Facilitating inclusivity and broadening understandings of access at football clubs: the role of disabled supporter associations

Research question: To which extent do Disabled Supporters Associations (DSAs) contribute to improve access of fans with disabilities to football? This research question addresses two interrelated gaps: The lack of attention to supporters in European policies on inclusion in and through sport, and the excessive focus on physical barriers over other dimensions of access in both policy and research on disability and sport. Research methods: The study uses visual auto-ethnography. Seven disabled supporters, members of three different DSAs at football clubs in England took part in the study. They were asked to take photographs of their life as a supporter over a period of eight weeks, and were interviewed at the end to discuss and clarify the meaning of the pictures. Results and Findings: Attention to physical spaces is not enough to ensure inclusivity in the stands. Further dimensions need attention by clubs, including knowledge, relationships and participation, and power of advocacy. DSAs have the potential to play a pivotal role in helping clubs improving their provisions for disabled fans, since they act as both a social forum a point of contact for clubs, but they are hampered for their lack or resources and clubs’ almost exclusive focus on physical access. Nind and Seale’s multi-dimensional model of access for the disabled is one useful way of interpreting these results. Implications: Conceptual understandings of access and inclusion can be broadened by using Nind and Seale’s model. Policies addressing inclusion in football should focus not only on those doing sport, but also on those spectating.