Disabled Sheffield United fans call for better access to facilities on the Kop after health and safety rule change
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Sheffield United has implemented a number of changes to match day procedures since the beginning of the 2022/23 season, including more rigorous ticket checks, enforcement of the use of ticket-holders’ designated gangways and a ban on fans crossing between the John Street stand and the Kop.
The John Street stand has a ground-level entrance, and fans sitting on the Kop have previously been able to avoid using stairs by entering from the John Street stand and crossing to over get to the Kop.
Change brought in to ‘ensure the safety’ of staff and supporters
A club spokesperson said the rule preventing fans from crossing stands has come into force to ‘ensure the safety’ of all their staff and supporters, after a number of issues were found following an annual review of the match day procedures at Bramall Lane.
A number of disabled United supporters say they are unhappy with the changes, and believe the club should be doing more to make the necessary reasonable adjustments under Equality Act 2010.
The Act states that changes or adjustments should be made to ensure you can access certain things if you’re disabled, such as toilets, and that football clubs must make it easy for disabled people to attend football matches.
Season ticket-holder, George Jamieson, is a long-standing Blades’ fan and is registered disabled due to suffering from a number of conditions including a brain disorder, a bone disease, epilepsy and rheumatoid arthritis. He also had a heart attack around four weeks ago.
Calls for more reasonable adjustments on the Kop
George is among the community of fans who sit on the Kop, and says the new rule changes mean he has been prevented from crossing from the Kop to the John Street stand to use the ground-level toilets based there.
“If I have to use stairs my ankles give way,” said George, who often needs to use a walking stick or crutches.
He adds that when he tried to navigate the stairs to use the toilets in the Kop that he almost had a ‘severe accident’.
George, who is one of the admins of the Blades’ Forged in Steel fan group, says the club has suggested that he could move his season ticket to the John Street stand, where he would be able to access a ground level toilet from his seat.
However George says he does not regard that to be a ‘reasonable adjustment,’ and has suggested that disabled fans being given some sort of pass that allows them to access the John Street stand toilets during restricted times could be a solution to the problem.
A club spokesperson says there are a number of health and safety issues such as wiring from equipment which mean it is not safe for people to cross between the two stands, adding that the area between the two stands needs to be kept clear at all times in order to ensure that first aiders and first responders can react quickly in the event of a medical emergency.
‘We just want to watch our team like we have without any problems until now’
Dane Ford-Mitchell has been a season ticket-holder for around 30 years, and has a number of disabilities including sciatica, tendonitis and arthritis.
Dane goes to matches with his 19-year-old son, who is also registered disabled due to having conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism and dyspraxia.
He says that when he asked the club to make reasonable adjustment for him and his son to access their seats on the Kop, they told him they would have to move seats to the John Street Stand’s disabled section.
He said: “[The John Street stand has] a very poor view of the field and poor atmosphere and away from my support network of my friends and family around me, who have moved to where I sit to help with mine and my son’s disabilities.”
Dane added: “I offered alternatives to gain access by reasonable adjustments by allowing ambulant disabled fans to gain access via the big red exit gates after scanning in at the disabled entrance, this was flat denied.”
“It's an injustice towards disabled people who just want to watch their team as they have for years without any problems until now.
“I am going to take this to court if need be too.”
Club statement in full
A Sheffield United spokesperson said: “Following an annual review of our match day procedures for us to ensure the health and safety of all of our staff and supporters at Bramall Lane, and in order to make continuous improvements, we have made this decision due to a number of issues. We have attempted to communicate this to as many fans affected as possible.
“We are aware that passes to move between stands have been issued historically for a number of reasons and we have endeavoured to support as many as we can, however the health and safety of all of our supporters has to be our first priority and we have the support of a number of stakeholders, including Level Playing Field and Kick It Out.
“The area between the John Street Family Stand and Kop has been deemed as unsafe for supporters to cross for a multitude of reasons and whilst we appreciate some are not happy with the decision, we have already collaborated with a number of supporters affected, who have made contact and we’ve found solutions, some of which have had a financial implication covered by the club.”