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The son of a lifelong Nottingham Forest fan who recently started using a wheelchair says The City Ground should have more spaces for wheelchair users, and describes the lack of them as ‘upsetting’ and ‘ignorant’. Russell Marsden, 34, says every club should have the same proportion of bays for the percentage of wheelchair users in the UK.
According to data from the 2011 census, 1.9 percent of the UK population uses a wheelchair, and just Bournemouth’s ground matches this proportion of spaces for wheelchair users compared to able bodied fans. That’s according to data from Level Playing Field, a charity that provides guidance and support for sport fans with a disability.
The data gives a breakdown of each stadium’s capacity, the total number of wheelchair bays available and what percentage that makes up of the capacity, and has data for 86 of the 92 Premier League and EFL clubs. Nottingham Forest sits 71st on that list, and 19th out of 20 in the Premier League, with a total of 79 wheelchair bays part of the 30,445 capacity, which makes up just 0.259 percent.
The Guide to Safety at Sports Grounds, known as the Green Guide, is a Government funded guidance book on spectator safety at sports grounds. It recommends that for a ground with a capacity of 30,000, there should be 180 wheelchair spaces, which is 0.6 percent, with Forest short of that by 101 spaces.
Russell, a business owner, and his father, Bob Marsden, 67, are lifelong Forest fans. Both live in Chesterfield. Retired Bob has had to use a wheelchair since January 2022 after he was diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic diseases that cause weakness and wasting of the muscles in the arms and legs.
Bob is a home member, and had to get tickets in wheelchair bays from this point onwards. While Bob still managed to attend all but one match in this period to the end of the season, Russell says of the 79 bays, only eight were available on a match-by-match basis during Forest’s run in the Championship, and that as it stands, this has reduced to six for Forest’s first season back in the Premier League.
Speaking to Nottinghamshire Live, Russell said: “There does not seem to be an equal opportunity for wheelchair users, and this really upsets me, it’s really surprising in this day and age. It’s the one thing my dad looks forward to and enjoys more than anything else, and he’s not able to get out as much anymore.
“I get that the percentages may never be perfect, but in this case it’s not even close. If this was to relate to age, race or homophobia, this would be such a bigger issue, but why shouldn’t it be for people with disabilities?
“I think home members have around a 30 percent chance or so of going to matches if they are able bodied, whereas my dad and wheelchair users have a 7.6 percent chance if they’re not a season ticket holder for the Premier League season. It’s not a level playing field and my dad has such a lack of opportunities compared to able bodied fans now.
“We’re incredibly proud that Nottingham Forest is in the Premier League, but I feel this is one point that is being failed at. I think there’s a level of ignorance towards this problem too.”
The only clubs with a worse percentage of wheelchair bays than Forest within a capacity of 5,000 either side of The City Ground’s 30,445 are Sheffield United (75th) and Coventry City (80th). The club with a similar size ground compared to Forest that is the best performing is Blackburn Rovers, as Ewood Park has a capacity of 31,363 with 292 wheelchair bays, making up 0.931 percent.
Tony Taylor, chair of Level Playing Field, said: “It is vital that clubs deliver sufficient and appropriate accessible facilities to ensure that the make-up of their community is reflected in their stands. Disability is the largest minority group in any population with more than 14 million disabled people in the UK.
“The services and infrastructure needs to be in place ahead of any event to ensure there is an equality of experience and opportunity. This is not exclusive to clubs that are in the Premier League nor is it exclusively a wheelchair user issue.
“Clubs need to cater for all fans as a part of a disability approach and their responsibilities in complying with the Equality Act to ensure they deliver access and inclusion in an anticipatory fashion. Clubs who have failed to achieve this must have a clearly defined plan to meet their legal and moral obligations in a timely fashion, taking account of expert consultation and importantly engaging with disabled sports fans.”
Russell wants to raise awareness of the issue. To do that, he’s written to a number of Nottinghamshire MPs, including Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome.
Nadia replied: “Every football fan deserves a fair chance to cheer on their team in their home ground, but I’m concerned that through a lack of wheelchair bays, fans who use wheelchairs are not being given the same opportunities as other fans. I will be tabling a question in Parliament about the inclusion of disabled fans at Premier League matches.”
In an update on their pre-season schedule, Nottingham Forest confirmed infrastructure works at The City Ground are underway in preparation for the opening home Premier League game on August 13 against West Ham United. The club has been contacted for further comment.
Written by: thehitnetwork
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