How the visually impaired can enjoy the Sheffield Derby - thanks to this vital service

When it comes to the Steel City derby nobody wants to have to miss out.

Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 1:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 1:33 pm
Presenters Jonathan Stittle and George Smith, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley
Presenters Jonathan Stittle and George Smith, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

The all-Sheffield clash between Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday is a tradition that dates back almost 130 years. The two clubs first met each other at the Owls’ former home, Olive Grove, back in 1890 and another 129 clashes have followed since.

But whilst the derby for some football fans in this city is the biggest fixture on the calendar, have you ever stopped to think about those who, for whatever reason, cannot see the derby?

Presenters Jonathan Stittle and George Smith, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

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Perhaps they are away on holiday at the time. Maybe they cannot afford a ticket. But have you ever wondered about those in hospital or those who suffer from a visual impairment? How do those people see Wednesday and United get at each other with hammer and tongs?

The answer behind that question is Sheffield Sports Commentaries, a registered charity that provides free football commentary to patients of Sheffield hospitals - working in tandem with Sheffield Hospital Radio – and visually impaired football supporters at both Bramall Lane and Hillsborough.

Sheffield Sports Commentaries, which is made up of eight commentators, have been providing the free service since all the way back in 1950.

Since its birth, the charity has commentated on an array of memorable matches at both Bramall Lane and Hillsborough.

Presenter George Smith, pictured. Picture: Marie Caley

Secretary of Sheffield Sports Commentaries Jonathan Stittle, aged 59, has been involved with the charity for 18 years.

He said: “The commentary is very important as many of the inpatients will be football fans who can’t attend the game and may not be able to afford the bedside TV packages.

“Ours is a very descriptive and full commentary given by supporters of the local clubs.”

While Jonathan is a Blade and will be at Hillsborough on Monday evening, albeit in the Leppings Lane end cheering the Blades on, George Smith, Mark Rothman and Tom Haslam – members of the Owls commentary team within the charity – will be on the mic providing a ball-by-ball commentary of what is expected to be an intriguing battle between Steve Bruce’s Owls and Chris Wilder’s Blades.

Commentator Mark Rothman, aged 34, said: “I always like to give something back to the local community and helping the blind people is a lovely thing to do.

“It is also my bit for the society and giving something back free of charge. We don’t get paid for it. It’s all voluntary.” 

One person who will be listening to the commentary on Monday night is Gary Slinn. Gary, 44, an Owls fan from Ecclesfield, has used the service at Hillsborough for more than 20 years due to him being partially sighted and he is only too grateful for the commentary.

He said: “In my view it’s important for any match but more so for this match, as the service can be used by both home and away fans.  

“The provision of the commentary in hospital is important for those who are in hospital and with it being a Sheffield derby the demand is likely to be high.”