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The first game of the Super League season for Hull FC in 2019 was away at our lovely neighbours Hull KR.
It was the beginning of February and it was cold and wet, now as a Hull FC supporter for over 30 years, my early years where when the seasons started in September and went through to May, I was no stranger to wrapping up warm, with thermals, fur boots, hats and scarves being my go-to attire.
However, now I am a wheelchair user and this creates a whole array of different issues around what to wear to keep warm.
It was at this point Accessible Rach was born, there had to be a way for me to still attend the sport I loved and be warm and comfortable in the process.
My friend Nicky has a stall in Trinity Market selling clothes, hats and scarves, go check her out and while buying a scarf from her earlier in the year she advised the last person she sold one too was using it as a blanket for her wheelchair.
So armed with warm boots, thermals, thick coat, wheelchair cover and Nicky’s scarf, having already made enquiries with Wigan Warriors see here. I set off for my first away game.
At the same time, I contacted Hull FC as I was looking at the possibility of working with the RFL and Super League to improve accessibility as Super League grounds.
My email was forwarded to Katy at Super League Europe Ltd and I received a response advising they would be very happy to work with me and hoped I would attend the Grand Final at Old Trafford at the end of the season.
The Old Trafford Accessible Experience
It is not often I can share a blog post in pictures, but on this occasion, I can.
The car park was easy to find and once we had collected our tickets, before entry the car was searched including the boot and the under vehicle inspection mirrors were used. Very reassuring at a high profile event.The staff at the car park were all very helpful in guiding us to a parking space, car park ticket displayed along with blue badge. Click To Tweet
As we got closer to the stadium entrance we spoke to a steward who pointed us in the direction of our turnstiles.
Here I have to really congratulate Old Trafford on creating this accessible area, you will see from the further photos that they really do leave no stone unturned with their accessible experience.
The Accessible Area
I lost count of how many disabled toilets there were in the accessible area but I would say upwards of 10, they were all operated by a radar key and the stewards were on hand to assist with access if required.
“Phil Downs is the former Disability Liaison Officer of Manchester United, with more than 27 years as the Founder/Secretary of Manchester United Disabled Supporters’ Association. and Co-founder and previous Chair of Level Playing Field (NADS) Phil Downs has created his own company to provide information gathered over 25 years experience of creating and implementing operational procedures to facilitate people of all disabilities attending this huge venue which holds close to 80,000 people every match.”As a disabled supporter, there is nothing worse than being pushed about and especially when you are at elbow height of the supporters above you, this suite is just the best-disabled supporter experience I have seen to date. Click To Tweet
The seating areaThe disabled bays are clearly marked with either one or two carer seats next to them. Click To Tweet
The Grand Final Game
In the inaugural year of Super League when Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos met in the first grand final, the grand final was marketed as the season-ending showpiece event in the rugby league calendar and this year didn’t disappoint.
16:55 – The very first Physical Disability Rugby League match at Old Trafford will take place, Wakefield Trinity vs Castleford Tigers, Paul Gallen and Dean Sampson will both play.
17:15 – Betfred Super Fan will be revealed (£10,000 Winner) the was Fred Halliwell
17:25 – Pitchside Preview with Man of Steel Panellists
17:40 – Shed Seven will be Going for Gold…
17:52 – Laura Wright will perform her rendition of the amazing ‘Jerusalem’, the spine-tingling build-up!
17:55 – Do not miss the players walk-out!
18:00 – KICK-OFF
Half-Time – Shed Seven will be chasing rainbows for the half-time show, whilst rocking to Shed Seven, there will be special guests from Learning Disability Super League on the pitch.
Grand Final action shots
St Helens celebrations
Wow! What can I say to sum up, other than thank you so much to Super League Europe for making it possible for me to attend the most accessible stadium I have ever come across, from arriving in the car park and getting out of the car I couldn’t have been better supported, all the stewards knew what they were doing and were all helpful, with a smile on their faces.
Entering the stadium and stewards were on hand immediately to assist you, the counter in the Phil Downs Ability Suite was wheelchair accessible ensuring food and drink is available to you at all times.
Into the seating area and there are accessible stewards offering assistance in the stands, showing you to your area.
Special mention goes to the steward who stood with us for most of the game, to ensure no one obstructed our view, be that other stewards or supporters coming up from the concourse.
It was just an amazing experience and one I will be happy to repeat.
You can read all about accessibility at Old Trafford here and you will also see they are improving it even further with more wheelchair spaces in 2020/21.
Well done Manchester United for leading the way for accessibility at Sports Stadiums never thought I would use those words together ever, being a Leeds United fan, but credit where credit is due.