The issue of facilities or rather the lack of them for wheelchair using football fans made one of its periodical forays onto the national news the other week thanks to two unrelated incidents both north and south of the border.
The National Stadium
Firstly the absolutely scandalous treatment of Scottish wheelchair fans in front of the South Stand at Hampden when Scotland played Germany. Make absolutely no mistake the SFA were fully aware of just how poor an experience it is for a wheelchair user sitting in the front of the South Stand is under normal circumstances, things like the restricted view, the total lack of protection from the elements and the incessant large drips of water from the roof (which ends directly above the wheelchair spaces) if there’s been so much as a passing shower. The simple fact is the Hampden suits grabbed the filthy lucre from German TV and the wheelchair fans became nothing more than a minor irritant to be batted away with nothing but a mealy mouthed apology and a refund.
A spokesperson for the SFA said:
“The Scottish FA apologises unreservedly to those supporters accommodated in the South Stand accessible areas whose view was seriously restricted by the double television production.
“We will offer a full refund to those supporters affected and will review matters ahead of the European Qualifier against Poland next month.”
How about putting every single penny of the German TV money towards improving the current pathetic wheelchair facilities at Hampden? No I don’t think so either, after all this is the SFA and if it’s not in their own personal interest then it simply doesn’t matter.
Given the money spent on constructing Hampden the wheelchair facilities should have been first class but it’s clear they were little more than at best an afterthought. To get to the wheelchair section at the front of the South Stand you have to enter via the vehicle ramp at the side of the stand; the one you see the buses entering on the TV. Try constructing a wheelchair ramp of the same extremely steep gradient as that ramp and you’d have the Health & Safety and the Council Planning Department knocking on your door threatening to knock it down and take you to court.
Once you’ve negotiated the ramp you then have to negotiate the horse shit which is simply left where it falls in the underground section of Hampden. Then you roll through the puddles (there’s always puddles even if it hasn’t rained for days!) to your unsheltered space with its restricted worms eye view.
Now it’s not all bad at Hampden there are a couple of areas providing excellent facilities. In the corner of the West and South Stands there are a handful of spaces that provide great sheltered spaces and an unobstructed view of the entire pitch (a slight overhang restricts sight of high balls) though the access route to these spaces is rather convoluted the spaces are nonetheless most welcome (I assume the same is replicated in the corner of the South and East Stands but I’ve never been there to see for myself).
Since the Commonwealth Games there are now some spaces (approximately seven in the 'Rangers' end and again I assume the same at the other end) in the rear of the North Stand. These are among as good facilities as I have came across; offering clear unobstructed lines of sight even when those seated in front of the wheelchair area stand up - exactly the type of facility that the forthcoming UEFA regulations want to see provided. However such spaces come at a cost both to install and with the ongoing reduction in revenue from the seats that are lost in the retrospective installation of wheelchair facilities; I estimate the loss of 10 to 12 seats for each wheelchair space provided. Given the cost involved in adapting Hampden for the Commonwealth Games then reinstating it afterwards questions have to asked of the SFA, Glasgow Council and probably the Scottish Government too as to why not one single penny was spend improving the wheelchair facilities in the South Stand.
With the level access from street level the South Stand at Hampden could and should have provided one of the finest wheelchair facilities in the UK in not in the whole of Europe but Queens Park, the SFA and whoever else was responsible for it simply didn’t give it a second thought.
Now to south of the border where all Premier League clubs have decided to bring their grounds up to the required standard by 2017. This is a significant and very welcome development though not one that has come around through altruistic reasons but rather cold economic ones with pressure being brought to bear upon the sponsors of the richest league in the world.
Old Trafford is often held up as an example of good wheelchair facilities and having sampled them that’s true up to a point. The spaces, whilst behind the goal and to the side, offer clear unobstructed lines of sight in three elevated tiers, with access to a lounge serving food and drink being a rare and welcome surprise. However where the facilities fall short, as is often the case, is that they barely have a third of the recommended spaces. My personal favourite ground in UK is Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium which virtually already complies with UEFA’s wish list (though it too falls a few spaces short) of having wheelchair viewing areas spaced all through the ground at all levels and not lumped together pitch side. In the grand scheme of things in relation to their turnover the Premier League clubs will be paying virtually peanuts to collectively bring their grounds up to standard. It’s only taken 20 years after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act for us to have reached this point; I’m at a loss as to whether this is cause to laugh or to cry.
Finally matters much closer to the heart regarding Rangers and where they’re at and where they need to be in regards to wheelchair facilities. To be blunt in regards to wheelchair facilities Rangers are as a former CEO admitted “not in a good place”. I have a degree of sympathy in this matter for the current Boardroom incumbents as it is they who are now responsible for bringing Ibrox up to standard to meet the forthcoming regulations due to the total neglect under previous regimes.
There are currently around 65 spaces in the front of the West Enclosure and in the East Enclosure (a legacy of the Commonwealth Games) a further 35 spaces. Like the South Stand at Hampden these are pitch side restricted view and fail to comply with the standards of the upcoming UEFA requirements. The Govan West Corner which normally houses the away fans has seven wheelchair spaces (these were retrospectively installed to accommodate away fans not installed when the corner was constructed) which provide an excellent elevated viewpoint (when the stewards apply common sense). Also the Broomloan Stand contains four spaces (these were installed to save the inevitable public embarrassment of Rangers being taken to court by another club) which considering their rumoured cost (£80k for the four) are rather poor quality restricted view spaces yet they can very easily and relatively inexpensively be converted to comply with the forthcoming criteria. Additionally the hospitality boxes in Argyle House can accommodate wheelchairs via the use of a portable ramp. All other areas of the stadium, the Club Deck, Main Stand, Copland Stand etc cannot accommodate wheelchair fans. Thus, currently Ibrox can accommodate 111 wheelchairs (+ Argyle House hospitality and I believe there are currently two wheelchair users using it on a regular basis) while the new UEFA regulations state 210 for the first 40k of capacity and an additional two spaces per 1000 capacity - giving the requirement for Ibrox of 230 wheelchair spaces.
Reaching the guideline of 230 wheelchair spaces at Ibrox isn’t going to be easy, certainly isn’t going to be cheap and will may well result in a reduction in capacity. It will be interesting to see how Rangers are going to implement the changes required. I’d prefer to see them do it in a proper structured manner, stand by stand if necessary, even if that takes a little longer to implement. I’m sceptical at just how thorough UEFA will be in policing the regulations even if I’m told they’re extremely serious. By way of comparison, I look at the way they police the FFP regulations then sigh. One thing however seems certain; the days of grouping all the wheelchairs together pitch side and to the mercy of the elements will be consigned to the history books (hopefully!).
I realise that all this may be totally insignificant to you, your loved ones and your mates but that’s today - tomorrow it just might be a different story.
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Some relevant links to look at when you’re suffering from a bout of boredom.
Rangers Form Accessible Ticketing Group: (Rangers Official Website 13/09/2015)
A Good Practice Guide to Creating an Accessible Stadium and Matchday Experience: (CafeFootball.eu website) [PDF file]
What to expect from an Accessible Stadium: (Level Playing Field website)
Premier League clubs to make changes for disabled fans: (BBC Sport 14/09/2015)
Accessible Stadia: (Safety at Sports Grounds website) [PDF file]
Delivering Accessible Stadia: (Stadium Consultancy website) [PDF file]