Hi my name is Martin Emery.
18 Months ago, I wrote to the Manchester United Disabled Liaison Officer to ask how I could get myself and my three football mad sons to a game together to watch football. I was told as my eldest child uses a wheelchair, and the Club had a policy of 1 carer and 1 wheelchair user only, it would not be possible for us all to sit together. I questioned this as I felt it wasn't fair that families with wheelchair users missed out on the opportunity of sitting together. The response got was that maybe I should try "Stockport, Rochdale or Oldham". Yes he really told a fan of 33 years to take his family to not one, but 3 other clubs.
My wife's view at the time, (a non-football nut by the way) was "forget them, they don't deserve your support". But giving up supporting a club you have followed all that time seemed alien to me.
I couldn't give up supporting them, even though it seemed they gave up supporting me.
Football to me you see, is a release from day to day life. To me its 90 minutes where nothing else in the world matters. All the worries of life disappear and for those few minutes, the only thing that is on my mind is that little ball hitting the back of that net. Your part of the team's success, and part of the failure. Moments stick with you for a lifetime. The moment Lampard Slipped, The moment Solskjær scored, and that overhead kick by Rooney. It's all there and never goes away.
Football is also something my younger two sons seem to have got the bug of. There obsessed as I am, and not to be able to share that joy as a family together seemed Criminal to me.
So I tackled the subject head on, set up a campaign called United Discriminate for accessible family seating, and after 18 months, the club confirmed that they had put in place accessible Family Seating, so family's like mine could sit together and enjoy what is so very often a Family affair.
You would think that with the club doing what I asked, that would be the end of the story. But no! You see during the time campaigning I heard of many other stories and ill treatments of disabled sports fans.
Some of the most hard core fans are disabled. They have to be. They drag there wheelchairs upstairs, Sit in the blistering cold, often getting soaked as there is no shelter. They put up with only being able to see half a pitch, and even get their views obscured by Sky Sports Camera crews, yet next week there back for more punishment.
In the last year alone I have heard stories where Walking Sticks were confiscated by Security Staff, Sky Sports Refused to move out of the way of a Disabled Childs View. Clubs VIP's have parked Limo's in Disabled Parking Bays, and Disabled Fans have had verbal and physical abuse because they requested someone take a flag down that was impairing there view.
And this happens week in and week out, at sports ground all around the country. The issue I think is, that Clubs and sometimes other Fans don't understand the barriers that Disabled Fans face.
People see a disabled toilet for example and think that it's good. Yet when you realise that some Disabled people don't use the toilet as you and I do, and instead have to lie down on the floor to be changed, you realise that actually the facility doesn't fit the purpose. I mean would you lie down on a toilet floor on a match day? Adding a Changing Table, and Hoist like Changing Places Toilet Facilities have would make the world of difference for many fans. The Sky Camera crew, thinks the Disabled fan is being awkward, but what he doesn't know is that they are held in an upright position by a support on the chair. They can't simply shift their body left and right to get a better view.
Only this week I heard about an Autistic Fan who desperately wants to stand in a quieter section of the ground with disabled fans. When he asked the Disabled Supporters Association, the very organisation set up to assist disabled fans, he was told he isn't allowed in the Disabled Section, "As he can walk freely". Since when was disability defined by a walking aid or Wheelchair?
Many disabled People see the 90 minutes of football as the biggest social experience of the week. There out and about, talking to others, and sharing the Highs and Lows of following a football team like you and I, there disability Doesn't matter for those 90 Minutes, there focused on that ball going in that goal. And it is important for clubs to understand what barriers Fans face, and remove them to allow more Disabled fans to experience the Buzz of a match day.
The campaign against my club, Manchester United has shown that football clubs don't like bad press, and I hope this series of blogs will help make the clubs take note and make changes to support all their fans. If you have an experience to share, get in touch, and let's help make change together.