Independent Living: Disabled Access to Football GroundsFootball is the national game and a major part of many peoples lives, regardless of their level of mobility. Users of mobility scooters, powered wheelchairs, walking sticks, crutches and walkers; all are brought together by the uniting power of football. Unless youre a City or Wednesday fan, of course.Being able to access the stadium or ground of your local club makes healthy, happy, independent living that much easier, and gives thousands of people across the country a major boost every couple of weeks. While disabled facilities at football clubs have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, many still have some way to go. Weve profiled two premiership grounds, just to highlight the differences in facilities, even at the very highest level of the game.Doing the JobManchester CityManchester City, with its 198 disabled spaces spread throughout the ground, is one of the Premier Leagues leading lights in terms of disability access. Receiving overwhelmingly positive responses from both home and away supports, the City of Manchester Stadium at Eastlands in the city has developed a reputation as one of the best venues for mobility impaired football fans.Of course, Manchester Citys stadium does have a distinct advantage over the grounds of its rivals. Built as an athletics venue in the opening years of twenty first century, the COM was commissioned for use during Manchesters hosting of the 2002 Commonwealth Games.By time it was opened in July 2002, the stadium was equipped with a wealth of different features to make it accessible for fans with various mobility impairments, and also to meet the stringent requirements of the Commonwealth Games governing body.As such, by time the stadium had re-opened as the home of Manchester City in August 2003, it featured state of the art disability access facilities, ensuring a comfortable and pleasurable experience for home and visiting fans alike.One feature that has drawn particular praise from visitors to the City of Manchester stadium is the segregation of disabled spaces for home and away fans. Outside of ‘the beautiful game, segregation is a dirty word, but football is a curious animal. The charged atmosphere that comes from the ebullient but partisan nature of a football match is one of the things that makes the sport so popular.While many grounds do not offer club-segregated spaces to disabled fans effectively precluding them from this atmosphere Manchester City make a point of including fans with mobility impairments in the atmosphere by enabling them to sit with their own fans.Other features including elevated wheelchair area, a designated seat alongside the wheelchair user for a carer or assistant and even the provision of such an assistant if requested have all helped to secure glowing reports from visitors to the City of Manchester Stadium over the past decade.Needs ImprovementLiverpoolThe home of the red half of Liverpool, Anfield represents the flipside of the premiership coin. Its 104 spaces for wheelchair users, located in the Paddock Enclosure, Kop and Anfield Road areas number slightly over half of the number of spaces offered by Manchester City.Bearing in mind that both grounds are roughly the same size, this is one area that Liverpool FC will want to improve on if it is to garner positive feedback from visitors. User testimonies agree with this.While personal assistants are available at the ground for those who require them, the awkward seating arrangements in both the home and away ends prevent the assistant from sitting alongside the mobility impaired fan; a feature highly recommended by the Disabled Supporters Association. It is also not guaranteed that a disabled football fan attending a game at Anfield will be able to sit with their own fans. As we mentioned above, this is a big deal for football fans, for whom the vibrant atmosphere provided by being amongst your own fans is a significant part of what makes football an enjoyable spectator sport.Of course, Anfield and Liverpool FC are at a significant disadvantage when compared with a club like Manchester City and their state of the art stadium. Anfield opened in 1884, nearly 120 years before the City of Manchester Stadium. The age of Anfield and its location have been hot topics for some time and have repeatedly thwarted Liverpools plans to expand. The clubs efforts to improve the stadium for its disabled visitors have also been derailed by the antiquated facilities.That said, staff at Anfield have worked hard to make the best out of what theyve got. The clubs access points have received positive feedback from previous visitors who praised the level floor at the entrances and exits and the drop-level counters at the stadiums ticket desks.Where access ramps are located at Anfield, their gradients are shallow enough to make access comfortable and easy for wheelchair users.So, some plus sides to the Anfield experience, but still some way to go.Any comments about either ground mentioned above? Any grounds youd like us to profile? Let us know on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

By Help Mobility Team

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