To mark Level Playing Field’s weeks of action 2014, Gillingham FC asked James Barnes, a loyal fan of the club, to write a short diary on his experiences of being a disabled supporter.
James, a partially sighted 20-year-old season ticket holder in the Rainham End, travels home and away to watch the team, and below he shares his thoughts.
He wrote: “Hello, my name is James Barnes and I’ve been supporting Gillingham since 2005. My Dad took me and my brother to the odd game at first, then I got addicted, and I’ve been a season ticket holder in the Rainham End for five years now.
“My first away game was at Yeovil Town back in 2007, and have been following Gills on the road for seven years. In those seven years I’ve visited roughly 69 out of the 92 Football League grounds.
“I’m 20 years old and I’ve had my disability all my life. I have albinism which means I haven’t got any pigment in my skin and my hair is fair. I also have bad eyesight and I have to use glasses to help my vision.
“My view of our home games are limited as I can’t see over the half way line and, obviously as a result, I can’t see the Brian Moore end goal, so at the Gills I use a little in ear radio which gives me and other fans that use it the commentary of the game, which is really helpful.
“On my visits up and down the country watching Gillingham there are a few grounds which give me a good view of the pitch, and some that are not so good, but in mostly all of them I can hardly see the opposite end goal.
“A couple of grounds that are quite difficult for me are Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium because the goal net is white and the seats behind are white, which makes things unrecognizable for me - however the other areas are great.
“The other difficult one for me is Southend’s Roots Hall, it’s an old ground which has plenty of atmosphere but to see the other goal is difficult as the view is so narrow.
Bradford City’s Valley Parade and Carlisle’s Brunton Park are similar, the view is OK but we are seated at such an angle in the stands I can just about make out the goals at either end.
“Grounds that have been good all-round to visit are Rotherham’s New York Stadium, Plymouth’s Home Park as the view towards the pitch and the other goal is clearer to see than others.
“Some stadiums segregate disabled supporters in an area on their own, which is unhelpful to me as I want to be with my friends. So in my opinion it would be most helpful if other grounds were like Priestfield.
“With Gills assistance I and fellow partially sighted/ blind fans enjoy our football. I wish other clubs would follow these examples as just the simple option of a head set allows disabled fans to sit with non-disabled fans, and we can all enjoy the game together.” *
James Barnes*views are those of the individual - Gillingham Football Club fully supports the principle of equal opportunities and opposes all forms of unlawful or unfair discrimination on the grounds of disability.