How Do Newcastle United Look After Their Disabled Fans?
Working in various paid and unpaid capacities with disabled children over the last seven years has given me some opportunities I never thought possible. Recently, my work as a carer at weekends has allowed me to fuse two of my passions, namely my work and football.
Near the end of last season, I was employed for the day to take a 15 year old lad in a wheelchair to the Globe arena, home of Morecambe FC for the visit of Rotherham. Not being familiar with the disabled facilities of the stadium, I approached the day with a degree of trepidation (as well as excitement that I was actually being paid to go to the match!) but was relieved to find the stadium could not have been more accommodating to our circumstances.
The seats were raised and near the radio commentators, the access to the toilets and bar areas was easy and taking in the match didn’t feel separate from the rest of the crowd (if you can call 2,197 Lancashire men a crowd!). When the manager came up to announce the team, he even popped over and had a little chat as well as signing an autograph that made a 15 year old lad’s day (as well as, embarrassingly, a 26 year old man’s!). All in all a fantastic experience for everyone concerned and a shining example of how easy it is to make our national sport accessible for everyone, regardless of circumstances.
So how does Newcastle United measure up in making sure our disabled lads and lasses are free to attend and cheer on the Toon every other weekend? Having done some research I was pleasantly surprised to find the information on the official site more than informative (makes a nice change!) whereas getting the same/similar information from other clubs proved a nightmare!
St James Park currently offers 170 spaces for wheelchair users within the stadium (some of these are, quite rightly, reserved for away fans to sit in their section of the ground) and each of these spaces can cater for a personal assistant/carer if required, who are admitted for free. There are also 24 designated spaces for visually impaired supporters, which allow fans to tune into local radio commentary whilst soaking up the atmosphere. There is no limit to the number of places in the stadium for ambulant disabled supporters and the individuals concerned are actively encouraged by NUFC to make contact and discuss their circumstances in order to clear up any problems.
As well as the designated access areas, there is also a ticket discount of at least 50%, which stands up very well considering the tiniest amount of research showed Chelsea were charging roughly 50/60 quid for their tickets. Match day programmes are produced in large print and braille. For more information and ticket enquires, Steve Storey is the club’s disability liaison officer and can be contacted via the box office.
I emailed Steve asking if anyone from the club could take five minutes to answer two questions relevant to this article and was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply from Glenn Patterson (Health and Safety officer) offering to not only discuss my questions over the phone but also to arrange a stadium tour where I could see first hand the initiatives in place to allow inclusion of disabled individuals on a match day. I was delighted to hear that NUFC is one of only a handful of clubs to offer such a high financial discount and also that wheel chair accessible seats are available in most places of the ground. Both Glenn and Steve recognised the importance of this issue and came across as genuinely hard-working and passionate about catering to the needs of all individuals who wish to visit SJP (up to and including feeding a Manchester City guidedog with a Toon bowl!).
The club also has its own disabled supporters association who meet once a month to discuss any issues and ideas, they are currently in regular dialogue with NUFC. More information on this association can be found at www.nudsa.org. I was fortunate enough to speak to Amanda Sawyers who works in the junior section, ‘the zebras’, she was of the opinion that the club couldn’t do a better job in making it easy for disabled people to attend the match.
Recently a representative from the city council made an appearance to request information on what advice would be helpful for visiting away supporters in terms of restaurant and bar facilities etc. This highlights a realisation that the match day experience goes far deeper than attending the actual 90 minutes of football and all individuals have the right to an enjoyable day out despite what they witness on the hallowed St James’ Park turf (last season the match was often the least enjoyable part!). The club are currently working on sorting out the signing towards disabled access, working well with the association to identify an area for improvement and straightening out the issue.
It’s refreshing to think that, despite the many public relations disasters over the last five years, Newcastle United seem genuinely committed to ensuring they are one of the leading practitioners in this very important issue.
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