Ahead of International Guide Dog Day, we spoke with Jon Attenborough about his experiences as a guide dog owner and a passionate football supporter.

My name is Jon Attenborough, I am a Dundee United supporter and have been a guide dog owner since 2016. I am currently paired with guide dog Sam, who I was matched with in 2018. He is a yellow Labrador retriever cross. 

Sam is my second guide dog, but the first guide dog that I have regularly gone to football matches with. Having been matched with Sam, he has given me the confidence and independence to get out and about on my own, and not have to rely on other people. 

I first took Sam to a football game in 2021 post lockdown, and it was to see my team play Dundee United in the Dundee derby game! At first I felt pretty anxious as I had not taken Sam to a game before, but our club's Disability Access Officer, Moira, sorted us out with a space where there was extra space for Sam and made the stewards aware we were coming too, who were all really helpful. 

Since then, we have travelled to football games at all levels including UEFA Champions League games, Premier League games, EFL, SPFL and National League games all across the UK. We have been to just over 100 games together. 

Fortunately I have had mostly positive experiences. The main thing I would like others to know, including other supporters and match day staff, is that as cute as Sam is to please remember that guide dogs are working dogs and please don’t distract him while he is working. 

In our daily lives, as most assistance dog owners will know, we quite often sadly face access refusals even though this illegal. The biggest issues seem to be with taxis and restaurants. I have only had one bad experience with visiting a football club who denied me and Sam access because they said they had a no dogs policy. The club did put this right and invited us back to a game and made sure that ticket office staff and other club staff were aware of the law. 

Sam has made a huge difference in my life, and without him I would not have the confidence to travel across the country to enjoy my passion - live football. I have also made it my mission to work with football clubs and governing bodies in football to help make football the most accessible and inclusive spectator sport in the world to anyone who wants to attend.

Published 24/4/2024