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Exclusive: Manchester United and Chelsea face legal threat and clubs told to ‘hang their heads in shame’ for ‘failing’ disabled fans

18 SEPTEMBER 2017 • 10:25PM


Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester United are facing the threat of legal action after leading clubs were told they should “hang their heads in shame” at breaking a collective promise to meet minimum standards for disabled fans.

An exclusive Telegraph investigation can now reveal almost half of all Premier League clubs do not meet guidelines set out in the Accessible Stadia Guide, despite a joint announcement more than two years ago that committed them to reaching that standard by August 2017. The pledge was made after The Telegraph exposed how only three clubs were meeting basic ­recommendations which dated back to 1998, as well as a stark government warning that there could be “no ­excuses” for inaction. 

“People who believed in the clarity of the pledge in 2015 will feel they have been kicked in the teeth,” Lord Holmes, a Conservative peer and the winner of nine Paralympic gold medals, said. “They made a clear and unequivocal commitment and this is a miserable result. The Premier League shows what we can do at our best in sport and it is an extraordinary stain running through it that we are only about 50 per cent there in terms of basic accessibility.”


The Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating potentially unlawful and discriminatory practices but says that it is being slowed in its inquiries by the lack of clarity from unnamed clubs. 

“This has delayed our final report as we review the new evidence and which of our enforcement powers we should use,” Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC chief executive, said. “It is clear a significant number of clubs have failed to meet the Premier League’s own pledge deadline. While some have made progress and taken the bit between their teeth, others have shown a worrying lack of interest in taking this seriously, neglecting the needs of their disabled supporters.”

Chelsea intend to be fully compliant when they rebuild the stadium CREDIT: TIM IRELAND/AP 

Architects have estimated that the pledge would have cost only £7.2 million to fulfil in its most basic form. To put that in perspective, the clubs collectively spent £1.4 billion on players this summer. The Premier League says that building challenges, rather than cost, is the main obstacle but campaigners point to the clubs’ own evident ­belief two years ago it could be done, as well as the impressive ­progress made at some stadiums. 

There is also a feeling the Premier League rule book sends the wrong message. In it, there are just 11 words that relate to “sufficient and adequate” facilities for disabled supporters. By contrast, stadium requirements in other areas are outlined in precise detail, including 23 lines about giant screens, three pages on floodlights and even 14 lines about the working conditions of the away club’s video analyst.


“It is about attitude, values, culture and approach,” said Lord Holmes. “There has been very positive action by some Premier League clubs and some incredible actions by clubs like Wrexham and Tranmere. Their intent and will to do what they can should leave those Premier League clubs who failed to hang their heads in shame.”


Chelsea and Manchester United are under most scrutiny, with the EHRC assessing clubs according to the Equality Act of 2010 that ­requires all service providers to make “reasonable adjustments”. Watford, Everton, Newcastle United, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace are also being monitored. 

The EHRC’s enforcement powers include formal investigations, legal proceedings or to enter into legally binding agreements. Eleven clubs do meet the guidelines, while ­recently promoted clubs, notably Burnley and Huddersfield, have been given additional time. 

Newcastle have also agreed an extra year due to being relegated, even though they were part of the original pledge. 

Swansea have one of the best records in the Premier League CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES 

“When the announcement came we were told August of this year and we are still waiting,” said Tony Taylor, the chairman of Level Playing Field. “We want to know from the Premier League how many clubs have met the pledge and what steps will be taken with regard to those clubs who have not. We get calls every day from disabled fans who are asking what is going on.”

Structural work at Manchester United is now complete but the new areas are not yet being made available to wheelchair users for Premier League games. A Manchester United spokesman said additional assessments were required “to ensure the safe and smooth integration of disabled and non-disabled supporters” where work had taken place. Wheelchair spaces will also now rise beyond 200 for some games as they carry out tests, including for Wednesday’s League Cup against Burton Albion.

St James’ Park has another year to comply CREDIT: ALEX LIVESEY/GETTY IMAGES 

Chelsea are continuing “to investigate opportunities to further ­improve facilities” but noted the constraints of Stamford Bridge’s “age and design”. They intend to be fully compliant when they redevelop the ground.


Both Chelsea and Manchester United say they are assisting the EHRC with its review. The Premier League is now compiling its own report and their data shows around 1,000 wheelchair bays have been added in the last two years – an ­increase of around 50 per cent. 

“Premier League clubs have delivered a substantial programme of work to improve their disabled access provisions,” said a spokesman. 

ClubRecommended minimumActual numbersMeeting guidelines?NotesArsenal250258YesThe club made further improvements this summer to ensure that they exceed guidelinesBournemouth107195NoMeet numbers but do not provide sufficient choice of seat. Club have made improvements and intend to match pledge when they move stadiumBrighton180221YesOne of only four stadiums – with The Emirates, Pride Park and Wembley – to be described a centre of excellence by Level Playing FieldBurnley15442NoClub were given two years from promotion and they plan to reach guidelines by start of next seasonChelsea214108NoSay they will meet guidelines once they move ground. They hope to begin work in 2019 and move into new facility by 2022Crystal Palace168128NoMore than doubled their numbers this summer but still working on further improvements to meet requirementsEverton209118NoNumber is taken from Premier League report in April when club said they would begin construction work this summerHuddersfield162102NoSay they can already temporarily increase number by 75 and, as newly promoted, Premier League has given them until 2019Leicester187197YesOne of the few clubs who were compliant before the promise was made in 2015Liverpool238250YesMajor works at Anfield over the past year have increased the numbers beyond the guidelinesMan City242254YesAmong those clubs who were compliant before the promise was made in 2015Man Utd282120NoBuilding work is complete to meet guidelines but new spaces will not all be available for league matches until 2020Newcastle234160NoPart of the initial Premier League pledge but since relegated and now say they have an extra year to make up shortfallSouthampton186193YesOne of the few clubs who were virtually compliant before the promise was made in 2015Stoke City174186YesHave completed major works this summer which mean they now exceed guidelinesSwansea153153YesOne of the few clubs who were compliant before the promise was made in 2015Tottenham260265YesWhite Hart Lane was well below requirements but the new stadium – and Wembley – meet guidelinesWatford15392NoWhite Hart Lane was well below requirements but the new stadium – and Wembley – meet guidelinesWest Brom170171YesWorks were completed this summer and club do now meet guidelinesWest Ham250253YesThe new London Stadium staged the Paralympics and fully meets the Accessible Stadia Guide

Source: The Telegraph, 19th September 2017