Let's give disablism the red card - a fan's experience

World Cup blog 650x400

Bernie Conway (pictured right, above) is People Administrator at Mencap’s national office, and a member of both the FSF and Level Playing Field, who attended the 2014 Supporters Summit. Bernie has a mild learning disability and believes football should be open to all. We couldn’t agree more. Bernie outlines some of her experiences below…

As well as being passionate about seeing people with learning disabilities have the same rights as everyone else and live independently, I am also a big football fan and also strongly believe people of all disabilities should be able to get to games to cheer on their teams.

I support three teams, Arsenal (they are my local team as I was born and brought up in Islington), AFC Wimbledon (I used to work in their burger vans) and Gillingham (I love travelling down to Kent and I also know people there).

I am also a member of the Arsenal Supporters Trust, Dons Trust (AFC Wimbledon) and Gills Independent Supporters Club (Gillingham). Also I am a member of Level Playing Field (who run schemes like the Match Buddies Project) and Football Supporters’ Federation.

What's my favourite matchday memories and experiences? I was at the game when Gillingham got promoted to League One in 2013 to which the winning goal was scored by my favourite player Danny Kedwell who is Gillingham born and bred.

I was also at the following home game at Priestfield when they were crowned as League Two Champions. Although I didn’t get to see any of the games in this particular season but I was working at AFC Wimbledon when they won promotion to the Football League in 2011. It is always a good feeling when you go to a game and see your team win. 

I enjoy going to the games as I love the atmosphere. I go the games on my own and even make my own travel arrangements. Sometimes when I go and watch Gillingham play I will stay overnight in a hotel on my own.

A lot of grounds that I go to are accessible for their disabled supporters and I have no problems getting to and into a stadium. When I go to the games down in Gillingham I always book my tickets online using my bank card.

I feel very included and respected by other supporters and I know a lot of people at all three of the clubs that I support. What could be done to help people with a learning disability feel more included in football?

At Gillingham I know the Disability Liaison Officer and I know that they are always working towards making their disabled supporters feel included.

An example of this is one of the Gillingham fans is partially sighted so the club set up a little ear radio so that he can listen to the commentary of the game. Also recently there was a new Changing Places toilet installed at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium

I still think that there is a lot that other clubs can do to make going to a game easier and accessible for its disabled fans.

I don’t have any problems going to games myself but I would imagine that there will be many other disabled fans who don’t get to as many games as they would like to. This could be to do with problems booking tickets online or in person. It could be that they don’t like travelling on their own to a game.

I think clubs should have on their websites an accessible/easy read guide for disabled fans about how to book tickets and accessible routes to and from ground (as a lot of the grounds are sometimes miles away from stations, etc).

My passion is to see everyone, whatever their disability, the chance to go and watch their favourite teams which why I always use the following:

  • Think! Football is for everyone.
  • Hidden disability. You can’t tell who is disabled just by looking...and it really shouldn’t matter.
  • We’re all fans. We’re all there to enjoy the football. We can do that together.

Let’s give disablism the red card!

For more details about this campaign email Bernadette.Conway@mencap.org.uk or tweet Bernie @Bernadettec1968.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.