On Thursday 22nd March, Richard and Joanna Sainsbury (Chair & Secretary) represented Walsall FC DSA at Level Playing Fields North West Regional Forum at Liverpool FC's Anfield along with DSA's from more than a dozen other clubs from all over.
There were presentations from LPF's Projects Coordinator Kieran Reynolds, Liverpool FC DSA's Joint Membership Secretary, David Ingham and Liverpool FC Foundation Project Leader Ryan Moigmard which were followed by open discussions on a number of differing topics.
Kieran began by saying that there are a reported 13.3 million disabled people throughout the UK which is equal to 1 in 4 families who have a disabled family member, around 50% of which have never attended a live sporting event. Disabled people have a spending power of £249 billion a year, therefore, accessibility is not just a legal obligation, but also an important commercial and moral consideration. The formation of DSA's, such as the one at Walsall FC, is about giving disabled supporters a voice, as well as encouragement to attend live games.
Ryan Moignard, Project Leader of Liverpool FC Foundation, an official Liverpool FC charity who operate under the banner 'Respect 4 all', talked about the work the foundation does by engaging with disabled youngsters to get involved in sports and focus not just on footall, but also many other sports including Boccia, Goalball and New Age Curling and encourage both disabled and non-disabled youngsters to participate together in order to eradicate non-exclusion from both sides.
The foundation have mixed teams which include physical and neurogical (PAN) teams and autistic and blind impairment specific teams and aslo operate a number of inclusive sports weeks. Ryan summed up the foundations principals by saying "If you don't challenge, you don't change things. In order to coach football to James, you have to know football, but you also have to know James. It's not about winning cups, it's about supporting as many people with as many abilities as possible".
David Ingham, Joint Membership Secretary of Liverpool FC DSA, which has been in existance since 1979 and operate under the banner 'Integration not Segregation', told the meeting about the things that Liverpool FC DSA are doing which include End of Season Dinners, Christam Gala's, Family Sports Days and their recently introduced and very successful Ladies Day. Liverpool FC DSA are currently updating their constitution to fall in-line with the LPF model.
Following the presentations, there was a round table discussion on the best ways to raise funds for a wheelchair platform with useful advice on obtaining funding and other fundraising ideas. There was also a debate on the impact of standing areas and the problem that this could cause for those supporters unable to stand or have difficulties in standing which essentially could be worse when attending matches at away grounds; the general consensus was for sporting venues to have specific standing areas for standing and to steward other areas to ensure that fans didn't obscure the views of disabled supporters who did not or could not stand. The football Supporters Association are currently running a campaign to call for the introduction of 'Safe Standing' grounds throughout the UK.
Bolton FC DSA member Stephen Parry who was in attendance with his son Morgan said that he is currently campaigning for disabled supportes who have to rely on wheelchairs which are specifically adapted, as is Morgans, to be flown in to enable them to attend games and use their wheelchairs at grounds. For further information, please visit www.flyingdisabled.org.uk.
The forum closed with a tour of the Anfield Disabled Balcony.
In all, the forum made for an interesting day and a gret opportunity for Walsall FC DSA to make a number of new contacts and to discuss many ideas and mutual interests shared by many DSA's.
To view photos from the events, please click here.