane with Ella MarkhamTottenham Hotspur were absolutely fantastic with us, and I will always be grateful to them for their response. A former player called me on the Monday evening, and the Spurs communications team reached out to tell me that the club would be back in touch. On the Wednesday evening we received a video message from Harry Kane, inviting Ella to be a mascot at the last home match of the season against Everton.

Harry said, “Keep dancing, keep doing what you are doing”, and Ella was thrilled to get a message from her hero. The situation never really made me feel like I would stop going to live matches, but Ella was so excited about the message that not going would never be an option.

Two days after the video went online, Spurs right back Kieran Trippier got in touch with me and said that the whole squad was aware of what had happened. He arranged for the team to sign one of his match-worn shirts, and this was presented to us when Ella was the mascot.

At the Everton match, Ella had an incredible experience. She walked onto the pitch with Moussa Sissoko, and was waving to everybody – she absolutely loved it!


How do fellow Spurs fans react now when they see you at the stadium?

We made some new friends at the stadium, and they are always pleased to see Ella and talk with her. Ella feels like a bit of a superstar at the matches now, and I can’t thank people enough for the kindness that they have shown us.

People always come up to say hello, take photos and ask Ella about Harry Kane. When she is dancing, people come over and join in! Ella takes it all in her stride – she loves to meet new people.


What message would you give to disabled fans who have yet to experience a live match?

If you are worried about going to a match, get in touch with the club first and see what they can do to help you. Talk with other fans and ask them what the stadium is like.

I would hate to think that people like Ella stayed away from live football because of fears about the stadium or how other fans would react to them. There is nothing like being there – I would encourage everyone to go and support your team and see your heroes.


And finally, what message would you give to people who think that posting abusive and discriminatory messages online is acceptable?

The incident made me realise that, whilst social media can be a cruel place, the vast majority of people are great. I think very few people would actually think posting abuse is acceptable, which is why they tend to hide behind false names. All I would say is that they should remember that it is a real person on the end of their abuse, and they mean something to someone. It could be someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter or even a friend, but the impact of these messages can last forever.

A phrase used a lot quite recently is ‘be kind’, and I think that maybe we should all take that message on board.


We would like to thank Neil and Ella for sharing their experiences with us. It is so powerful to see the love for the game that Ella has, and the relationship that she has with her father and the rest of her family through attending live matches together.

Ella’s story also raises an important point around disability abuse and discrimination. There is simply no place in football for such behaviour, and hopefully the trolls who posted those messages have learned that it is not an acceptable way to behave.

Football is for everybody, and nobody should be made to feel less welcome than any other fan. CAFE is committed to promoting a game that is accessible and inclusive for all, and we are in the process of developing a robust disability abuse reporting mechanism which we hope to launch later this year.

In the meantime, if you have witnessed or been subjected to disability abuse within football (at a match, on social media or anywhere else) please complete the online form here.

A big thank you again to Neil and Ella – we hope that you continue to love the beautiful game and, in the words of your hero Harry Kane, keep dancing Ella.


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 at @cafefootball and Facebook on

Published 21/3/2020