MK Dons Season Ticket holders Jo & Jeff provide an insight into their experience of watching football at Stadium MK, as part of Level Playing Field's Unite for Access campaign...
Hello Jo & Jeff, please tell us about yourselves and how you became Milton Keynes Dons supporters?
Jeff attended a school for visually impaired children in Liverpool where allegiance to one of the local teams was almost an entry requirement but missed out on live games as it was thought he would not see enough. Jo grew up thinking football was stupid. When the Dons were in their last season at The National Hocket Stadium, Jo declared “I have to go to one live match in my life and I have no intention of driving all the way to Bletchley for this!” Jeff happily agreed. We went to Dons v Grimsby, at the end Jo asked “when are they playing again, do you think we can come again”, blame Robin Edmunds (steward) he was so welcoming to us! We have been to almost every home and away game since, it’s a serious incurable condition!
At Stadium MK we have a variety of facilities for those with accessibility issues. What facilities do you regularly use on a matchday and how do they benefit your experience?
We park in the Blue Badge spaces in E1 near to Gate 5. Wheelchairs and white canes don’t do well on car parks, so parking close keeps us safe. We have sat in the same space and companion seat at the top of Aisle 13 on Row EE since the stadium opened. Spacious, safe, dry, not isolated from other fans, unobstructed view of the game and we are able to order from the concessions at our seat. The provision of accessible toilets throughout the concourse means that you can easily ‘spend a penny’. The lifts to the upper floor mean we can also easily visit Lewington’s Supporters bar.
Jeff uses the SoccerSight (audio descriptive headset match commentary provided by MKUH Radio volunteer commentators). Jo loves this because it means that she doesn’t have to speak to Jeff for the entire game! None of these facilities can be taken for granted, it’s not always the same when we visit away grounds. Together, they mean we are enabled rather than disabled by the stadium. As for all fans, we just want them to come and enjoy the game without any hassle. Match days for us are the away fixtures as well as home ones and this is only made possible by the Dons. The Club provides accessible official away travel to each game, without this we would not be able (it is too far for Jo to drive). Away trips have given us so many amazing, unforgettable experiences over the years (One day, we might have to write a book!).
You are also MKDSA’s Disability Officers, as well as Supporter Liaison Officers (SLO) for the Club. What does your roles entail?
As the MKDSA’s Disability Officers, we write previews on mkdsa.org.uk about each away ground’s accessibility features allowing people to have easy access to this knowledge, which can be difficult to find. We also ensure that access issues are inclusively considered in all MKDSA projects. For Example, the access provisions we requested at the last Fans Forum and which we will do better with at the next one.
Our SLO role is similar, bringing accessibility issues to our regular meetings with Oona Carmichael, who is the Club’s Supporter Liaison Officer. It’s also important to note we have input into lots of little things around the stadium. This season we have together with Oona successfully expanded the numbers using the accessible away transport, had a soap dispenser moved from being in the way of a grab rail, addressed the issues of online purchase of carer tickets, the mismatch there was between ticket numbers and spaces on Row EE etc. We have also been contacted by away fans who are visiting Stadium MK, we are able to give them the reassurance they are looking for in regard to the accessible provisions at the away end.
What’s the importance of Level Playing Field (LPF) for disabled fans like yourselves?
As LPF members we attend all their online forums. This allows us to find out what other Clubs are doing accessibility wise and if we can bring their ideas to Stadium MK as well as sharing ours with our counterparts at other Clubs. Most notably the new ostomy friendly toilets were officially opened at Stadium MK on 25 Feb, this initially arose from the passion we heard from the Colostomy UK speaker on a LPF forum.
Prior to going to an away match, we always check LPF’s website, as each Club has their own page, listing their accessibility provisions and reviews which have been written by disabled fans. Even if it is a Club we have been to many times we still check as provisions often change (and sadly not always for the better). We always endeavour to write a review after visiting a Club, we often read our own past reviews to remind us of what we are about to let ourselves in for! We would encourage all fans to review their experiences of accessibility features at Stadium MK and other Clubs they visit on LPF’s website. These reviews as well as letting fans know what to expect, are sent to the Club concerned and we know result in changes. Stewards have been promoted at various Clubs because of the positive things we have said about them, other positive changes have been made following comments made on provisions.
What projects are you currently working on?
We are liaising with various staff at Stadium MK on ideas and plans currently in working progress. We had a new idea this week which we have not had chance to share with anyone yet!
In relation to away games, there are many items on our agenda, we are asking that all Clubs sell their tickets for wheelchair users in the same way as they sell all their other tickets for visiting fans via the away Club. We want companion seats to not be behind wheelchair spaces as these are not companion seats, we also want all Clubs to provide level access seating for ambulant disabled fans (so often it seems, Clubs think if they have provided a few wheelchair spaces it is job done – most fans with access needs are not wheelchair users!) We want all Clubs to have more than one accessible toilet at the away end and for these toilets to be available to all. Accessible toilets are required by many more fans than just wheelchair users.
The one that we have been banging on about forever it seems, wheelchair users should never have to sit at the home end due to the failure to provide access at the away end. We have campaigned for equal access it seems throughout our lives and never step back from an issue but don’t always get the success we would like or certainly not in the time frame we would like!
How can supporters get in touch with you if they wish to discuss any topics relating to their matchday experience?
Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us on a matchday at 390 Row EE in Stadium MK, in the minibus going to away games and in the wheelchair spaces at away grounds. We are firmly of the view that most fans with access needs are not on Row EE and don’t have a clue who we are. So please do get in touch if you know of something that you think we might be able to help with, we would love to hear from you. Use us to benefit you.