Ahead of World Hearing Day 2021, we caught up with Danny, a deaf Holstein Kiel fan, to discuss his own matchday experiences and the importance of improved accessibility to live matches as well as all club events involving fans. 

How did you become a football supporter?

I've always loved watching football rather than playing it. It started during my school days in Hamburg, Northern Germany, when talking to friends about football. Most of them were either fans of HSV or St. Pauli,  but my heart beats for Holstein Kiel, who at that time were still in the Regionalliga.

None of my friends took it seriously at the time, but Holstein Kiel was my local team and the club that my family supported.

What are some of your earliest memories of going to matches?

The special atmosphere and community created by all of the spectators and those involved with the players from my first games remains unforgettable. This even though the attendance numbers at that time were still relatively small, between 2,000 and 3,000.

How many matches do you attend on average in a season?

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I had a season ticket, so I attended most home games and as well as some away fixtures too. On average I would say that I attend 20 or so games per season. 

What are some of your favourite memories of going to live matches (i.e. your favourite match, most important win)

The best moments for me were our promotion to the 3rd division in 2012/13 as champions of the regional league and the cup game against Borussia Dortmund in 2011/2012. We lost that game 4-0, but that was okay, as Dortmund were Bundesliga champions and went on to win the DFB-Pokal too.

I also really enjoyed the 2016/17 season during which we were promoted to the 2nd division. The best game so far this season is our win over Bayern Munich on December 22nd, 2020. It was an early Christmas present for me and the rest of the Holstein Kiel family! 

Who is your favourite ever player and why?

Zlatan Ibrahimović, of course. For me, he plays football in a unique way, combining different sports and always seems to save his best performances for special occasions. Away from the pitch, I enjoy his interviews and like the fact that he clearly cares about humanity. That's what I adore about him.

What does your usual matchday routine look like?

I always start the day with a nice cup of coffee before preparing my outfit for the day, always making sure i have my club colours on show. I then meet up with friends at an agreed location in order to take the public transport and walk to the stadium together. We always make sure we're nice and early so that we can see the rest of the fan club before the game and have a good catch-up, mainly talking about football of course. 

We then go to through the security check together and find our usual spot in the stands. During the game we do everything we can to cheer on the team and afterwards we tend to decide spontaneously where to go next.

Does your matchday routine differ if attending an away match, if so how?

One of the difficulties with certain away fixtures is that if the game is judged to be of high risk because of the poor behaviour of some fans, this can make communication between myself and the security personnel or the police more difficult. 

How has your matchday experience changed over the years from when you first started attending matches?

Regular visits to the stadium have allowed me to build up relationships with decision-makers and have more of a say when it comes to removing potential barriers in and around the stadium. 

How important is it for you to be attend matches and support your team?

On a scale from 1 to 10, I would give an 8. A few months ago, it was clearly a 10, but we all currently have other and more pressing priorities. Supporting local sports clubs is very important to me personally, regardless of the league in which they compete. In addition to football, social networks and balance have also been increasingly important.

What impact has attending live matches had on your life and your well-being?

In the past, I went to the stadium to cheer on the team but also to see my friends and have a beer with them. Today it's different, I don't drink any more beer and support the team with more passion, but I can't wait to get back to live games and enjoy the company of my friends. 

How important is it for you to attend matches in an accessible and inclusive environment with services and facilities in place to help you as a deaf or hard of hearing fan?

It is imperative because I can only enjoy the game to the fullest with complete accessibility like any other fans. So far, we have been met with little willingness from our sports club and team to tackle changes that would help us and everyone else. For example, 100% subtitling of the game and translation of all media formats in text form or captions. It would also be nice if there was translation of some of this matchday content into German sign language.

How does your disability affect you and your matchday experience?

I do not perceive my deafness as a disability. I am only hindered by society because they cannot communicate the most beautiful language  in the world, which is of course German Sign Language! 

If information is not made available to all fans equally, I am unable to enjoy the game and atmosphere as much as I would like. Sometimes deaf fans have to mobilise and make demands in order to gain access the same things as any other fan.

Awareness-raising work is progressing slowly and the generally situation is better than 10 years ago. However, not everything is going as smoothly as one might like. Ignorance and prejudices remain our biggest enemies.

Have you ever encountered a negative experience when attending matches because of your disability?

Absolutely, I was once arrested by the police! They decided that the sign language I was using was an aggression or secret language to make a show. They tied my hands behind my back with zippers which meant I could no longer communicate at all. It was extremely unnecessary as I wasn't being aggressive or resisting, but simply trying to talk to them.

Has a lack of accessible services and facilities ever stopped you from attending a match?

During a game, there are a number of different situations that we encounter and can be barriers:

  • We do not receive spoken announcements directly
  • Communication during an evacuation are catastrophic
  • Security guards are not always made aware of how disabled fans should be treated
  • Visual disturbances of the pillars or things that restrict the playing field's view 
  • Ticket orders for home and away games are often very complicated
  • Media content in social media or press conferences is not subtitled or is translated into German sign language
  • Visual cues, signs with key information are rare
  • Club meetings, including the general assembly is not translated into German sign language 

The list could go on longer.

What does your club do well for its deaf supporters?

After a long struggle, we now have fixed blocks for the fan club, where deaf fans sit together. Unfortunately, there is still a separation between home and away fans, which we want to eliminate. Ticket orders are processed by email which is also a positive.

Some positive adjustments have been made by the Club, but there are still a lot of improvements to be made. So we will continue to advocate for these changes in cooperation with the umbrella organisation of German deaf fan clubs.

What does your club do well for disabled fans in general?

The club has slowly but surely improved access levels with 55 seats in the stadium for wheelchair users, a report for partially sighted and blind fans and there are now three disability access officers. However, the stadium is far from being barrier-free and we must continue to work with the club to ensure these barriers are addressed. 

Do you feel valued as a supporter by your club?

The club certainly appreciates the support from all of the fans, as it is only working together that we are able to surmount any challenges that we face. Like with everything, there remains room for improvement.

What do you think football clubs can do to make the matchday experience a more inclusive and welcoming one for all disabled supporters?

Clearly, it would make a big difference if there a deaf fan representative that worked within the club, which would allow for the necessary changes to be made or at least discussed.

The provision of accessible information is probably the first and most highly needed improvement.

Do you feel it is important for clubs to speak regularly with their disabled supporters on all matters relating to access and inclusion? Does your club have regular dialogue with its disabled fans?

Yes, very important. Inclusion only works if you tackle it with us and not if you talk or act about us. So far, there has been minimal direct communication between Holstein Kiel and its disabled supporters. In my opinion it is also important that the association should bear the costs for services and aids.

There are currently 3 non-disabled people working as disability officers, who in order to understand the areas of improvement need to engage in much more consistent dialogue with the club's disabled supporters.  

On World Hearing Day 2021, what message would you give to any deaf or hard of hearing fan who has not been to a live match yet to encourage them to attend a match?

I would recommend that every person in society go to a game with acquaintances or friends to gain a better understanding of what football means. Long-term changes can only be initiated through personal experiences. The change begins with YOU.

We would like to thank Danny for sharing his powerful story with us and taking part in the #MyMatchday series. Danny' story highlights some of the common issues faced by many disabled fans, as well as specific barriers affecting deaf fans and fans with non-visible disabilities or long-term health conditions.

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.

Published 03/03/21