A women’s football guide for disabled supporters

Image of stadium seating with text that reads Disabled Supporters Guide.

One of the last things considered when organisers schedule football fixtures often seems to be the fans, especially those with disabilities. Her Football Hub has explored some ways to help ease the pressure off of planning your trip to a women’s football match and let you focus on enjoying the day.

When you choose the team you want to support, many factors can play a part. Usually, it’s if you know any of the players and if you live locally enough to watch them in person. It can be tricky to pick your team. Whether they are in the Women’s Super League or another division, it’s a long (and mostly wintery) season of matches — especially if you want to support your team home and away.

Travelling can take its toll on a healthy person. But I find as a disabled supporter, being informed about every fixture helps me feel safer and confident.

Table of contents:

Navigating better match day experiences

Last season, the annual fan survey across all sports reported that 26 percent of disabled supporters stated that a ‘lack of information’ was a barrier to attending matches. I hope this helps other fans with disabilities get better access to matches — whether it’s their local grassroots women’s team or their nearest WSL side. Knowing how it works will hopefully give disabled people confidence to attend a match.

If you are 100 percent able-bodied, you may not consider where to park on a match day as a hurdle that could stop you from attending. You may not fret about how many steps you must tackle before you get to your seat, or if there are stairs to navigate around the stadium. You rightly wouldn’t have to consider if you’ll get funny looks parking in a disabled space, or if security guards will check your legs for a visible disability before giving you access to a shortcut through the stadium.

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Many times, I’ve had to explain my heart condition. And I’m pretty sure, apart from some hypertensive ankle swelling, they won’t find signs from checking my legs. Football is me on my good day, where I can wear my team colours, be part of a crowd, and scream in unison.

When season fixtures are announced, it’s 100 percent worth a call to your club’s supporter services to ask how the system works for their disabled fans or fans with access needs. Some clubs have a designated Disabled Access Officer who can liaise with you to answer any questions, usually by email and even via mobile phone on matchdays. They can often advise any information needed on home and away matches. It’s always important to know the supporter services team so they can keep an eye out for you and be on-hand if needed.

Matchday guide

Match tickets for home games are usually available for purchase directly from your club. In most cases, the home team you are playing sells away tickets. You can purchase these online via their website, where you get emailed a digital ticket. Some grassroots teams might operate by paying on the day. This might be cash only, so please check beforehand by looking online or contacting the club directly.

Mapping your matchday travel

Planning your route can help alleviate any stress. I like to confirm the journey to home matches is free of road closures or any changes that might disrupt where I can access the stadium. As our women’s football matches are often on a Sunday, with some kicking off during the evening, it’s always worth checking that the return journey is the same. Road closures occasionally happen on motorways, which can cause diversions later the same day.

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Parking is essential to confirm in advance — call the club or look online for parking services. Disabled parking inside the stadium sells out quickly, so prioritise this as you get your tickets. If they are sold out, I check the local area for permit parking regulations. Most areas don’t enforce certain parking regulations on Sundays, meaning you can use on-street parking and keep your blue badge on you for access needs. If none of those are an option or are too far away, I use my disabled blue badge to park on double yellow lines outside the stadiums, the three hours gives me plenty of time to get in and out of the stadium.

If you are planning on attending an away match, it can be a lot to take in and sometimes the away supporter turnstile is on one end of the stadium. It’s always worth checking this before you arrive, to ensure you park near the right entrance and save some steps. I’d also advise you to check your team’s Supporters Club and see if anyone is arranging away travel via a minibus or coach. This can be a cost effective and sociable way to travel to matches.

Achieving accessibility and comfort in the stadium

For those with limited mobility, access can be an issue in older stadiums. Modern stadiums like Wembley have lifts, but when the stadiums are older there can be a lot of steps. If you have limited mobility, it’s worth flagging to the stewards on the match day, but take proof in the form of your blue badge or check with your club if they accept any other forms of evidence you can take on your mobile phone.

Noise levels at stadiums do vary. If you are sensitive to sudden noises, then I’d advise you to take some headphones. I often like to listen to another match happening whilst watching one live, especially if a few women’s matches are on at the same time. However, even if you have nothing playing through the headphones, they can help reduce the noise of the crowd and the PA system.

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Food and drink options can be limited. If you have dietary requirements then definitely take your own snacks. I’ve actually had a burger served out of a bin liner at Prenton Park before — I can still taste the plastic of the bag now. Many times, I’ve witnessed hot chocolates selling out during colder evening matches, so don’t rely on them having anything specific.

Handling post-match crowds with confidence

At full-time, it can be busy with fans exiting the stadium. Sometimes I get out of breath walking downstairs if I feel pressured to keep a specific pace in a crowd. If this is the case, you can always chat with the steward and arrange to stand in a place that gives you a head-start on the crowds. No one wants to miss the end of the match because of their disability, or wait until it’s quietened down and use it as an excuse to clap your players off the pitch.

Always prepare to chat with stadium staff and aim for the most senior ranking member to ensure you get the most accurate information and assistance. It can make the experience so much calmer knowing someone is there for you if you need it. Ensure you are exiting at the same entrance you came in so you aren’t further away from your vehicle.

Other ways to watch

If your health takes a turn for the worse, but you still want to watch women’s football, sign up for The FA Player online viewing platform. It’s free and shows a range of matches when they aren’t on another channel or service (Sky, BBC, etc).

It’s also worth asking if your club has a TV station. My team has a viewing platform on their website, so I can keep up with them when my health doesn’t allow me to attend matches in person through the winter.

Getting involved with women’s football is an amazing experience, and no one should feel intimidated to attend or unable to access it either at home or away. The feeling of being unified in support of your team can help you forget you are different for a moment. And, despite some of the hurdles we must navigate, most of the women’s teams are embracing disabled fans and helping us attend matches to cheer on our team, make new friends, and improve our mental health.

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