There have been two constants in my life, Manchester United and my disability.
Ever since my Granddad told me stories of him going to school with some of the Busby Babes, I have been hooked by this great football club.
Being in a wheelchair means that I can never play football but I still had the unattainable boyhood dream of playing the sport that I love at Old Trafford. Although I’ll never get to play football, watching it from the stands is still an amazing experience.
When I think back through the United matches that I have been privileged enough to go to, three spring to mind; these matches are: Manchester United vs Manchester City (in the David Moyes season), United vs Southampton in the Carabao Cup final in 2017 and United vs Chelsea in the FA Cup final in 2018.
The reason why these games stick out to me the most is because something unique happened at all three that I believe wouldn’t have if I was not in a wheelchair.
Manchester United vs Manchester City was my first ever football match that I went to and it showed the good and the bad about being a disabled football fan.
The bad being my Dad and I having to argue with the train steward to let me on the train to Manchester.
The problem wasn’t our tickets, it was that we hadn’t booked a ramp for the train, even though we hadn’t been told that we needed to. The steward got hot, flustered and annoyed but begrudgery allowed us to use an un-booked ramp.
This instance helps to present the constant logistical barriers that disabled supporters go through.
The good experiences of this derby were the fans and the disabled seating. Imagine this, first live football game of your life and you’re sat behind the goal… when it comes to seating at sporting events, it pays off to be disabled.
The fans, both in red and sky blue, were brilliant. On the walk to Old Trafford I felt like Moses parting the Red Sea as positive murmurs of “watch out pal” and “wheelchair behind” rang from this ‘Red Sea’ of United fans, who then cleared a path for my Dad and I as we all went to the stadium as one big red collective.
My lasting memory of this match is Yaya Touré braking through in the 89th minute to make it 0-3 to City, as the ball hit the net, we decided we had seen enough and started to leave. The exit we used was directly under the City fans and I remember locking eyes with a guy who deliberately exaggerated his celebration when we were looking at each other and I loved it! He didn’t see a boy in a wheelchair, he saw a sad United fan and wanted to rub it in.Embed from Getty Images
With the Carabao Cup and FA Cup finals I had a similarly great encounter with all the sets of fans who attended. The Carabao Cup final against Southampton will be something that I will always remember as the pure pandemonium and joy of Zlatan Ibrahimović scoring the winner in the 87th minute will be hard to forget.
During the chaotic celebrations of this winning goal, the fans in front of me tried to lift me up, wheelchair and all, but unfortunately for them my chair weighs 150kg so they had no chance.
The FA Cup was a calmer affair; however, but I still had a joyous conversation with a group of Chelsea fans. Chelsea won that day thanks to an Eden Hazard penalty in a dull 1-0 victory for the Blues. By accident, I had left Wembley at full-time through the exit for the Chelsea fans. I was a bit sheepish as I was the only one wearing red whilst being surrounded by blue shirts.
I think that being in a wheelchair put me in a position where I shouldn’t have worried as Chelsea fans happily joked and talked to me about the game until we went our separate ways.
For the most part, being a disabled football fan is fun and creates situations for me that perhaps able bodied fans won’t be able to experience for themselves.
However unfortunately, the limited amount of accessible seating and other potential barriers means that myself and other disabled supporters cannot be spontaneous when wanting to attend a match. It’s a different story, and it isn’t fair.