To celebrate IDDP, Level Playing Field’s Director & Secretary, Steve Evans talks about his experience of being a Liverpool supporter before becoming disabled and his journey after.
It was my uncle that introduced me to football at a young age back in the 1960’s. I remember going to Anfield for the first time. Thousands of people in red and white scarves making their way to the ground. There was a bubbly and bouncy atmosphere. It was a great feeling. As you made your way into the stadium you would cram your way through the narrow turnstiles, and I remember seeing the pitch for the first time. It was so green. That was the last time I saw the pitch, the stand filled up, and everyone was so much taller than me! But it was so exciting; I loved it.
In 2009, after a serious health issue where I nearly died, I thought I would never experience that feeling of going to Anfield again. My health issues had made it difficult for me to get out and about. I believed at the time that I wouldn’t get to go to a match again. I’ll be stuck at home watching it on TV. That’s no substitute for going to a live game. Looking back, I don’t know if it was connected, but after accepting I wasn’t going to a live game anymore, I became really low and disconnected.
Six months after I got out of the hospital my son took me to a game, at the time I was hobbling around and getting used to walking again. Before my accident, you would bump into a person, say sorry and keep going through a crowd. But at that first game going back after coming out of the hospital I was much more aware of how fragile I had become; would I get knocked over walking through the crowds? I was a little apprehensive, but I was looking forward to going to the match.
It was great to see a live game again after so long but getting to the ground and going up the steps was a nightmare and left me out of breath and worn out, I thought to myself “I tried, but I can’t do this anymore!”
One day at home bored, I was looking at the official Liverpool website. I had so much time on my hands; I was clicking on every page that was on the site. One page grabbed my attention, it was Pepe Renia having his picture taken with supporters who were wheelchair users and had visible disabilities, and I thought “Oh what’s this all about?”.
The article featuring Pepe was about the work the club was doing in partnership with the Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association. I thought to myself “This is alright, I can join these and start talking with like-minded people” and it suddenly hit me, disabled people like myself can watch live football!
Of course, I had seen people at games before my health issues, but it just never clicked that disabled people like me go to live football. It was like a light had been switched on in my footballing brain.
I contacted my DSA, and I’ve never looked back. I’m now attending games at Anfield and cheering on Klopp and his boys.
Going to watch live sport is still not perfect. There are still issues with accessibility and transport, but the work that DSAs are doing up and down England & Wales, working with their local football clubs with support from Level Playing Field, things are improving to ensure that disabled fans feel a sense of inclusiveness and equality, but there is still so much more to be done.
Looking forward we have to keep fighting for access for all; we have to build the country we live in for the people who live in it.
Disabled people are on the increase and access is more critical than ever. Going to a live event shouldn’t be a privilege for people who are disabled it should be a right.
That’s why it’s vital that we at Level Playing Field continue the work that we do to make sure that a young boy at the age of 7, no matter their disability can go to their local football club and see that green pitch for the first time.