In the article below, David Gale talks about his experiences as a disabled supporter of Carlisle United.

People who have got to know me in the past few years through Trailblazers will know that I am a big fan of sport and in particular my local football team Carlisle United. Due to this I have over the years been to many sporting events over the years including Wimbledon, Wrestling and the Olympics. One of the main issues I wanted to tackle was access in and around stadiums because this is still an issue that affects a lot of disabled spectators of sport.

Due to me supporting a relatively small football team a lot of my experiences of being a disabled spectator are at the poorer end of the scale. So I took it upon my self in the past few years to approach some of the larger teams to view there facilities so i can gage between the haves and have nots. The first meeting I had was with the former disabled liaison officer of Newcastle United David Pattinson who gave me a tour of the impressive St James Park and all its disabled facilities. I have to say what I saw there was a complete different level to what I was used to there was lifts to all levels so wheelchair users had a choice of where they could view the action, lowered food kiosks, banisters at steep areas for the ambulant disabled such as myself and even the posh executive boxes in the stadium had wheelchair spaces to view the pitch. He did even highlight some flaws he wanted to improve like stopping people abusing the lifts that weren’t disabled and issues with the disabled toilet doors needing to be changed as they didn’t leave much room to negotiate for wheelchair users. I was very impressed with David and the fact he took a long chunk of his day out to meet with me and show me around.

Then I got the call along with some of our Scottish colleagues Scott and Steven to go to Celtic Park in Glasgow home of Glasgow Celtic and I have to say that was also great. The guide Stephen Donnelly who guided us around and we even got to see Celtics dressing room the vast array of Trophies they have in the trophy room which is something I am not used to supporting Carlisle. One impressive feature of this was they had a sort of disabled area in the concourse of the stadium where all disabled supporters can congregate before the games. This I believe is a great idea and helps improve the social aspects of going to football matches. Most of the other facilities were of a similar high standard to Newcastle United.

After my adventure with the big clubs I decided to approach Carlisle United about viewing a game from the wheelchair area to get a prospective from a wheel chair user’s point of view. They were only too happy to help me with my research. However it ended to be pretty disappointing because although the view was excellent I was placed in an uncovered area which was open to the elements. Unfortunately this is pretty much what I expected due to the smaller teams not having the budgets to make a number of the adjustments to their stadiums required. This really makes me wonder with all the money that surrounds football that things cannot change with the Football Authorities.

However there is a group called Level Playing Field who campaign for disabled football supporter’s rights to fair access. They help to put pressure on the Football clubs and the main Football authorities but also other sporting bodies to improve access and facilities for disabled spectators of Sport. I have been to an AGM before to represent Trailblazers and it was certainly a great charity who I would recommend any sports spectators to join up and become a member.

Due to me being ambulant disabled a lot of stadiums can pose a number of problems primarily due to the number of steps involved. Some stadiums have ambulant seating areas which are great but also there are some with the use of banisters. Some of the problems I have faced are very step steps, slippery steps and nothing to hold on to when trying to get to a seat. The amount of bumps and knocks I have taken watching Carlisle United you wouldn’t believe. But in the over 18 years or so I have been going to football matches I have noticed that things are gradually improving due to the number of new stadiums getting built up and down the country. The most impressive recent example is the Amex stadium home of Brighton and Hove Albion. I decided last year as it was the newest stadium in the country at that time that I would contact the architect behind the stadium Andy Simons of KSS group to see what goes into designing access for the disabled at a stadium.  He stated that they had to use the following legislation:-

  • The 'Green Guide' Guide to Safety of sports grounds
  • Accessible Stadia
  • Building Regulations ( Part M) 

He went on to say that the stadium has the following “We are required to consider all disabilities as we would in any building. We have great signage, legible audible announcements, ambulant and fully accessible facilities, dropped counters to all sales points and bars, step free access everywhere or lifts where required".

"We have induction loops for people who have hearing impairment.  Fixed desk mounted induction loops are provided at the main stadium reception, Shop counter and the ticket counter.  Portable induction loop units are provided in all hospitality areas".

"Fully accessible toilet facilities are provided with ambulant and wheelchair options. Wheelchair facilities are always within 40m of the seating by code.”

This goes to show that things are gradually getting improved for the better and hopefully in the future every sport venue will be geared towards access for all. Because although participation in sport is good fun it can be just as much fun to witness it live.

Published 28/02/2013