Warrington Disability Partnership

Accessing Premier League football

The Premier League and disability access, what is going on ?

I recently caught up with the latest commentary on the apparent failure of the Premier League to recognise that far too many of our top flight football clubs continue to provide poor, unequal access to the game this country is often credited with inventing. Lord Holmes's comments, as reported by the BBC in the link below, are not a great read for football's elite. Reading them, and the inevitable defensive response from the Premier League, I'm left with the sinking feeling that we have been here before, many times, as the richest league in the world, awash with billions from a TV contract that provided riches beyond any expectations, again gets its back four to defend the indefensible.

The exuses are legion. Plans are in place, Old stadiums with building issues, plans for a new stadium delaying development of better access, we will be compliant with accessible stadia rules and regs in 2017, we already have lots of spaces even tho we know the number is a long way off the required standard, etc etc etc. It's truly depressing and the simple fact is that disabled football supporters are just not a priority for many clubs despite the £100m a season for three years coming their way thanks to SKY and BT and overseas rights to the most exciting league anywhere.

Most people know in a fanatical Everton supporter so I need to be clear that in this minor rant I'm not using Everton as some kind of prime example of access failure. My club has made a host of improvements to access over the last few years but EFC acknowledges that they want to do more and yes, the old chestnut genuinely applies ie that one of the oldest stadiums in the league, if not the oldest, causes many building constraints. EFC supporters want more spaces and that's been happening too, so things are changing but even at the School of Science there remain disappointing problems with access and we are hopeful of further improvements.

Here's the thing, some clubs surely know their accessible viewing provision is nothing short of dire, in terms of both numbers and quality of viewing and overall experience. To put this right requires not just money but crucially the "will" to treat access as a priority. There isn't the desire to do this at many clubs because to make it happen a compromise may be required ie to put in enough quality viewing spaces may mean impacting an advertising space, reducing seats in a stand by a relatively small number, changing entrances, and training staff properley to understand some basics around disability awareness. It is I know a common cry which irritates our top football clubs but does anyone really think that if this issue was about corporate hospitality provision we'd be reading of decades of delay and prevarication ?

The arguments are not all simple, and yes there are some outstanding examples of quality accessible viewing experience at some clubs, but the truth is everyone in football knows that there's now the money to get this sorted yet some of the richest football brands in the country remain stubbornly off the pace, and only severe sanctions by the Premier League will change that - can you see access to premier league football still being less than acceptable if clubs that don't quickly and fully meet the stadia standards were to be docked points next season ?


Cheers, Mark

About the author

Mark Wilson was a trustee on the WDP Board for five years, and a social media management lead until 1st May 2017. Mark's personal blogging website, The Blue Badge Blog, covers a wide range of disability issues, particularly accessible travel.

22nd October 2016