News and fans' stories Disabled fans' stories “Yes, live TV games are cool but nothing beats the live football experience!” CAFE recently spoke to Jason Browning, a disabled football fan and lifelong supporter of Northern Irish club Glentoran FC. Jason, whose father and grandfather both supported Glentoran too, has been a supporter of the club for as long as he can remember, and attends home and away matches every season. What is your earliest memory of going to a match? The first match I can properly remember was a derby game against our local rivals, Linfield. I was around 9 or 10 years old at the time. The games against Linfield are some of the biggest local fixtures in Northern Ireland, and normally draw in a few thousand supporters. The crowd was so loud and passionate in comparison to other games. Every small victory on the pitch led to a fierce partisan roar from both sets of fans. Goals, tackles, corners, even winning a promising throw – every action got the crowd going! I loved it. The banter between both sides was great too. Semi-pro football has a charm and character that the top levels of football sometimes lack, and I cherish being part of that as a fan. What are your favourite memories of being a Glentoran FC supporter? Both the 2013 and 2015 Irish Cup Final wins were fantastically emotional. The club was in well-documented financial difficulty during both finals. It meant the incentive to win was even greater than normal, and so the victories meant so much to us. The final in 2013 was a crazy game that went to extra-time. The last thirty minutes were so end-to-end that it could have gone either way. Thankfully, we ended up winning 3-1. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. I remember our final two goals really well, as I was sitting directly behind the goal. I’ve never been so happy to see the net bulge with that crisp sound of the ball striking the netting. Unforgettable! 2015’s final was a tense 1-0 victory thanks to an early goal. I can’t really remember much else about it, as I spent most of the game checking my watch in anticipation of the referee’s whistle! Who is your favourite ever player? Paul Leeman, who was captain during our last league title in 2009. He was a great defender who made 357 appearances for our club, and was one of our own, having come up through the youth system. What does your typical matchday routine look like? I usually go to both our home and away games with my dad. We will normally drive to the stadium and arrive an hour before kick-off. We’ll head to the club shop or the bar to chat with friends, and then go to the accessible seating area to watch the match. At some away matches, because of the location of accessible seating areas, I’ve had to sit away from my fellow fans. At some clubs this isn’t so bad, but when we are playing close rivals it can feel a bit awkward being so close to the home supporters. How important is it to you that you have an inclusive matchday experience? To me it is very important. Disabled supporters should be provided with the same opportunities as every fan across the country. I think that clubs should make realistic, achievable attempts to cater for all disabled fans’ needs. Ideally, all disabled people should be able to enjoy watching live football. Have you encountered any access problems when attending live matches? The accessible areas at the stadium used to be much worse, but they are more suitable now. However, lack of access to disabled parking spaces is still an issue sometimes. During live televised matches, I have found that the TV crews often park their vehicles and equipment across the spaces. Other examples of poor access I have faced are things like awkward potholes and gradient changes in the stadium concourse. Sometimes the main bar is upstairs, meaning I have difficulty accessing it. This can be frustrating. Poor access has never stopped me attending a match, but it has made it more difficult than it should be. What impact has attending your club’s matches had on you? It has provided me with great memories, given me the opportunity to meet new people, and enabled me to gain greater self-confidence. Some might say these days I’m amongst the loudest in the crowd! What message would you give to a disabled fan who has not yet been to a live match? I would strongly recommend going to watch your local team, no matter the level of football they play at. It will give you the opportunity to meet new people, experience new environments, and have fun! The relationships and memories created will last you a lifetime. Yes, live TV games are cool but nothing beats the live football experience! The CAFE team would like to thank Jason for his thoughtful insights on his matchday experiences as a disabled fan. Jason’s story highlights the impact access and inclusion at stadiums have on fans’ enjoyment of football, and demonstrates how good access can have huge benefits beyond football too. 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 www.facebook.com/cafefootball.