Matthew Law, a disabled fan of Chelsea FC, travelled to the Mestalla to watch Chelsea play Valencia CF. He wrote the below article about his experiences on his trip.

My PA (Si) and I set off in our hired Ford Focus estate at 11.20 am from our family Villa in Mazarron, Murcia. It is a standard car which always presents an inconvenience in getting into and out of but with a transfer board and Si’s assistance we managed ok. With a trusty sat-nav and my superb directional skills [north of Alicante somewhere!] we got to Valencia about 3 hours later.

The Sat-Nav took us through the tidy, clean and rather attractive streets of Valencia and directly to the Mestalla stadium. Parking was always going to be our next challenge and after driving round the local vicinity for ten minutes trying to find an on-street parking space we spotted a small outdoor car-park located in the middle of the busy streets. What’s more, there were 2 free spaces so we snapped one of them up and got out the car. It was pay & display but being this close to the stadium I was prepared to pay virtually any price. Now it’s never a simple task in the UK to work out how much money to put in the machine or what the rules are exactly but when the rules are in Spanish the task is made even more difficult. We spoke to a young Spanish mother and a smartly dressed Spanish gentleman and worked out from their broken English that we could pay for only 2 hours at a time and only until 8pm anyway. Workers from local offices had to revisit the machines every 2 hours to top-up their status. This was not much good for us as we would not be returning until midnight.

So it was transfer board and wheelchair stowing time again. We had seen a sign for an underground 24 hour car-park as we were at the pay & display machine so we headed for where we had seen the sign and were soon headed down into a dark but well lit and well used car-park. Nearly all spaces were taken but we did notice that two a bit further along were not. As luck would have it, the two free spaces were disabled parking only which encouraged us both as we knew that in all likelihood there was a lift to get us out! It got better as not only was there a lift but there was a disabled toilet adjacent to it.

I could quite easily write a book on disabled toilets. My biggest concern when I travel anywhere in the world is where can I next go to toilet? Maybe it is still a matter of coming to terms with my disability but I have always chosen to go to toilet the conventional way ie: [and I apologise if this is too graphic] sit on the toilet seat and urinate into the toilet bowl. My condition (Ataxia) is a progressive one and so transferring from my wheelchair to the toilet seat (and back again afterwards) has become more and more difficult over the years.

Every disabled public toilet in the UK is set out in exactly the same way – the toilet raised by about 3 inches and in the corner of the room, and large vertical and horizontal grab rails on the wall adjacent to it. In these toilets I have no problems transferring to the toilet seat. These toilet lay-outs are known as ‘doc M’ (Google it for more details).

In many other countries however, standards and rules are not there. Disabled public toilets could be arranged in any way at all. Spain is one of these countries. The lay-out of the toilet in the 24 hour car-park was thus: A very large rectangular room with one toilet situated directly in the middle of one of the walls. Two drop-down rails directly behind it. (one either side). Very good sink and soap dispenser near the corner of the room (no problems there). A peddle bin and no towel dispenser. A peddle bin for a wheelchair user!? About as much use as a chocolate fireguard?

Anyway after a three hour drive and four transfers in and out the car I needed to use the toilet quite badly! With the toilet seat being lower than the seated height of my wheelchair, I could just about slide onto the toilet seat using the rail for support. I was immediately worried about transferring back to my chair, but the thing upper-most in my mind was relieving myself of urine!. Getting back into my chair was not my next problem though as the room then went completely black. The light was on a timer! Luckily on first viewing the room I foresaw problems so didn’t lock the door. I knew transferring back to my chair was going to be extremely difficult but in pitch darkness too? I had to call ‘Si’ and he reached in the room and clicked the light on again.

As he was there I swallowed my pride and explained that if I was to try and transfer back to my chair, there was every chance that I would fail and therefore fall on the floor. Si agreed to lift me from toilet seat to wheelchair and so for the first time in my life I had been helped off the toilet.

I have to say though that the indignity that this bought upon me was outweighed by a sense of reassurance knowing that I didn’t have to find another useable toilet for the rest of our time in Valencia. For the record I used this toilet before and after the game as well and Si lifted me off the seat on both occasions too. For once, I could drink liquid that day without concern about being able to pass it through my body!

Enough about toilets! The next concern we had was to get our match tickets. I informed Chelsea the day after the draw that I would be going to the game. For those able bodied readers you must understand that as a disabled person I cannot just apply for a ticket as it is down to the home Club (Valencia in this case) to decide whether or not to send wheelchair tickets to the away club. I actually applied for my ticket three times but each time I was told no tickets have been received from Valencia. We flew out to Spain on Monday 26th September. On Saturday 24th I went to the Box Office at Chelsea for one last attempt to get my ticket. ‘We’ve still not received them’ I was told. ‘When we get your ticket we will give it to our head of security and you can meet him there’. That’s what I got for a month of trying.

The head of security did text me in Spain on the day of the match which made me feel slightly more confident as we set off for Valencia. After completing our initial toilet episode we rang Keith and agreed to meet him outside the disabled entrance to the stadium (Gate S11). This we did and so at last we had tickets for the match. Chelsea knew I wanted a ticket one day after the draw and I finally get it three hours before kick-off! I didn’t look at the ticket; I just put it safely in my bag. I didn’t look at it for three reasons:

  • I didn’t know the stadium well enough to know where the space was situated.
  • It was all printed in Spanish and try as I might [and I have by taking lessons] I can’t speak Spanish.
  • I had received the ticket from the hand of Chelsea’s head of security.

So we now had three hours before kick off. We decided to go and get some food [not the best Paella I’ve ever had] and wander back to the car-park for ‘you know what’. 45 minutes before kick off we arrived back at Gate S11. We showed the tickets and were greeted by a large frown on the stewards’ face. He called his boss on his mobile and after a few minutes he came down to explain to us in broken English that the ticket was for a seat in the stand and not a wheelchair ‘There is only one wheelchair from Chelsea’ he went on. ‘Yes’ I replied ‘That’s me’. The penny then seemed to drop and he asked us to follow him.

He led us to the wheelchair platform which was on two levels (although only about 6 inches different in height). The platform was situated behind one goal and towards the corner. It was raised about one meter from pitch level and had room for three rows of about 8 wheelchairs. If you got into the front row the view was perfect. I did try but the platform soon filled up and everyone seemed to have their allocated space so I was sort of forced to retreat to the back row. My view was somewhat restricted by the other wheelchair users but I’ve experienced far worse views at football matches as a wheelchair user.

Si took his seat in the stand next to the platform and we watched a great game that Chelsea should have won about 4-0. All 4 goals should have been scored in the goal close to us. However Lampard did convert one of the chances and I would have taken the 1-1 score line at the start of the match.

After the game and before the players had left the pitch we made a sharp exit. We collected our sun creams that had been confiscated on entry to the stadium from the office at the back of the stand (which was incidentally directly opposite the stand where every able bodied Chelsea fan saw the game from) and left the stadium through the same gate that which we had entered it two hours before.

We were back at the car-park in 15 minutes and paid the €13.20 fee (very reasonable for 7 hours secure parking I thought). The journey back to Mazarron took 2 hours 36 minutes.