Wheeling Away: Rob Trent’s football odyssey
Nick Bishop speaks to disabled football fan Rob Trent about attending games as a wheelchair user – from perching on the old Wembley steps to travelling on the train with lab rats.
We couldn’t see the goal, and any time a goal went in, we had to rely on the crowd reaction to tell us.Rob Trent
Today the Premier League fixtures are released. For wheelchair users who want to follow their team away from home, there are still many challenges: will the ramps be there for a train journey? How accessible are the stadium facilities, especially the toilets? And crucially, does my wheelchair space allow me to see the goal?
A decade after the Accessible Stadia Guidelines (first published in 2003), Premier League clubs, awash with TV rights money, were under pressure for poor accessibility. In 2015 top flight clubs signed the Premier League pledge to improve facilities after Chelsea and Manchester United faced legal threats from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The drive for accessibility improvements is now gaining momentum, as I discovered recently in my Premier League stadium access reviews. But there is still a lot of progress to be made.
Introducing Rob Trent
All this is familiar to Rob Trent. Rob, 60, is a wheelchair user, access campaigner and mouthpainter who has followed AFC Bournemouth home and away since the 1970s.
He now produces fantastic access videos on his AccessAdvisr YouTube channel, showing the experiences of a disabled football fan in the Premier League.
Rob tells us more about the joys and challenges of following the Cherries in a wheelchair.
In the beginning
Many fans can recall days when there was barely any wheelchair access at football grounds. Rob talks with great fondness about his first away game back in March 1976.
‘It was AFC Bournemouth v Northampton. We were 6-0 down at half-time, and that’s the way it stayed.‘ he chuckles.
‘But I wanted to go again. I soon went to my next Bournemouth game.’
Impressed by his dedication, I ask him what provision there was for disabled fans in those days.
‘None. There were no wheelchair spaces, for example. You could end up anywhere. There were no accessible toilets either. I had to use the car park.’
Wembley Way: Cup Final escapades
The modern Wembley is a great example of good practice – a fully accessible venue that will continue to provide great wheelchair spaces at England men’s and women’s games (after the Lionesses return from the Women’s World Cup), as well as at major finals including Euro 2020.
Rob’s first visit was very different when he ventured to the 1976 Cup Final between Southampton and Manchester United at the old Wembley. He remembers:
‘I bought a ticket about 15 minutes before, but there were no wheelchair spaces anyway.
‘I had to ask some fans to lift me up about 30 steps in my manual wheelchair and into a makeshift space. I was perched on the concourse, with stairs directly in front and behind me. It was a bit risky.’
Going to football with lab rats
Travel would bring its own set of challenges.
‘There were no ramps to get on a train in those days. The Guard’s van was the only way to travel for a while.
‘If I travelled for long distances to games they could sometimes put big boxes of mail, or sometimes lab rats, into the Guard’s van.’
As part of his role as a Regional Chair for the Football Supporters’ Association, Rob began to work with clubs to improve access to grounds.
This 1990 video featuring a youthful Rob Trent illustrates how football clubs, like society as a whole, were out of touch with the needs of disabled people.
Soon afterwards, I would make my first forays into football as a young child. By this time, the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) had been launched. Manchester United were initially quick to make changes at Old Trafford, installing excellent wheelchair platforms. Most other clubs were not so quick to respond.
When the Accessible Stadia guidelines (ASGs) were finally introduced in 2003, it took a long while for all clubs to commit to installing enough wheelchair spaces. We are still waiting for many of these spaces to be built.
Challenges remain today
Even today, challenges remain. Fulham, for example, made some accessibility improvements to the away end.
Afterwards, the club reopened the stand for their game against Bournemouth in October 2018. But the view from the away platform remained very poor indeed.
‘We couldn’t see the goal, and any time a goal went in, we had to rely on the crowd reaction to tell us.’
Find out more
To see more of Rob’s access videos, visit the AccessAdvisr YouTube channel.
You can also add your own accessibility reviews at accessadvisr.net.
Read Nick’s access reviews of Premier League stadiums: