Reproduced from Sky Sports
Just after 5pm a week last Saturday, 13 year old Sam Elliott was still in full celebration mode. His beloved Brighton & Hove Albion had come from 1-0 down to beat Fulham 2-1 at the AMEX Stadium….
“I’m very happy right now, I was bit worried, but not at the end, good result!” he told me.
With his right hand, Sam then pushed forward the yellow golf ball joystick that points his power wheelchair in the direction he wants it to go. Time to go home with his dad Pete.
Six hours earlier I had met Sam and Pete at their home. Sam was already wearing his Brighton shirt, while his scarf and gloves – all blue and white of course – were on the kitchen table. Match day is a special day, but as Pete Elliott kept reminding me, what was special about taking his son to a football match was that it has become normal. Just what many other sons and dads do on a Saturday afternoon.
Sam has muscular dystrophy and to move around requires the use of an impressive power wheelchair. There are many other complications from Sam’s condition which his incredible family deal with, but bringing joy through a shared love of football has become a regular, normal, everyday occurrence in the Elliott household.
Sam and Pete are season ticket holders at Brighton, two seats in the Upper East Stand at the Amex Stadium. So how does Sam’s day work?
As Pete explained to me, once Sam has woken up, washed and dressed, the excitement begins. For home matches at Saturday kicking off at 3pm, Sam and Pete will leave their home at Goring-on-Sea in Sussex about 12:30pm for the 30 to 40 minute drive to the Amex Stadium.
“You just have to leave a little more time for things,” said Pete. He pulls up in a car park that Brighton & Hove Albion have for dedicated disabled spaces.
It’s not just the size of those spaces that is important, it’s where the car park is that matters. It’s on level ground with the stadium which for Sam is about a five-minute ride away. I asked Pete why he didn’t park right next to the stadium?
“I could do, but this option works better. At full time, we just come along a walkway, get in the van and drive off,” he added.
“If I was parked up by the stadium I’d have to wait an hour and a half to get away, but by us being here with access straight out on a main road it’s easy and that’s what we need.”
As Sam arrives outside the stadium, part of the enjoyment has been able to ride alongside the other Brighton fans arriving, disabled and non-disabled. He’s not excluded, he is included.
Fish and chips is next and then to their seats in the East Upper. Brighton offer their disabled supporters different areas with different price options. The club has the advantage of a new stadium that only opened five years ago where design that included all its supporters was accounted for.
Sam enters the stadium through a wide barrier designed with wheelchair users in mind, stewards are on hand who know Sam by name to swipe his ticket barcode and then there’s a lift which is just for wheelchair users, their family and carers.
It is not a problem or a safety hazard for Sam and Pete to be sitting in the upper tier of a stand, it’s where they want to be. I don’t blame them, the view is great.
Sam tells me: “The access is easy, it’s really great. All the stewards know me and make sure I’m okay.” His dad adds: “I wondered what life would be like for us when Sam and his brother were diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, but this allows us to be just like any other son and dad going to the football.
“It helps being a modern stadium, but it feels safe. There is plenty of room and Sam never gets too crowded and that is where I would worry as I don’t want Sam becoming anxious. It’s relaxing and it’s good for me too. I can go off and say hello to mates and get a pint knowing the stewards will keep an eye on Sam and if he needed the toilet they would get me.”
The day I tagged along to Brighton, they played Fulham. The expectation was an easy win, I’m pretty sure Sam and Pete told me prior to the game it would be 5-0. Fulham took the lead but needed a dramatic late fightback for Brighton to pull it out of the bag to win 2-1. Celebrations were raucous, smiles were wide.
Sam’s love of football and, in particular, Brighton is evident. “It’s really important for me this (coming to football), it takes my mind off things and I really enjoy it. They really do care about me here and look out for me.”
Pete added: “For us, this is positive. Access, attitude of the club which is progressive and it’s not just about catering for disabled fans on a match day, their community department is excellent.
“Sam plays for the power wheelchair league as well as being a fan. As a father all I want is a day out with my boy at the football, I know it’s not like this at all clubs, but Brighton has got it right by keeping it simple and friendly.”
After a 2-1 win, Sam and Pete got in the lift in the East Upper and five minutes later were reversing out of the car park and heading home ahead of all the other match day traffic.
I sadly didn’t play a blinder on the car parking front, as Pete predicted it would take me over an hour to get out. As I made my way onto the A27, Pete and Sam were at home in the warm watching the highlights.
From: Sky Sports