For almost 10 years I have been campaigning for football clubs to have accessible toilets so everyone can go and see their favourite team without worrying about something so simple as needing the loo. But today Mencap have said that only seven Premier League clubs have installed fully-accessible toilets (also known as Changing Places), even though in 2015 17 of them promised to install them by this August.
I'm not surprised by this. I have spent many years campaigning for stadiums to be more accessible and there have been a lot of times where it's been like banging my head against a brick wall. But I won't stop. Clubs need to understand that its 2017; football has to be open to everyone and that means installing Changing Places.
Over 250,000 people with severe disabilities need these spaces. Not all disabled toilets are fully accessible, because some people need extra space and help to go to the toilet, but Changing Places are and that's why they are needed.
I'm passionate about getting fully accessible toilets put into football stadiums. I'm a lifelong Arsenal fan; I've seen them play a lot and I am never not wearing my Arsenal shirt. One day in 2012, I heard the Arsenal Stadium Club Manager say that they had the most accessible club and I thought to myself, "that's not true". I knew that because they didn't have a Changing Places toilet a lot of Arsenal fans with a disability had to go home at half-time or be changed on a toilet floor because there wasn't anywhere else to go. That's simply not fair.
So, on Valentine's Day, I had a meeting with Arsenals Disability Officer. Some people get flowers on Valentine's Day, but I got a toilet. In 2014, I opened Arsenal's new Changing Places during a match against West Ham (we won 3-1). It was the 600th Changing Places and the first Changing Places facility in any Premier League stadium. It was a great day and knowing that my team really cares about all their fans make me very proud.
I want that for everyone and that's why I campaign so hard for Changing Places. A lot of other teams have followed Arsenal; Liverpool, Manchester United, Man City, Southampton, Leicester and West Ham all have Changing Places now (though West Ham and Leicester still need to register them so that people can find them!). But 13 clubs in the Premier League still don't have a Changing Places and I don't think that's right.
What does that say to their fans? It shows that they don't care. They even signed a promise in 2015 saying they would install Changing Places by the end of the 2017 season, there's just months to go and they still haven't.
If I was a fan for one of those teams, like Chelsea, Crystal Palace or West Brom, I'd feel like my club just didn't care about fans with a severe disability, that they are happy for them to pay for a shirt and a season ticket but don't care about enough to make sure they don't have to be changed on a dirty toilet floor.
It's a really simple thing, to make sure everyone has access to a toilet and Premier League clubs have a lot of money and space, so there isn't an excuse for them to not do this. Teams like Tottenham have said that they will install a Changing Place when they go to their new stadium in 2018, but that stills leaves fans without a toilet for a year. There are a lot of temporary options like Mobiloos, which are mobile Changing Places that teams can use whilst they fit their permanent Changing Places - it's better than nothing.
I hope that Mencap's announcement on this will push more Premier League clubs to install Changing Places. There is still time to make the August 2017 promise deadline and The Changing Places Consortium will work with them to help them reach it. Installing a Changing Place is such an easy thing to do but it changes a lot of fans lives.