The whole United Discriminate campaign was started as it was clear to me that Access and Inclusion in watching Football was severely lacking for disabled fans. The Journey we. have been on has been a long one, and we have achieved great things.
18 months ago I received an email, from the Manchester United, Disabled Liaison Officer that advised if I wanted to sit together with my 3 children, in a wheelchair bay and watch football, I’d be best off going to Stockport, Rochdale or Oldham Now if a similar request was made by another family, the response would be Manchester United has a number of Designated Family and Friend Accessible Wheelchair areas, which allow a wheelchair user and 4 other family members to sit together and enjoy the game. The seats also have a further row in front of the seating which again is retained for friends and family so they too can be close by.
Its been a funny Journey, and with the massive support we have gained, we have also been met by people who at first seemed dead set against me. And some of these people would gain from what I am fighting for. I came to learn that it wasn’t what I was asking for but the way in which I went around going about getting changes made. I was forced to do that in a very public way, though social media, and the internet. And many inside the club, and MUDSA didn’t really appreciate that, as it seemed like we were taking a direct shot at them.
I have said it before and I will say it again, I am not against MUDSA. Manchester United need a Disabled Supporters Association. The club need a way in which Disabled Fans can get there voices heard, so that the club can adapt to the needs of the fans. But in recent years that voice has somewhat subsided, and for what ever reason it was, it allowed what use to be a ground that could stand tall and be proud of its disabled facilities, to fall backwards, and become the focus of Media reports into poor disabled facilities.
MUDSA had the opinion that change was a evolutionary process, and that revolution was not the solution. My view was that evolution had become stagnant, and a Revolution was needed to build momentum for future change. I am proud that the United Discriminate Campaign Kicked over a few bins, rattled a few cages, drew attention to the media, and in the end, helped the club, and people like Richard Arnold and David French, (who I might add have moved mountains in recent months to bring about positive changes at the club) to understand the failings of the club, to its disabled community.
But I have a bit of an addictive personality, and I am sorry but I have to admit, I have been sucked into this battle. And it’s a long battle. I can see the great work organisations like Level Playing Field have done. And the fact they have been chipping away at this issue for years say enough.
I believe it’s only as the result of an increase in Media interest in the Subject by people like the BBC and the telegraph that the Premier League finally broke their silence after 20 years and promised change by 2017. It’s important to show Manchester United and the Premier League, that this is a real issue. And it affects real people. It affects the people who put money into the sport. And the very people that the football clubs represent. And that is the Fans.
Take Manchester United for example. I mean what exactly is it that makes Manchester United, such a great club is. What is it that the player represents when he puts on that Red Shirt and takes to the pitch? Its heritage? Prestige? Well yes, but above all he is representing me. My wants, my aspirations of victory, my dreams of success, and my pride of that badge, that name, and that shirt. God I would give almost anything to be in his position, to stand on that pitch and wear that shirt, and represent each and every single fan out there.
The club would be nothing without the fans. Without the fans there would be no sponsorship, no income, and no pride. When any player scores a goal there immediate reaction is to run to the Fans, and celebrate OUR success. Because they know us fans, live and breathe the club, we feel every tackle, and we each take every shot, ride each challenge, and jump for that header at every corner as the ball is crossed in. We feel the Pain in every defeat, and celebrate in the joy of every success.
And that leads me to being here. Today I write this from France! Paris to be precise. I’m following that pride and passion to a stadium that holds over 81,000 people on a match day the Stade de France. Yet I’m not here to watch Martial run at defenders, and Rooney fire one into the back of the net. Today I’m here for something much more important than that.
CAFE Conference – Total Football, Total Access
That’s right i’m here at the CAFE Conference. CAFE (Centre for Access to Football in Europe) has a key aim to promote equal access and inclusion for disabled people in football. And that doesn’t matter if they are fans, guests, employees or volunteers, café believe there should be Access for All.
This week I have traveled 479 miles to be here , to show Manchester United, and the Premier League that us fans find these issues important, just as important as all the trophies in the cabinet. Because I believe that each one of them trophies not only represents Success, it also represents missed opportunity.
The missed opportunity of the many other clubs that fought to lift it, and the many Disabled Fans, who wanted to be there and experience the feeling of success as it was lifted, but couldn’t as the access and inclusion wasn’t Total.
The CAFE Conference provides organisations like Manchester United the opportunity to network and share best practice solutions across a multi stakeholder platform. Unfortunately MUDSA and Manchester United, missed this great opportunity to meet with Experts from around the world including representatives from UEFA, FIFA, the ECA, National Associations. The conference also has disability and equality NGOs, stadium architects and designers, stadium and safety managers, and representatives from local organising committees that have put together global sporting events. In fact everyone and everything you might need to make a Football Stadium like Old Trafford fully Compliant with the Accessible Stadia Guide by August 2017.
United Discriminate is proud to support CAFE in its Vision, and we thank CAFE for making it possible for us to be here today.
United Discriminate some people thought would go away after the Family seats were put in place at Old Trafford. But instead we are still here, and will remain to be, until every fan, regardless of ability, has the “Total Football – Total Access” experience.
We will be spending the 2 days networking, building relationships, and getting our message out there. We will of course be passing all we learn to those at Manchester United and MUDSA, who didnt attend this fantastic event, to make sure that come August 2017, when that first kick of the ball is made, Old Trafford, and every other Premier League club, is fully compliant and Disabled fans both Home and Away, are catered for, and treated with the respect they deserve. We the FANS built these clubs and we the fans will continue to do that in the future. United Discriminate supports Total Football – Total Access.