Fans For Diversity backs Saints Disabled Supporters Association open day
The Fans For Diversity campaign was in attendance as the Saints Disabled Supporters Association (SDSA) hosted its fifth annual open day at St Mary’s on Tuesday 16 August.
The free event provided Southampton Football Club fans the opportunity to support and learn more about the SDSA, as well as several other important causes and initiatives.
A number of former Saints players and coaches were also present on the day, including Matt Le Tissier, Lawrie McMenemy MBE and David Merrington, among others, as well as sports presenter and Southampton fan Ed Chamberlin.
Paul Lucas, the SDSA’s Secretary, was delighted with the turnout from Southampton supporters.
“We’re very pleased – the attendance is incredible,” he remarked. “We had suffered from a bit of overcrowding last year, so we introduced a ticketing system and they went very quickly. We sold out 1200 tickets and the club allowed 200 walk-ins, so we had up to 1400 people, which is absolutely fantastic.”
In addition to the educational aspect of the open day, supporters were able to enjoy a range of other activities, including live music, a penalty competition, a wheelchair rugby demonstration, a prize raffle and mini stadium tours. Fans also had the chance to take a photo with The FA Cup and the Hampshire Junior Trophy.
The event was supported by the Fans For Diversity campaign, a joint initiative between Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) launched in March 2014, which helps to encourage and facilitate fan-led events and activity that celebrates equality and diversity in football.
Anwar Uddin, who leads on Fans For Diversity, hosted a stall alongside Jehmeil Lemonius, Kick It Out’s Resources and Administration Assistant, which provided Saints supporters with key information about the work the campaign does.
Anwar hailed the SDSA’s efforts and expressed his joy at being able to support the open day through the Fans For Diversity Fund.
“This is the second year that we’ve supported the SDSA open day and the numbers they’ve managed to get down is really impressive,” he said. “There are people here from all age groups – both disabled and non-disabled – and there’s something for them all to enjoy.”
“The SDSA are leading the way in promoting an inclusive environment for disabled supporters in the Premier League and today just shows what can be achieved with the right amount of support from the club, from players, from Fans For Diversity and from the various other organisations who are backing the event.”
Saints legend Francis Benali, who is Ambassador to the SDSA, was pleased to be in attendance and stressed the importance of hosting inclusive events such as these at St Mary’s.
“It’s nice to come along and support the event – it’s great that it’s here at the stadium and from what I’ve seen, everyone’s had a fantastic afternoon,” he said. “It’s a huge turnout, even more so than last year and that’s all down to the hard work that everyone puts into organising it.”
“The stadium is a unique venue, but sometimes it’s not always that convenient for people to come along on a match day where there’s thousands of people around. To use the facilities here on a non-match day where it’s a little bit quieter and a little bit easier for people to get in and out of the ground, I think it’s a great idea and makes complete sense.”
Paul was clear about the message the SDSA wanted to send by hosting the open day: “We’ve tried to say to the community that the SDSA are here to help you to go to watch football, get involved with the club or even in the community with the Saints Foundation, who do great work.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are, what disability you have or what community you come from, you should always be able to go to a football match. There may be one or two issues, but the SDSA are here to try and sort those issues out for you. We liaise with the club and we move forward in that way.”